Seventeen descendants of West Bromwich soldier who died in First World War visit his grave

Relatives of a West Bromwich soldier who died in the Battle of the Somme with his best friends have visited his grave in France.

William's 17 relatives at his graveside
William's 17 relatives at his graveside

William Robert Parker fought in several battles in the First World War before being killed on September 17, 1916, in one of the most bloody days in British history.

William and his friends Earnest Allen, William Rowsom and William Wells signed up on the same day, braved six battles together, died together and now are buried together in Euston Cemetery, Collin Camps.

This week, 17 of William's surviving relatives held a private service at his graveside in Arrass where they toasted his memory with a shot of whisky.

William Robert Parker's grave in France

William's great grandson Mark Whitehouse, from West Bromwich, helped organise the family trip.

He told the Express & Star: "We have always wanted to go to his grave, my nan remembered him going away to war and always wanted us to go and see where he was buried.

"We were all descendants of him and all of us still live in and around West Bromwich, Friar Park and Wednesbury. The youngest on the trip was Jack who is 16 and William's great-great-great grandson."

William was 32 when he died and leaving five children, Ada, Anne Maria, Gertrude, Tom and Bob, without a father in West Bromwich.

The various cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, children and grandchildren all travelled by minibus to France via the Channel Tunnel.

The poem read for William

Mark, who sells poppies for the Royal British Legion every year, wrote a poem and read it at the graveside and left a brass plaque to remember him by.

Mark said: "It was a sad occasion but also we were happy that we had finally got there, we had planned to go before the pandemic.

"My cousin Annette organised all the travel for us which was a lot of work, it was great to be all together.

"I took a bottle of single malt whisky and poured out 18 shots at the graveside, 17 for us and one for my great-grandad, it was my first drink for 13 months."

Lamenting the loss of life on the killing fields of France and Belgium, Mark wrote a poem in honour of William and his friends.

He said: "I also put a cross on the graves of his mates who died on the same day as they are buried together, four pals in a row, which is so sad."

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