October 31st was the hundreth anniversary of the death of my Great Uncle, Clifford Norden. I say, death, but what I really mean is it’s the 100th anniversary of the day he was killed in the First World War, only twelve days before the Armistice.
I often wonder what might have been had he lived. I think of the imaginary cousins I’d have had. What a tragedy to lose your life such a short time before the war ended. Clifford was my grandmother’s brother. He was one of twelve children, but the only one to lose his life in the First World War.
Four years ago my sisters and I took our father to visit his grave in Harlebeke in Belgium. I wrote about that trip HERE, so I won’t repeat all the details here, but I remember us all standing in front of Clifford’s grave while Tracey read Rupert Brooke’s famous poem, The Soldier…
IF I should die, think only this of me; That there’s some corner of a foreign field That is for ever England. There shall be In that rich earth a richer dust concealed; A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware, Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam, A body of England’s breathing English air, Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
Perhaps my main memory from the trip was when we went to the Menin Gate at Ypres. For those who don’t know it’s a memorial to the thousands of troops who had marched past the spot on their way to the front.
Each evening at 8pm the Last Post is played. More from my 2014 blogpost…
There were hundreds of people there and at 8pm everyone went silent as the ceremony begun. I was a bit annoyed we hadn’t got there earlier as my Dad couldn’t see a lot. My niece Issy became very emotional when the trumpeters started playing the Last Post. When it had all finished my sister Sheena, never one to hold back, asked the four old boys carrying the flags if they would have their picture taken with my Dad. They formed a guard of honour around him and we all clicked away. My Dad isn’t one to get very emotional, but I could see that he was quite overwhelmed. Sheena then asked the trumpeters to do the same and he had a good old chat with them too. Totally in his element. I said afterwards to Tracey (I think) that if we never did anything for the rest of the trip, it was worth it just to experience that. As we got in the car Dad clasped my hand and said “I don’t know how much this whole thing has cost, but that was fantastic.”
The reason for writing this article is that my cousin, Bruce Kiddy, took his father - my uncle Steve - to visit Clifford’s grave on Friday and to lay flowers on behalf of the whole Norden/Dale family.
While they were at Harlebeke they ran into a local guide who promised to email them as much information as he could find on Great Uncle Clifford. It proved to be quite a revelation and further reenforced the horrors of war. Read on…
As promised I send you the place where Pte Clifford Kenneth Frank Norden died and location of the field grave where he was buried first. I already researched the Lancashire Fusiliers last year as a Rededication Service took place in August 2017 for an unknown Lancashire 2nd Lt at Harlebeke New British Cemetery. This soldier could be identified as 2nd Lt Bertie Swallow of the 18th Lancashire Fusiliers who died the same date and close to the place of the grave of Pte Norden. They must have known each other.
There where 12 Lancashire Fusiliers (LF’s) who died at the same date (31st Oct 1918) at about the same location. Pte Norden was first buried in a collective grave together with Pte John Walton who now rest at grave 1.A.3., just beside the grave of Pte Norden (grave 1.A.2).
In the same collective grave there was a 3rd soldier who could not be identified. This soldier was reburied as Unknown in grave 1.A.4 (most probably), 1.A.5 or 1.A.6.. The initial collective grave was at the village Otegem, close to the border of the village Avelgem near the corner of the Ruiffeleindestraat and Ter Biest. This is 11.3 km South-East of Harlebeke New British Cemetery (HNBC).(See enclosed Google map photo’s). You better look at Google Maps and search for Otegem and Ruiffeleindestraat. At the corner with Ter Biest there is one house. The first (collective) grave of Pte Norden was just behind that house (now rebuild, in 1918 a small farm) in Ter Biest (enclosed photo).
It was during the morning of 31 October that the 35th Division started an assault. The 104th Brigade (35th Div.) took position on the North of Avelgem. The 18th Lancashire Fusiliers (104th Brigade) where at the left side of the Division. The 18th LF had a sector between the small villages Tiegem and Waarmaarde , east of Otegem and Avelgem , a sector parallel with the River Schelde. This was about 5-10 km away from the river Schelde (in English: Scheldt). The assault started at 5.25 a.m. that day (still dark). German machine-guns were rattling very heavy and a lot of LF’s were shot by the MG’s of the German 49. Reserve Infanterie Division. At 6.40 a.m. the 35th Division could take their first objective of that day. In this action Pte Norden died together with about 10 other LF’s. I think he was buried the day after (1 Nov 1918) by the 2nd Line soldiers in a collective field grave at Ter Biest. So he died between 5.25 and 6.40 a.m. on the 31st Oct 1918.
The grave was marked with a collective cross (names Pte Norden, Pte Walton and Unidentified were written of the cross). In the Spring of 1920 (probably in March 1920) This grave was opened and the men were reburied at HNBC. According to the Reburial Report there were ‘no means of separate identification’ of the bodies in the collective grave (see report enclosed). This means that it is not for 100% sure that the 3 soldiers in that collective grave were reburied correctly in HNBC. However their Gravestones commemorate them, even when the names are mixed.
This assault at Otegem was one of the last heavy battles of the 35th Division, once the division could cross the River Schelde division casualties where low. The 35th Division could take Geraardsbergen ( Grammond) on the 11th November when war ended. The young Clifford was only 19 years old and died 12 days before Armistice.
So this is the information I could find about Uncle Pte Clifford Kenneth Frank Norden.
What a fascinating and horrifying tale. It’s one many families across the country will be able to relate to.