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Tributes paid to First World War soldier who died 100 years ago on his way home from Italy to Drinkstone

PUBLISHED: 15:34 19 September 2018 | UPDATED: 15:34 19 September 2018

Some of the descendants of William Edwards at All Saints Church, in Drinkstone. Picture: ROBIN SHARP

Some of the descendants of William Edwards at All Saints Church, in Drinkstone. Picture: ROBIN SHARP

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A soldier who died exactly 100 years ago on his way home from Italy to visit his family during the First World War has been poignantly and fondly remembered in Drinkstone, the village in which he lived and worked.

William Edwards and his wife Edith (but always known as ‘Flo’), pictured in August 1917. Picture: EDWARDS FAMILYWilliam Edwards and his wife Edith (but always known as ‘Flo’), pictured in August 1917. Picture: EDWARDS FAMILY

Sapper William Edwards had been serving on the Italian Front with the 158th Army Troops Company Royal Engineers for almost a year when he was granted home leave to see his wife Edith and two young daughters Kathleen and Molly.

He fell ill on a troop train en route and was taken to a military hospital in the Rhone district of France.

A few days later, on September 3, 1918, he died from cerebral malaria probably contracted in the swampy areas of Italy where he had been building bridges. He was 38 years old.

The story of William Edwards’ life, military career and death was told at a service at All Saints Church, in Drinkstone, and in a special exhibition which was attended by some of his grandchildren, great grandchildren and great, great grandchildren.

TheFirst World War memorial plaque, All Saints Church, Drinkstone. Picture: ROBIN SHARPTheFirst World War memorial plaque, All Saints Church, Drinkstone. Picture: ROBIN SHARP

They included Wendy Young, the wife of his grandson; Neil Donaghy, grandson; Jane Grantham, great grandaughter; Jessica Grantham, great, great grandaughter; Carole Donaghy, wife of grandson; Moira Reeve; grandaughter; David Young and John Donaghy, grandsons; Louise Bailey, great grandaughter; and Nancy Bailey, great, great grandaughter.

An exhibition detailing Sapper Edwards’ life and military service has been compiled on behalf of the Drinkstone War Memorial Institute (Village Hall) by Robin Sharp, the vice chairman.

He said: “We’ve been celebrating the lives of each of the 15 men listed on our Great War Memorial on the centenary of their death and William Edwards is the 13th man to be remembered in this way.

“It was especially pleasing and moving to have so many of William’s descendants present to join with us in honouring his sacrifice and to keep our solemn pledge ‘We will remember them’.”

The exhibition is free to view and is on display at Drinkstone Village Hall which is the official Drinkstone War Memorial, until October 5.

Moira Reeve, one of William’s grandchildren who lives in Walsham-le-Willows, added: “Our grandfather has been an important part of our family life through the years, thanks to the memories passed on by our mother Molly, his younger daughter, and all the keep-sakes we have including his medals and photographs. To attend the church service and to have his story brought to life and made public was a proud moment for us all.”

A message reporting William’s death was sent to his wife and daughters in Drinkstone Green, on September 7, 1918.

He was laid to rest in the St Germain-au-Mont-d’Or Communal Cemetery Extension and in October 1998, at the age of 83, his younger daughter Molly was finally able to pay her respects to her father when she was taken by her daughter Moira to visit his grave.

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