A poppy, roses and a moment of reflection - the poignant tribute to a Wearside war hero

Lt Wallace's resting place at St Catherine British Cemetery, northern Arras, Pas de Calais, France.
Lt Wallace's resting place at St Catherine British Cemetery, northern Arras, Pas de Calais, France.
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A North East man has made a poignant journey to France in tribute to his Sunderland ancestor who died in the midst of war.

Simon Wright left a poppy and roses at the grave of Lieutenant William T Wallace, MC, who was killed in 1917 during the First World War.

Roses on the grave of Lt Wallace.

Roses on the grave of Lt Wallace.

Simon, a teacher formerly from Chester-le-Street, visited the grave of his great-great-uncle at the St Catherine British Cemetery, northern Arras, Pas de Calais, France.

He also took time to sign the guest book at the cemetery

He said: “The grave is situated in a little military cemetery overlooking the river Scarpe.

“I went up to where he died on the Point Du Jour just outside of Arras. This is the site of a Black Watch memorial tower and military cemetery.”

I realised that when General Allenby called a temporary halt to the advance - which meant the Germans could regroup - that maybe William Wallace would not have even been there if the advance had continued and the course of his life may have changed.

Simon Wright

Lt Wallace died on a day when the British military were advancing.

He was ahead of the British Army, and was serving as a forward observer as the Allies moved their guns closer to the enemy line.

But it brought him into the sights of the enemy and he was killed.

It is 100 years since he died and Simon was determined to mark the anniversary of his passing. But there were some anomalies to be addressed.

He explained: “I was aware the cemetery had been moved from its original site and wanted to find the actual Point Du Jour as it didn’t feel right for the location I had read about.

“I set off in a westerly direction across fields and a dual carriageway and found the original cemetery location in between the lanes on the road, obvious from the way bushes marked the old grave sites.

“This still didn’t feel like a good spot for observing the German lines or vice versa so I continued further east.

“About 50 metres further, a mound marked the highest spot and I could see for miles in both directions.

“From here, one of the soldiers to capture the spot, had remarked that he could see German units retreating in disarray for miles so I knew this was the place.

“I stayed for a few moments to reflect before making my way back.”

The moment also brought a time of realisation for Simon and he explained more – of what might have been for his great-great uncle.

“I realised at that point that, when General Allenby called a temporary halt to the advance – which meant the Germans could regroup - that maybe William Wallace would not have even been there if the advance had continued and the course of his life may have changed. Hard to say though given how brutal the conflict was.”

Simon’s visit to France also had many other important moments. He explained: “While in France I also went to Vimy Ridge and the Wilfred Owen’s Museum in Ors and another poet Edward Thomas who was in the artillery and killed in Arras as well on April 9.

“Thomas was a friend of the Hexham born poet Wilfred Gibson who also wrote some well known war poetry during this period.”

Simon also planned to take a copy of the book Idle and Dissolute, The History of the 160th (Wearside) Brigade Royal Field Artillery with him to France.

It was penned by Philip Adams and tells the story of the brigade William T Wallace served with. It is a fascinating account of life in the First World War and has been an invaluable source of help to Simon in his investigations.

William T Wallace – born in Sunderland in 1893 and later a resident of Roker – was killed at the First Battle of Arras in 1917, aged just 24.

He had only been in the Army for two years.

He was an accountant in civilian life, but he was enlisted as an officer with the 160th (Wearside) Brigade Royal Field Artillery on the first day of recruitment, March 1, 1915.

He won the Military Cross in October 1916 when he ran to a burning pile of artillery ammunition to put out the fire.

Simon described his journey to France as “overall a very worthwhile experience and one to give me lots of food for thought.”