22 November 2017

CWGC intern Stewart Murphy shares his experience

From helping visitors at some of the Commission's most well-known sites to joining national commemorations including the RBL Festival of Remembrance on 11 November, the second of wave CWGC interns' stint with the Commission will be coming to an end this month. Stewart Murphy is one of six who have been based in France. Here he shares how the internship has helped him research his family history.

 

Stewart Murphy

From: Suffolk

Based in: France

Studied: History at the University of Kent

Why did you apply for the CWGC Centenary Interns Programme?

I applied for the programme because I have a genuine interest in the First World War. I feel that it is impossible to understand the modern world without an appreciation of the war’s impacts, and wanted to develop my understanding of the war while sharing my knowledge with members of the public.

What has been your most memorable experience?

My most memorable experience was attending the Armistice Day commemoration at the Menin Gate. It was a poignant and moving ceremony.

How has the internship helped you?

Prior to this internship I knew little about my family’s military service in the First World War, but this scheme has given me the drive and resources to rectify that. I reached out to family members for more information, and found that the centenary of one relative’s death was coming up. John Leslie is my grandmother’s grandfather, but she couldn’t help us find out more about him. Much of the following information was provided by my uncle, who has carried out research to build a more complete picture of our family history. Unfortunately, information is sparse because there is no trace of him after the 1891 census and his army service record seems to have been lost during the Second World War.  

John Leslie was born in Leslie, Aberdeenshire, in 1876, the first child of an insurance salesman. John moved to Chapeltown when he was about 14-years-old, living and working as a farm labourer with his deceased mother’s family. Afterwards, he worked in a paper mill and as a railway labourer. Four years before the outbreak of war, John married and started a family with Mary Ann Bruce, a farm servant from Aberdeen.

In 1915, John signed up for the 157th Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery, which was raised in Aberdeen during April-May, and which was equipped with 18 pounder field guns. The 157th Brigade was part of the newly-formed 35th Division, a New Army division, which would see action on the Western Front during 1916-1918. As a Gunner, John would have been part of a six-man team which fought an individual 18 pounder gun, firing on German batteries, positions, and troops. He would have been responsible for various jobs, such as moving and loading the gun.

The experience I gained researching battalion war diaries during our training enabled me to build a picture of the actions his battery was involved in, but unfortunately not how he died. John died on 22 November 1917, while serving in ‘A’ Battery during the Third Battle of Ypres. His Brigade’s diary sadly provides no information on his death, or the death of any other ranks on that date. Thus, it is likely that he had received a wound several days ago, which proved to be fatal. On 25 August 1919, a Graves Registration Unit recorded that he had been buried at Solferino Farm Cemetery in West Flanders. Solferino is a relatively small cemetery with 304 graves, built in October 1917, which has been kept by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission ever since.

 

Applications for the next wave of interns are now open. Click here to find out more.