It’s 97 years since my great-grandfather last featured in a newspaper. Instead of arriving home as his wife and three young children had expected, his death was announced in the Lochgelly Times.
John Roy was killed in action on May 11, 1917 whilst serving in the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC), 21st Field Ambulance regiment. He had been in France for the past two years and had been given leave to go home.
Ninety-two years after his death my parents, Mike and Pat Quinn, taking advantage of my dad being made redundant from his job, bought a campervan and decided to make the pilgrimage to France to visit his grave.
They were the first, and to date only, family members to visit the grave at Mory Abbey Military Cemetery which lies between Arras and Bapaume. The cemetery contains 619 Commonwealth burials from the First World War. 101 of these are unidentified. It also contains 230 German burials.
The trip to France was a pleasant, albeit emotional one especially for my dad. His mum, Mary Quinn, had told him how she remembered being carried on her dad’s shoulders the day he went off to war. She never saw him again and we have no photos of him.
Her mother, Margaret Chalmers, remarried and went on to have eight more children but her eldest three children retained the surname Roy.
Recalling the trip my mum said: “After arriving by ferry at Zeebrugge we drove through the beautiful countryside of Belgium and France enjoying the sunshine and the peace and quiet of the open road. The horror of war seemed a million miles away until we came across the first war cemetery. We stopped on the road and then it became clear that we were practically surrounded by sparkling white headstones.
“Most of the cemeteries follow the same design and uniform aesthetic typically surrounded by a low wall or hedge. Near the entrance there is usually a marked cross on the wall showing a metal cupboard which houses a register with a inventory of the burials and a plan of plots and rows.
“On reaching the beautiful cemetery at Mory I stopped to look at the register while my husband walked up the stairs and stood right in front of his grandfather’s grave. It was a very emotional moment. The cemeteries are beautifully maintained and each headstone bears the regimental badge, rank,name,unit,date of death and age (if known ) of each casualty.”
She added: “Along with the inventory register we found a visitors book which contained names of people from all over the world who had come to pay their respects to our brave young men who gave their lives for this country. We felt very honoured to have been able to visit and would encourage anyone thinking about it to do so.”
It is thought John Roy was a stretcher-bearer in the RAMC. The RAMC operated the army’s medical units and provided medical detachments for the units of infantry, artillery and other arms. The Corps was assisted in its work by voluntary help from the British Red Cross, St John’s Ambulance, the Friends Ambulance Unit, the Voluntary Aid Detachments and hundreds of private and charitable ventures. Many of those serving in the unit were conscientious objectors who objected to the war but served in units where they could help the injured or dying. John Roy had enlisted so it is not thought he was an conscientious objector.
It has been difficult to find out much about him, we don’t know his date of birth and there is no information we know of which tells us how he died. My parents believe he was an Irish immigrant from Dublin who came over to Fife to work in the pits. A record in the War Diary Intelligence Survey for May 11 details his death in one sentence, ‘No 43063 Pt J Roy was killed in action and buried at Mory’.
His name and the sacrifice he made for his country, is remembered on the war memorial in Lochgelly.