In a quiet corner of a churchyard that is forever Yorkshire, children gathered to pay tribute to a man they had never met, and who died 100 years ago to the day.
Private Rowland Hartley went off to the Great War as a soldier with the 8th Battalion the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, serving on the Western Front.
Like so many others thrust into the horrors of the trenches, no man’s land and mechanised warfare, he died there on Thursday, September 14, 1917 from injuries received in action.
His body was returned to England and buried in the cemetery at Whitechapel Church in Cleckheaton .
A century later Year 6 children from Whitechapel Church of England Primary School joined members of the Spen Valley branch of the Royal British Legion for a quiet service of remembrance for the local lad who died aged 32, leaving behind a wife and young child. The Reverend Brunel James, vicar of Whitechapel, read a tribute.
Churchwarden Philip Hardill said Rowland’s final resting place is unusual in that it also contains the remains of his younger brother, Frank, who served with the Durham Light Infantry. Frank died of wounds on September 18, 1919. He was just 21 years old.
“Frank died two years after Rowland. To have two bodies in the same grave is quite an unusual occurrence. The ratio is less than 1%,” he revealed.
“Every soldier is entitled to a single grave so to have these two brothers together was probably a decision taken by the family.
“They were from Birkenshaw and they are not listed on the Cleckheaton war memorial. The British Legion believes that their parents may have been members of the congregation at Whitechapel and felt it appropriate that they were buried in our graveyard.”
Whitechapel’s cemetery contains three military graves. Two commemorations have now taken place. It is expected that a final tribute will be paid in 2019 on the centenary of Frank Hartley’s death.
And Mr Hardill hopes that a stonemason’s error might be corrected: when Frank was buried with Rowland a replacement headstone was arranged. The date of his death was inscribed as 1917, not 1919.
“The date on the headstone implies that the two brothers died within four days of each other,” he explained. “In fact Frank died two years later.”
Mr Hardill has written to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to see if the error can be rectified.