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Visiting my family’s war graves has been invaluable

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Jose Railton’s two great-great-great-uncles died fighting in the First World War.

She took her family to visit them – Charles Young Mitchell, who is buried in France, and Augustus Holland Mitchell, who is buried in Belgium.

Here, she tells Sky News what it was like visiting the graves of her distant relatives.

For over 30 years our family had talked about visiting the graves of our relatives who lost their lives during the First World War… but we never did.

As children we had holidayed in Snettisham, Norfolk, visiting the war memorial in the village and the church, looking at the names of relatives that had passed away, but not really fully knowing their individual stories of how they had come to be commemorated in such a way.

Later, when our first child was born, a girl, it felt fitting to name her Poppy Leigh in tribute.

Jose Railton's two great, great, great uncles died fighting in the First World War.
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She went to France to visit one of them

As an adult I found myself performing the same rituals with my own children; stopping off at Snettisham on our way back home from a day trip to the seaside; observing the minute’s silence on Armistice Day and attempting to explain the complexities of WWI and the parts members of their family had played, despite knowing little of the facts myself.

Earlier this year I became aware of the Snettisham 45 project. I introduced Poppy (now aged nine) to the website and she read eagerly about her great-great-great-uncles Charles and Gus Mitchell – where they lived, what regiments they belonged to, and when and where they had died.

She began asking questions, which led to further research, conversations over dinner and the whole family becoming re-enthused about finding out more details.

I contacted the people organising the Snettisham 45 project to say thank you for all of their work, little realising that within months this would result in us as a family visiting both France and Belgium.

As we drove in the car towards the Honourable Artillery Company Cemetery outside of Arras, the children began to point out cemeteries, (easily identified by the Cross of Sacrifice).

Poppy commented on how many there were and how similar they appeared.

I felt nervous.

I knew where we were going, even what it looked like, as I’d seen photographs, but I wasn’t sure what my reaction would be.

H.A.C Cemetery, Ecoust St-Mein, is situated on raised ground.

We walked up the steps carrying our poppy crosses, wreaths of Norfolk lavender and letters in hand.

Sky News grabs of WW1 memorial in france
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It was an emotional trip for Jose

What first struck me was the uniformity and scale of the site, and the difficulty this presented in finding the grave we were looking for.

I felt lost at where to begin, having travelled all the way to France, the prospect of finding Charlie’s grave felt no closer.

As we walked the rows of burials the children began to read the ages of the soldiers that lay there.

We all agreed that it was incredibly sad, not only had so many people died, but also that they were very young.

Some not much older than children themselves.

Many of the headstones had the same dates, indicating that many of the men would have been fighting together.

The sense of loss was overwhelming and I began to cry.

Charlie had been 27 when killed in action in 1918; we reflected on how he was just starting out in life, newly married but yet to have children. Upon identifying Charlie’s burial we stood and spoke of his life, about the things we did know for certain, the things the children wanted to find out. But we understand that much of what had happened will remain unknown.

Jon and the children continued to look around the site allowing me a few moments to gather my own thoughts.

As I looked around I was very aware of how much the scenery reminded me of Norfolk.

Jose Railton's two great, great, great uncles died fighting in the First World War.
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Jose’s children found out about their family’s history

This gave me some comfort.

I also thought of my father who had passed away some years before.

He never made this visit, and will never know the stories uncovered as part of this project.

But I’ve now been able to share them with my children in the hope that they pass this information on to their children.

Later that day we drove to Rifle House Cemetery, Ploegsteert, Belgium; to pay our respects at the burial of Augustus (Gus) Mitchell.

Gus had drowned in 1915.

We knew no details and could only speculate as to what may have happened. He was recorded as being 22 at the time and engaged to be married.

Rifle House Cemetery, although still maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, has a very different atmosphere to that of H.A.C Cemetery.

The H.A.C Cemetery Ecoust St-Mein is situated on a roadside and is very open; Rifle House Cemetery on the other hand is very secluded, accessed via a single access track deep in Ploegsteert Woods.

This felt fitting as both Gus and Charlie had been gamekeepers.

I also felt much calmer and more collected at this site, it was much smaller and felt more natural an environment in which to be paying respects to a relative.

Sky News grabs of WW1 memorial in france

We realised during our visit that, in a way, we have many more questions than we did at the beginning of this journey, and that our research would have to continue.

On returning home we discovered many things including that Herbert, the children’s great-great-grandfather, had married a WWI widow, her first husband having lost his life in 1917 at the battle of Scarpe.

The great-uncle I had known growing up, was her child from this marriage.

We also discovered that Charlie had most likely been killed via German machine gunfire and that Gus had drowned while bathing.

Tragically another young soldier had also lost his life attempting to save him.

The visit to the war graves and learning the individual stories of family members has been an invaluable experience for all of us.

The children have been able to explore and get a better sense of their family history and the experiences of those who fought during the war, as well as being able to reflect on the feelings of those that they left behind.

I am sure in years to come we will return to these cemeteries, and I’d encourage other families to do the same.

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Surgeon removes woman’s kidney after mistaking it for tumour

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A woman undergoing surgery for back pain left hospital missing a kidney after it was mistaken for a tumour.

Maureen Pacheco settled a lawsuit over the error by Dr Ramon Vazquez, who was tasked with cutting her open at the beginning of an operation to fuse together parts of the 51-year-old’s spine at a Florida hospital.

The surgeon made the decision to remove what he thought was a cancerous tumour after discovering the pelvic kidney, a functioning organ not located where kidneys are normally set in the abdomen.

Ms Pacheco had no say over whether it was taken out of her body in April 2016.

“He just took my life and dismissed it,” she said.

“If he would have looked at the MRIs that were given to him, he would have realised.”

Ms Pacheco said she was now fearful over future complications from the removal, saying a kidney transplant or dialysis is always in the back of her mind.

Errors such as wrongfully removing an organ are categorised as “wrong site, wrong procedure, wrong patient errors”, categorised by US health authorities and the NHS as “never events”.

While such events should, by definition, never happen, they are not infrequently recorded.

Between April and September this year, 96 incidences of wrong site surgery were recorded, including the biopsy of the wrong breast, an ovary being removed in error, and the removal of the wrong side of a patient’s colon.

To prevent incidents like these all hospitals implement procedures, such as clearly marking the body part to be operated on, that must be followed to prevent human error having catastrophic effects.

Dr Vazquez says the Wellington regional medical centre did not inform him that Ms Pacheco had a pelvic kidney. He had an unblemished record before the incident.

The case has been settled on his behalf for a “nominal amount”, according to his lawyer Mark Mittelmark, who stressed the doctor did not admit liability in admitting to a settlement.

Florida’s department of health has now filed an administrative complaint against Dr Vazquez, a process that could result in penalties ranging from losing his medical license to being fined.

It is understood he does not have medical malpractice insurance, so any payments will be made from his own pocket.

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Moscow names square after British double agent Kim Philby

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Moscow has named a square after the notorious British double agent Kim Philby.

The Russian capital’s mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, ordered the renaming of an intersection close to the headquarters of the country’s foreign intelligence service on Tuesday.

The move, which came as a surprise to many local residents, is announced during a period of troubled relations between the UK and Russia following the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal in Salisbury earlier this year.

Perhaps Britain’s most famous Cold War traitor and member of the Cambridge Five, Harold “Kim” Philby was a senior MI6 officer who in 1963 was exposed for passing information to the Russians for three decades.

He died in Moscow in 1988 and is said to have enjoyed walking around the city, although he lived in a residential neighbourhood far from the intersection now named after him.

Some residents wrote on a neighbourhood Facebook page that they had no idea who Philby was and suggested he had nothing to do with the local area.

The intelligence agency “should have named the ramp leading to their campus after him instead,” one user wrote.

Russia’s foreign intelligence agency have maintained tributes to the spy, with a website page dedicated to him and the information he provided the Russians in the Second World War, and a portrait revealed last year.

The Cambridge Five – a ring of high-profile men who were recruited as Soviet informers while at the university in the 1930s – also included Guy Burgess, a journalist and MI6 officer, and Anthony Blunt, who worked for MI5 during the war and went on to have a distinguished career as an art historian.

Philby, who joined MI6 in the Second World War, became head of the agency’s anti-Soviet section toward the end of the war, while operating unbeknown as a KGB agent.

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The village that brought its fallen soldiers back to life

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By Ian Woods, senior news correspondent

The small West Norfolk village of Snettisham is home to fewer than 3,000 people, but its history is a tale of heroism.

A century ago, 45 men from Snettisham fought and died for their country in the First World War.

Most of them young men and teenagers.

The small number of people who lived there means one in six of Snettisham’s adult working men lost their lives.

Every family in the village was affected by the loss of a loved one.

The residents of the village, of whom many are descendants of war soldiers, have decided that to mark 100 years since the First World War, they will truly remember The 45 – delving into their backgrounds and finding out exactly who they were, how they lived, and how they died.

Here, we look at some of those soldier and their stories.

The 45 names on the town’s war memorial were polished and restored to mark the hundredth anniversary of the start of the war, but villager Stuart Dark told Sky News that they needed to do more.


Sky Rushes WW1 Snettisham Woods Ian Woods Snettisham 181101 File Ingest
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A memorial site in Snettisham lists the names of The 45

“To remember someone you have to know something about them. Reading out those names every November 11th – we didn’t really know those backstories, they got lost in the sands of time and it was absolutely right that we went back and looked at who these people were.”

Mr Dark, a retired police officer, says it took 500 hours of research to paint a picture of each man, and discover where they were buried. The next step was to arrange to visit all of them. Most were in France or Belgium, but one man was killed in Palestine and another died while training pilots in Canada.


Sky Rushes WW1 Snettisham Woods Ian Woods Snettisham 181101 File Ingest
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Stuart Dark says it took more than 500 hours of research

At each grave there was a solemn ceremony in which their details were read out, and wreaths of poppies and west Norfolk lavender were laid. A letter, written by a child from Snettisham primary school to the individual soldier was also left. Some are direct descendants of the 45 who died.

Nell Mitchell is a descendant of Sydney Mitchell who made it home from the front despite a hand grenade exploding in his face.

He died from influenza and pneumonia on 2 December 1918, at the age of just 21, only three weeks after the signing of the Armistice.

Pupils at a local school each adopted a soldier to write to.
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Nell Mitchell is a descendant of Sydney Mitchell, one of The 45

The rector of the village church Reverend Veronica Wilson told Sky News the project has been “marvellous”.

“It has brought the village together because it has involved the parish council, the school, the church and lots of other organisations as we sought to remember and value the 45 men from the village who died. This project has helped us to remember these gentlemen as individuals, known and loved and remembered by us as a community.”

While the men of Snettisham went to war, the war came to Snettisham on 19 January 1915. A Zeppelin which is thought to have been trying to target the nearby royal residence of Sandringham, instead dropped a bomb close to St Mary’s – Snettisham’s medieval church. Windows were shattered and it left a huge crater which stills exists to this day.

A Zeppelin which is thought to have been trying to target the nearby royal residence of Sandringham, instead dropped a bomb close to St Mary's - Snettisham's medieval church. Windows were shattered and it left a huge crater which stills exists to this day.
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Windows were shattered and a huge crater can still be seen to this day (L)

Inside the church, Sky News spoke to Paul Arthur Lincoln, grandson of Charles Arthur Lincoln whose name is on the church’s roll of honour, listing fatalities from the Great War.

Charles Arthur Lincoln enlisted on the 10 April 1917 at the age of 33 and was killed in action less than five months later.

He left behind his wife, Florence, and their seven-year-old son, Arnold.

Florence died on 10 September 1959 in Wandsworth, London.

Arnold Arthur went on to become a minister of religion and had Paul.

Sky News spoke to Paul Arthur Lincoln, grandson of Charles Arthur Lincoln whose name is on the church's roll of honour, listing fatalities from the Great War,
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Paul Arthur Lincoln says he has learnt more about his grandfather

Paul told Sky News he has learnt a lot about his grandfather thanks to the project.

“It makes you go back and look at the past and find out more. My father was only seven when [his father] died in the war… there is very little known about him.

“I’ve learnt some things that I didn’t know before.”

One thing Paul has wondered is why his grandfather Charles decided to enlist at the age of 33.

“I don’t know the answer to that,” he says. “I guess he saw lots of his friends and relatives who were killed and felt he had to do something and joined up.”

A particularly touching story is that of Harold William Meek.

Percy survived the war, but he had suffered severe shell shock as a result of the constant bombardment in the trenches which left him paralysed.
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Percy Meek suffered severe shell shock

Both his brothers – Charles and Percy – survived the war, but Harold died at sea on 30 December 1917 aged just 23.

His transport ship was torpedoed by a U-boat off the coast of Egypt.

Although Percy survived the war, he had suffered severe shell shock as a result of the constant bombardment in the trenches which left him paralysed.

Picture: picture of the ‘HT Aragon’ sinking from the Imperial War Museum
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HT Aragon sinking. Pic: Imperial War Museum

After treatment, including the simple therapy of weaving baskets, he eventually made a full recovery and returned to Norfolk.

Jose Railton took her family to visit the graves of two great-great-great-uncles – Charles Young Mitchell who is buried in France and Augustus Holland Mitchell who is buried in Belgium.

Sky News grabs of WW1 memorial in france
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Jose Railton took her husband and children to France to visit Charles Mitchell’s grave

Charles Young Mitchell was a sergeant in the 4th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers on the day he died – 31 August 1918.

He was 27 years old and was recently married – he was killed six weeks before the Armistice.

The battalion was stationed south of Ecoust-St Mein in Pas de Calais.

While the battalion travelled it was targeted by enemy machine guns which fired on them from a sunken road.

Because of the recorded day of Charles’s death, he was likely a victim of the ambush.

For many years Jose’s father talked about making the journey to visit the memorial in France, but he never did.

To honour her family’s history and the memory of her great-uncles, Jose took her own children, Elliot and Poppy, who put down flowers and a letter they had written for Charles.

“He was very young, he hadn’t been able to start a family yet”.

“It’s taken so long to get here,” she says.

“My dad spoke about coming here when we were little and he’s no longer with us.

“Seeing the number of burials and their ages… It’s a bit overwhelming really.”

“To come here and not have my dad with me and him not be able to do this with me has been difficult,” Jose says.

“But what has been nice is to come with my children and share stories with them.

“And what I’m hoping is that in years to come that they’ll come back with their children and carry on learning.”

Augustus Holland Mitchell enlisted in to the army in Tonbridge, Kent. He was assigned to the Queen’s own (Royal West Kent) Regiment and given regimental number G/417.

They then made the journey to Belgium where Augustus was laid to rest.

Augustus belonged to 6th Battalion of the Royal West Kent Regiment – he was Charles’s younger brother.

The regiment entered France at the start of June 1915 and took over part of the frontline at Ploegsteert Wood, Belgium, on 23 June – referred to as Plugstreet Wood by the British.

Augustus Holland Mitchell enlisted in to the army in Tonbridge, Kent. He was assigned to the Queen’s own (Royal West Kent) Regiment and given regimental number G/417.

Augustus died three days later, aged 21.

Plugstreet Wood was a station for units to train or recuperate from fighting.

It had become treacherous from battle and the forest was partially flooded and was full of shell holes submerged in water.

According to the battalion’s war diary, two men “died accidentally while bathing” on 25 June.

Several men from another regiment died there six months earlier.

Sky News grabs of WW1 memorial in france

Augustus is thought to be one of the two men mentioned in the diary, as his death was recorded as 26 June.

It is believed he may have underestimated the depth of water in the war-torn forest when he went in to bathe.

Several of the Snettisham 45 earned medals for bravery, but in the eyes of the village they were equally heroic.

And a century later they have undergone a kind of resurrection.

Long gone, but no longer forgotten.

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