Research into the soldiers of several nationalities who were patients of the Quex Park VAD Hospital during the First World War is continuing. Many of the patients who were returned to fitness and to the fighting were subsequently killed. As the information has come to light and as opportunity has arisen I have visited their graves, or the memorials that bear their name if they have no known grave. Most of these are in the area of the Western Front in France and Belgium.
Last week I was in Belgium and went to find the graves of two men – Sergeant George Verrall and Private Pierre Tremblay.
George Verral came from Bermondsey and served in the London Regiment. He is buried in Railway Dugouts Cemetery, south of Ypres. This is a small cemetery so named because dugouts sheltering medical facilities were constructed in the embankment of a nearby railway. We found the cemetery very wet, the ground sodden by the heavy rain of the last few months. It brought to mind the difficulties faced by men trying to live and fight in such ground.
A short distance away we found La Laiterie Cemetery and looked for the grave of Pierre Tremblay. He was serving in the 22nd (Quebec) Canadian Regiment and had been at Quex only a couple of months before his death on 18th October 1915. We found another gravestone with the name Tremblay just a few feet away. This was Ephrem Tremblay, killed a couple of weeks earlier. A look in the Cemetery Register produced a third grave, in the next row, to Edouard Tremblay, killed in February 1916. All had the rank of Private.
Were these brothers? Cousins? They were all in the 22nd. Their attestation papers, signed when they joined up, are online at Canadian National Archives. The three all had different addresses in Quebec, and different next-of-kin. So they were probably not brothers. But they would have been related. A search for ‘Tremblay Quebec’ reveals a rich family history in Quebec, going back to a man who moved to Canada from northern France in the 1600s.
These three men from Quebec lie in cemeteries on the Western Front, far from home, but closer to their Tremblay family origins. The Cemetery Register records no next of kin, the graves bear no family inscription, nor their first names. What can we do but remember and wonder at what their story was.