Exiles Forum

Lisburn, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland


Rector makes poignant visit to predecessor's son's grave

by Rev Canon Alex Cheevers

Rev Canon Alex Cheevers at the grave of Claude Walker.WHEN I was first appointed Rector of Magheragall in June 1991 I was interested in those whose names appeared on the War Memorial in the Church.

I soon discovered that one of the names was that of the son of a former Rector of Magheragall, the Rev. Canon Robert Walker, L.L.D. and Mrs. Walker. The Walkers had come to live at Magheragall Rectory when Robert was appointed Rector in 1894. The year after they arrived at Magheragall their son Claude was born, and was baptised in the Parish Church on March 11, 1895. Claude grew up at Magheragall Rectory, and then, in 1906, when he was eleven years of age, Claude's father was appointed Rector of St. Barnabas' Parish Church in Belfast.

Eight years later the First World War broke out and the young Claude, now aged nineteen, "joined up". He became part of the 2nd Battalion The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. The Army very quickly saw his potential as an Officer and he was sent off to the Officer Training College at Sandhurst. He was commissioned in May 1915 and in due course was posted with his Battalion to the Somme. And it was at the Somme, on the tenth day of that famous Battle, that Claude was killed. By that time his father was Rector of St. Matthew's Parish on the Shankill Road.

A few weeks ago I was able to fulfil a long-held desire to visit Claude's grave at the Somme. That desire had been with me since I first discovered the story behind the words on Magheragall War Memorial - Claude Walker, Lieutenant, 2nd Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

Lieutenant Claude Walker lies buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission section at the far end of the Communal Cemetery in Bouzincourt, not far from the town of Albert, at the heart of the Somme Battlefield. A quiet little cemetery. And that day as I walked through the Communal Cemetery towards Claude's grave I overtook an elderly local French-man who had stopped and was standing crying, cap held respectfully in hand, at a grave in the local section of the Cemetery.

I waited a few minutes and gave him time for his own thoughts, then I went over and spoke quietly to the man. I didn't want to intrude, but I felt sorry for him standing there all alone, a broken man. The grave with the fresh flowers was that of his wife who had died a few weeks before, leaving him alone in the world. He wanted to talk. I shared with him a chocolate bar I was eating.

And after entering a little bit in to that poor man's grief and loss, it wasn't difficult a few minutes later to enter a little bit in to the grief of the Walker family as I knelt at their son's grave. Canon Walker may have been a former Rector of Magheragall, and his wife may have been a clergy wife. But they too would have felt all the grief and pain that so many families across our land were feeling before that First World War finally came to an end. All of those families, and those who served and those who died, deserve to be remembered. If you would like to make your own pilgrimage to the battlefields of France, Belgium and Holland I would be delighted if you wanted to join one of the tours I organize and lead, focusing on the personal stories behind the headstones. Next year I am planning three tours.

The first is to the area of the Battle of the Somme, taking in the Ulster Tower, the Thiepval Memorial and Connaught Cemetery, as well as the original trenches at Newfoundland Park From there we go on to the D Day landing areas of Normandy, taking in all of the five landing-beaches, as well as the Air Landing Areas of the 6th Airborne Division.

The second tour visits the Memorials, cemeteries and beaches of Dunkirk 1940, the Bridge too Far at Arnhem from 1944, and also the First World War battlefields of Messines, Passchendael and Ypres, with an opportunity to attend the daily Menin Gate Sunset Act of Remembrance. The Third tour is a new one for 2009, visiting amongst many other unique and unusual things Hitler's V2 rocket bunker, the camp from which 50,000 were deported to the Death Camps, and many unique and unusual places associated with the two World Wars in northern France. This tour also takes in the Battle of the Somme.

These few words don't do justice to any of the tours. If you would like full details please give me a ring on 9269 0701 and I will send you a brochure.

Ulster Star