Connections are something I have previously written about. They are what keeps my research alive. One connection leads to another. However, the connections I find most interesting are the ones that I am not looking for. The potential to work with these connections, respond to them, create a narrative around them and explore them further form the backbone of my practice. Late last year my Mum began talking about her family. She knows very little about her Grandparents and speaks very little about them. Talking about her Dad (who died of cancer during WW2) and her brother (who was killed by a landmine in WW2, 2 weeks after her Dad died) is still something she finds very painful and upsetting and so rarely does. So, talking to me about her family was a big thing. During our conversation she mentioned an Uncle who was killed during WW1 and she asked me if I could trace him.
His name was William George Smith. As I began my research I had a strange feeling that he was somehow another connection and you can imagine my shock to discover that he is buried in Wimereux cemetery, and died a month after Clarice stopped writing in her diary.
William George Smith Died of wounds February 20th 1916
The romantic in me likes to think they met, that Clarice nursed him. But that is something I will never know. The fact that some thirty years later his niece met and married Clarice’s nephew feels like time going full circle and somehow further connecting the past to the present.
I have now traced, through another family member, a photograph of William and one of his medals. Plus, one of saddest photographs to date, that of his mother wearing a locket containing a photograph of her eldest son, in uniform. There is so much pain in her eyes.
I took another trip to Wimereux cemetery in Dec and visited William’s grave. To think I had been photographing the graves all around his and never knew he was there. During my previous trip to the cemetery I had felt a little like an intruder in this place, and although my purpose was to research the men that Clarice may have nursed I did not have any real rights to visit these graves. During that visit I left a message in the visitor book, explaining my presence there. This wasn’t something I had planned to do, it just felt the polite and respectful thing to do. This time I couldn’t write anything, I found it quite overwhelming visiting William’s grave. This man who I never knew but who had made the ultimate sacrifice. He will now have a pillowcase in Resting Place and although Clarice had stopped writing in her diary and I therefore have no entry for the pillowcase this one will be the only one that bears a name