“Tread softly o’er my beautiful Eric’s grave for a mother’s love lies here.”
On Wednesday 16th May 2018 2nd Lieutenant Eric Henderson of the Post Office Rifles was finally laid to rest amongst his comrades on Messines Ridge in Belgium. He was the Great Uncle of Sarah Foot who lives in Newry Road in St Margarets and she saw him buried in Oak Dump Cemetery along with her two sisters Judith and Lucy.
At 03:10, on June 7th 1917, after an extensive artillery bombardment, the British detonated 19 mines beneath Messines Ridge, killing over 10,000 German soldiers. The explosions were so loud, the most powerful non-nuclear detonations that the world has ever seen, that they rattled the windows in Downing Street in London. Following the explosions Eric’s platoon, part of the1/8th Battalion, London Regiment (Post Office Rifles) was ordered to take four enemy positions - Oak Trench, Oak Reserve, Oak Support and Oak Switch. As they advanced onto the ridge at about 9.15am they ran into heavy machine gun fire from a formidable strongpoint known as the‘Dammstrasse’ and it was here that Eric was killed and subsequently reported‘missing’. He was 21 years old. His remains were only found during roadworks in 2017 along with a silver coin engraved with‘2nd Lt. Eric Henderson, London Regiment’.
Nearly 100 years ago, the Imperial War Graves Commission made a promise that to remember and respect the fallen they should be buried with due ceremony beneath uniform headstones with no distinction made on account of military rank, race or creed and so it was with 2nd Lieutenant Henderson buried in Oak Dump Cemetery beside 111 of his brothers in arms.
Mel Donnelly, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Commemorations Manager, said: “For almost a century, 2nd Lieutenant Eric Henderson was remembered with honour on the CWGC’s Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial to the Missing - one of tens of thousands of young men whom the fortune of war denied a known grave. When the memorial was unveiled in 1927, the assembled mourners were told ‘He is not missing. He is here’. Today, thanks to the efforts of many, that statement has new meaning for Eric and his family. Judith Leyman, Eric’s great niece, said“Being here in Ypres, and knowing Eric’s resting place, means an awful lot to us. He wasn’t a dusty memory in our family, but part of our mental landscape.” The War Graves Commission provided the headstone, which was engraved with his name and the personal inscription: “Tread softly o’er my beautiful Eric’s grave for a mother’s love lies here”.
With the 100th anniversary of the Armistice and the end of the 1st World War approaching I am struck not just by the care and respect shown to Eric Henderson and his family but by the fact that despite the years, despite the wars that followed and despite the cynicism of the time we still remember a 100 year old promise…
Have you forgotten yet?…
Look up and swear by the green of the spring that you’ll never forget.
– from Martyn Day