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What Elizabeth Williams Means to Duke
Previewing BYU
Armistice Day 2010
By Orin Day
November 11, 2010

Reflecting on Great Sacrifices, and the Small World We Still Live In

In November 2008 I wrote an editorial for DWHoops reflecting on an earlier journey to Arras, France, where our family traveled to visit former Duke player Sheana Mosch. (Click for copies of that article and photo gallery.) While Sheana's efforts on the court were admirable, leading the league in scoring and eventually propelling her team into the postseason, we were quite taken with the monuments and cemeteries in the area. Arras was the site of one of the bloodiest battles of World War I's Western Front. After failures by the British and French at the Somme and Verun respectively, a breakthrough was demanded. It was achieved in Arras between 9 April and 16 May 1917 at a staggering cost, the lives of nearly 160,000 Allied troops. Perhaps an equal number of Germans also fell. More brave young men fell in a German attack in the spring of 1918.

That part of the Allied front had troops primarily from the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Newfoundland, and South Africa - at that time all were part of the British Empire. As the battles for trenches and hills raged, the battle lines advanced and retreated, and the bodies of many of the fallen were lost or destroyed beyond recognition. In Arras proper the Faubourg d'Amiens Cemetery holds 2,650 Commonwealth graves, but the memorials there commemorate 36,000 more. Our visit was at the tail end of winter, and the chill wind was often felt. But there we discovered something quite amazing to those used to the seas of marble tombstones of Arlington National Cemetery - plants in beds around the markers beginning to put out spring flowers, and many poignant and varied inscriptions on the stones, some that still bring me to tears.

One such stone in that cemetery was that of Serjeant Samuel Howard of the Royal Lancaster Regiment, who died at age 25 on 10 May 1917. The inscription was "HIS NAME IS WRITTEN IN LETTER OF LOVE ON THE HEARTS HE HAS LEFT AT HOME" which I photographed along with the lovely spring flowers at its foot.

Little did I know that months later, completely out of the blue, I would receive the following email message from a gentleman in the UK:

I just want to say thanks to the person who posted this story on your website DWHoops. It's the story about a visit to the cemetary at Arras in France in 2008. I am researching my family tree and I was looking for a relative who died in the First World War. His name was Samuel Howard. I did not know anything about him except he had a brother and they both died in that war. I just did a random search in Google of his name and to my surprise his name came up against your website. I clicked on your site and saw it featured basketball. I wondered why his name was linked to basketball, but after reading the story I found out. I was amazed to see a description and a picture of his grave at Arras. I was almost in tears to see the grave and see where he actually was. Thanks to you I have found his brother in another cemetary in France and researched their military records. I printed out the photograph of his grave and gave a copy to his direct relatives who were over the moon to see it. How fantastic is the internet.

Quite literally I was stunned to read this. What are the chances? Granted, here at DWHoops we see many "hits" from web searches for photos of players from all teams - our systematic captioning of photos facilitates those discoveries. But this was totally unexpected. We were not only delighted that our article and photos were received in this way, but also that Serjeant Howard is still remembered generations later.

Some years ago the Australian band Midnight Oil recorded "The Last of the Diggers," a song with the poignant lyric, "Who will march for peace, now that the last of the Diggers are gone?" In Britain, that sad event did come to pass this year as their last three veterans, 108-year-old William Stone, 113-year-old, Henry Allingham, and 111-year-old and Harry Patch died. That generation will be honored in a special service at Westminster Abbey, one can learn more at the Passing of the WWI Generation Website. Today we at DWHoops ask you to remember those who served, and especially those who died. The seasons and flowers wax and wane at Faubourg-D'Amiens, new generations are born and others pass, but their honor and sacrifice abides.

To learn more about the Battle of Arras and its cemeteries, visit the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website where pamphlets about their past and present work and war history are available. More detailed information can be found in the Wikipedia article Battle of Arras (1917). Materials from each served as supplementary sources for this piece.

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