A special ceremony has been held to commemorate a soldier who fought in Belgium during the First World War.
Serjeant Andrew Neil had not previously been commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as he had been discharged from the army before he passed away, meaning the CWGC were not informed. However, an application was presented to the Commission in 2015, and now Andrew has a CWGC headstone to commemorate the sacrifice he made.
The service was held on October 30 at Church Bank Cemetery in Wallsend.
WHO WAS SERJEANT ANDREW NEIL?
Serjeant Andrew Neil was born in December 1879 in Wyke, Yorkshire and later married Sarah Jane in 1901 in Gateshead and had nine children. Before Andrew enlisted with the 5th Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers in September, 1914, he was a chemical worker at the Castner Kellner Company in Wallsend.
Andrew arrived in France in April 1915. His battalion was immediately rushed into the front line at Ypres, Belgium where, on April 22, the German Army launched a major offensive, hoping to smash through the thinly held British defences about the town. In over a month of desperate fighting, the British line was pushed back to the outskirts of the town, but it never broke. On the last day of the battle, Andrew was wounded and evacuated to Britain.
Andrew’s wounds were so severe that he lost both his eyes and was hospitalised in London before being admitted to St Dunstan’s Home for blind soldiers for rest and training. During this time, he developed Jacksonian epilepsy and was discharged from the army in October 1916.
Andrew later died, aged 39, at his home on Westmorland Street, Wallsend in May 1919. Two weeks after Andrew’s death, his wife Jane gave birth to a little girl, May, but she died at just few weeks old.
Both Andrew and Jane are buried at Church Bank Cemetery, along with their older daughter, Andrena, who passed away in 1922, aged 20 and all three are named on the new headstone. Andrew’s extended family, including Maria Caffrey who is married to Andrew’s Grandson and has helped organise the ceremony, spoke about his life at his graveside and the service was presided over by Reverend Tim Duff. A Bugler sounded the Last Post.
Throughout the Ieper area, the CWGC maintain the cemeteries and memorials of the British and Commonwealth servicemen who fell. The names of more than 89,000 servicemen who died in this region and who have no known grave are inscribed on the CWGC’s Menin Gate and Tyne Cot memorials.