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                                      "He held this trench, he holds it still"    
                              
My quest for private William Tart (1892 - 1916)
 

                                      This is the story of a quest. My quest. My steps, back along the timeline of history, looking
                                      for the answer to the question: who was private William Tart?
A British soldier who was
                                      killed on 23 april 1916 in Flemish mud, on a god-forgotten place where you have no business
                                      at all to be present under normal circumstances.
Even me have actually nothing to search in
                                      that place when
in the autumn of 2010 I visit the Ypres Salient , the former frontline of the
                                      First World War, where British and Germans soldiers fought for four years for just a few        
                                      miles of stinky mud and where hundreds of thousands men lost their lives.
The Ypres Salient
                                      as a symbol for the futility, the despair and suffering of war, and the inability of the generals
                                      to put a stop to it. I am present there to follow the track of an entire generation of young,
                                      promising artists who experienced this fight at the front. In their art they created in their
                                      mutual relations, a penetrating picture of the awfulness of this war and agitated against the
                                      inhumanity of the battlefield.
Not many survived this madness or at least were scarred for life.
                                      What remained was the eternal value of their letters, poems and music. Often beautiful and
                                      understated and mostly full of melancholy for home. But always steeped in blood and smeared
                                      with mud.
                                     

                                      My quest takes an unexpected turn when I find
a Memorial wreath in the mud, east of the IJzer
                                      - Ypres channel
, somewhere between No man's Cot Cemetery and Pilkem Ridge. Such a wreath
                                      wrapped with plastic or paper poppies, you can buy everywhere in this region at museums and
                                      flower stands. I stand there surrounded by wet, unruly arable land where beets are piled up under
                                      a closed sky.
Stifling grey, and it's about starting to rain. Driven by a sense of reverence I draw
                                      the wreath from the sucking mass and place it on a milestone at the side of the road. The soggy
                                      paper florets have lost
their fresh, new life bringing red color since long ago . My attention is
                                      immediately drawn by the stained plastic cover in the middle of the wreath. After wiping it clean
                                      a bit the following text patches appear: "William Tart – Kings Shropshire Regiment – man's
                                      name is on the Menen Gate" and a message of more personal nature: "William Tart held this
                                      trench, he holds it still". I feel the need to capture the scene on photo and write down the data.
                                      And then there are questions to answer: a soldier without grave? Why here, where time has
                                      covered up the past? Who laid down this wreath just here? And while I long for the answers it
                                      starts raining from the heavy air. Heavy as the clay on the fields and mud on the roads. In that
                                      vast sadness of the Flemish countryside I decide to look for William Tart, my unknown soldier.

                                      A new quest is born.


                                      Directly after returning home I try to make contact with the Kings Shropshire Light Infantry
                                      Regiment, which regiment William Tart joined according to my notes. On their website I scroll
                                      patiently along the many historic battalions photos with powerful and self-confident soldiers,
                                      who voluntarily stepped out of their carefree worlds and being unaware of the war horrors that
                                      awaited them. Names with the pictures are missing.
Uniformity trumps, in uniform everyone
                                      is equal. One of them has to be William Tart.
All are potential cannon fodder. I write the
                                      regiment an e-mail with the details of the card from the wreath and send the picture with it.
                                      For any acquaintances or relatives. My question to them is clear: who was private William Tart?
                                      Unfortunately I do not receive any reply. There follows a time of intensive search on the internet.
                                      The Great War may still boasted a great interest and it's still growing now it's nearly a hundred
                                      years ago is that this catastrophe started. Poems, diaries, travel stories, non-fiction: the stories
                                      keep alive the memory of the First World War, even though the inevitable topic is
the millions
                                      of deaths
over and over again. Also in the many forum discussions the subject is discussed in detail
                                      and it is here that I dare to attempt to post my question about William Tart. The result is amazing.
                                      Everything points in the direction of the mining town of Dawley in Shropshire and the forum
                                      answered  many of my  asked and unasked
questionat a stroke. In Dawley, at 52 Fingers Row,
                                      William lives
as the eldest son in the family of William and Martha Tart. A large family with 8
                                      children. And just as it's the case with so many families from Dawley, all adult men
work in the
                                      coal mines or the iron foundries. Father and the brothers William, Leonard and Thomas are no
                                      exception to this rule. Till service calls and the brothers enlist into the army at different times.

                                      Leonard and Thomas join the Kings Shropshire Light Infantry Regiment and
serve with the territorial
                                      troops. In 1912 Williams joins the regular troops of the 1st Battalion of the same regiment and
                                      serves primarily in India. At the outbreak of hostilities in Europe in 1914 William is injured in France
                                      and is send home to recover. Better again, he returns to France, just to get injured again. And again
                                      he returns to England to recover. A third time he goes to France, but now his luck runs out: on 23
                                      april 1916 he is killed in action, and his body has never been found. Only his name is listed on
                                      the Menin Gate in Ypres on panel 47-49, in the midst of an endless list of other missing soldiers.

                                     

                                     
                                      Menen Gate, Ypres
  

                                      With so much information and the answer to the question: who was private William Tart,
                                      my search seems to have come to an end. But not all my questions have been answered and new
                                      ones are appearing all the time: how would the town of Dawley look like? Would there still be any
                                      living Tarts? And who honoured William with a Memorial wreath in Flemish Earth? Virtually I
travel
                                      to Dawley, the old mining town in Shropeshire. From the descriptions I form me an image of a town
                                      amidst drab industry of many coal and iron mines in a battered landscape. And everywhere there's
                                      grey clay.
Carelessly deposited as mountains or as gaping holes left in the landscape. And I find
                                      a Tart there, a William indeed, even with an related email address. But it turns out to be a dead end.
                                      My message to him stays unanswered, the picture remains unseen.
                                     



                                        
                                      High Street, Dawley


                                      Dawley also has a History Group. I send my story to one Shirley who reacts directly with
                                      enthousiasme and prommises me to forward my email to David Shaw, an expert on the
                                      history of Dawley and writer of the book "Dawley's lost generation". And David doesn't
                                      disappoint met at all: I get handed detailed answers to my questions and even a new track
                                      to the familie of William Tart. The brothers Thomas and Leonard survive the war, in which
                                      Leonard was awarded the Military Medal for Bravery, the MM. The son of Leonard is still
                                      alive, but is old by days. Email-contact with him is unfortunately no longer possible. With
                                      grandson Mick who happen to live only three houses away
from David, it's possible and to
                                      him David will hand over my correspondence. I am very moved after opening the enclosed
                                      attachments: a yellowed newspaper photograph showing the image of the three brothers.
                                      There they are
with open look, not yet touched by the tragedy of the war.                                     


                                     
                                      The Tart brothers


                                      I also get an excerpt of the military history of the 1st Battalion of Kings Shropshire Light
                                      Infantry Regiment, the unit to which William belonged, for the period 19 – 23 april 1916,
                                      when the battlefield of Pilkem Ridge, northwest of Ypres cought fire again. Here were
                                      trenches revealed or recaptured in an overnight battle for meters mud ploughed by grenades:                                    



                                              


                                      From: the 1st Battalion Kings Shropshire Light Infantry Regiment war history
                                                  which covers the dates 19th to 23rd April 1916:

                                      On April 19th the enemy attacked and after an intense bombardment, succeeded in
                                      capturing a portion of the trenches at the Morteldje Estaminet. In consequence B and
                                      C Companies, less two platoons, moved up to join A and B Compagnies east of the
                                      canal bank. On the 21st the battalion was detailed to recapture the lost trenches. The
                                      attack, timed far 10 pm, was launched with B Compagny, Capt. H.S. Collins, on the
                                      right, A Compagny
, Capt. T.C.N. Hall, in the centre, and half C Compagny on the left.
                                      D Compagny and half C Compagny were in reserve. The heavy state of the ground and
                                      the darkness of the night prevented the three attacks being launched simultaneously.
                                      B Compagny, however, struck off about 10.45 and with two platoons, under 2nd Lts.
                                      Norton and Hannah, assaulting, reached the enemy trench, which proved to be
                                      unoccupied. The assaulting party was then subjected to heavy rifle and machine-gun
                                      fire, being enfiladed from the left. Communication was established with the 2nd York
                                      and Lanc. on our right at Algerian Cottage. A bombing party under CSM Evans was
                                      then sent out to establish communication on the left. This party gallantly cleared its
                                      way as far as the southern end of Willow Walk, but was unable to establish touch with
                                      A Compagny, which in fact had not, as yet, been able to advance. After waiting for the
                                      assembly of the left attacking party until 2 am A Company, who were knee deep in
                                      the mud, advanced and in spite of strong oppasition captured their objective, establishing
                                      touch with the left of B Compagny in Willow Walk.

                                      Meanwhile the two platoons of C Compagny under Lt. Fox, forming the left of the
                                      attack, which had lost touch in the rain and darkness, had re-assembled and managed
                                      to advance simultaneously with the centre, and after great difficulty owing to the state
                                      of the ground, reached the enemy trenches, which they cleared without encountering
                                      much opposition. A somewhat half-hearted counter-attack at daybreak was easily
                                      beaten off, leaving the battalion in possession of all the lost trenches. During the
                                      advance in the centre wounded men were foundto have been suffocated in the mud,
                                      and in some places on the left the mud was so deepthat it was only by crawling
                                      almost flat, throwing their rifles in front of them, that it was possible for the men to
                                      advanve. the situation was further complicated by a new trech, recently dug by the
                                      Germans, unknown to us, in the path of the centre of the attack. An intense
                                      bombardment between 6 and 7 in the morning of the 22nd followed in retaliation for
                                      the succesful attack and during this bombardment Lt. Col. Luard was severely
                                      wounded, dying at the Casualty Clearing Station in the evening of the 24th. The
                                      battalion was relieved on the night of the 22nd - 23rd and returned to Camp "E" in
                                      Wood "A30"
                                   
                                    


                                     
                                     
Morteldje Estaminet


                                      The story of this minor operation cannot be too simply told. Its estimate depends not
                                      upon gains or losses, but the fact that courage, devotion to duty and discipline enabled
                                      men to achieve, in mud, darkness and pouring rain what was seemingly impossible.
                                      And in the end there are only the chilly figures: 3 killed and 5 wounded officers. In the
                                      statistics only they have the honor to be named. At the lower ranks: 22 killed, 135 injured,
                                      6 missing. William belongs to the latter. Lance Corporal number 9837. He does not return
                                      from Morteldje Estaminet, the former Inn on the Moortelweg. Somewhere along this road,
                                      he found his final resting place in the heavy Flemish clay. "William Tart held this trench,
                                      he holds it still". The spot is marked by a small Memorial wreath, of which the pale red
                                      roses are the single color that stands out against the pale grey of the environment.



                                    



                                      On december 3rd 2010 I receive an email from Leonard Tart's grandson Mick. It's a short note,
                                      accompanied by comprehensive information about William, submitted by various registers
                                      from the municipality of Dawley and the military. I search for the year in which William was
                                      born. I find 1892. William was only just 25 years old when he was killed in what is officially
                                      was named the Theatre of War, the Western European Theatre. I sink into thoughts: the war
                                      as a theater piece in which, along with the millions of deaths, idealism and humanity were
                                      killed on the battlefield. I see for me a daunting decor in which rules and conventions of
                                      warfare were violated and were victims too. A macabre spectacle in which the illusion can
                                      catch up the gruesome reality, because this reality is unbearable to tell about itselves.
                                      The inconsolable grief of a mother who could take no farewell of her son when her the
                                      dreaded Army form B. 104-82 was handed over: "it's my painful duty to inform you .....".
                                      And do not have the ability to carry her own son to his grave by herself. She knows him only
                                      entrusted to bloodied Earth somewhere far from home.

                                      And also Mick comes with questions. Why was the Memorial wreath right there and not
                                      found in Ypres?  None of his family has laid it down there where I've found it. And what text
                                      was exactly on the card? And knew William someone in France? In my reply to him I describe
                                      again just what I've found and we come to the conclusion that we are talking about one and
                                      the same wreath. After which Mick ask me the question what will be the next step in my quest.
                                      I wonder if there
should be a next step . May be I want to hang on to the illusion now William
                                      has been given a face and has become a tangible essence for me. The question who has honored
                                      William in the Flemish field
seems suddenly  insignificant. Even when Mick later reports that
                                      a friend of his son layed down the wreath there where I've found it.

                                      I want to let
rest the past. Let the Flemish Earth to William. I step away from time, even though
                                      it will
continue forever . Because the absolute time moves inexorably, in which the present is
                                      swallowed by history. Was my presence there
based on a chance? Or was it a conscious moment
                                      in time, on which our both roads had to cross each other? It turned out to be a dead end for William
                                      and a marking point where the past
devoured the future and magnified everything continually
                                      since then. The past cannot rest, it creates grotesk forms
constantly.
                                     
                                      I slowly zoom forward to the present. The edge of the field at Morteldje Estaminet will turn red
                                      again by the always thriving poppy and the earth will bear rich fruits again. The silence there
                                      will be immense, the raw cry of a bird of prey will be then just an accent, no disruption of that
                                      silence. The tears of the last veteran are now long dried and the seasons will cover up the Ypres
                                      Salient  with a carpet of damp autumn leaves or virgin wintersnow
time after time. As a child
                                      that is poured in and good-night kissed lovingly. That it may forget the horrors of war forever.
                                      In the infinite cycle of life that applies to everyone. For friend and enemy.
                                  


                                      Oh! You who sleep in Flanders Field,
                                      Sleep sweet - to rise anew!
                                      We caught the torch you threw
                                      And holding high, we keep the Faith
                                      With All who died.

                                     
"We Shall Keep the Faith" - Moina Michael
                                     


                                     


                                     
Cees Sleven 2014   a Baseck Inc. / Timeflyer production
                                  

                                     
My special debt of gratitude goes to:
                                
                                     
Mr. Mick Tart, Dawley / Shropeshire, GB
                                      Mrs. Shirley Bruneau, Dawley History Group
                                      Mr. David Shaw, Dawley History Group
                                      Mr. Christopher Burgess
                                      Shropshire Regimental Museum, Shrewbury Castle / Shrewbury, GB
                                      Niek Arts, Arnhem / Unique stories