This May, my husband and I made our way to the Sucrerie Military Cemetery in Colincamps, France. As we stood by the graveside of my Great Uncle James Stapleton of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, I was well aware that I was representing five generations of his family who were never able to stand on this sacred ground. He died on the bloodiest day of battle in British Military History, 01 July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Today we observe a worldwide day of remembrance for all those who lost their lives during WWI, especially during this tragic battle.
Sucrerie is a relatively small cemetery that lies in the middle of Flanders Fields. Now it is surrounded by pastoral farmland, but 100 years ago it was at the epicenter of the fighting. For the next few years, it would change hands between the Germans and the Allies several times. They took turns trying to push the enemy East or West depending on their allegiance.
The word “sucrerie” in French means “sweet,” but visiting my great uncle’s grave was bitter sweet for me. I thought of his parents, my great-grandparents, receiving word back on the farm that their son had died in battle…so far from his place of birth in County Carlow, Ireland.
I thought of James’ brothers and sisters who were scattered in England, Ireland and America…and how they must have been shocked and saddened to hear of his death.
My grandmother, Anna Marie Stapleton Soens, was his sister who was the oldest of thirteen children of Mary Anne Ward and Edward Stapleton. She was living in Chicago at the time, and had married John A. Soens and was raising a family of her own…eight children with a ninth on the way.
My dad, James Lloyd Soens, was born just months afterwards on 22 December 1916. I cannot know exactly what was in my grandmother’s heart when she named her newborn son James so soon after her brother died in battle. What I do know it that it is an Irish custom to pass along the name of a deceased loved one to a child born soon afterwards, and I assume that was the case when my father was born.
Perhaps it was so that James’ name would be carried on, which it was, from my dad to my brother and then his son.
I am posting a picture that my husband took of me just after we placed a poppy wreath on James Stapleton’s grave. It was then that I thought of the words of “O Danny Boy” as I sprinkled Irish soil on his grave. I had collected this soil on a visit to The Hollow, the family farm back in Carlow County. I’ve walked down the very lane that he would have taken when he took his leave to join the Royal Irish Fusiliers. The words bring tears to my eyes.
“O Danny (Jimmy) boy, the pipes the pipes are calling, from glen to glen, and down the mountain side…’tis you must go and I must bide.”
“You’ll come and find the place where I am lying, and kneel and say an ‘Ave there for me.”
And so the song continues on, and the lyrics are forever etched in my heart as is the memory of my standing at the graveside of my Great Uncle James Stapleton.
“And I shall hear tho’soft you tread above me, and all my grave will warmer, SWEETER be, for you will bend and tell me that you love me, and I shall sleep in peace until you come to me.”
We remember and we love you James. From your family…including your great-niece Mary Anne+