In Search of a Lost Family Member

The Menin Gate Memorial
We don’t usually set off on our travels with a definite purpose other than to enjoy the journey and what we find along the way, but this time round we definitely had a mission to accomplish, that being to find the inscription of a Saysell family member who had lost his life fighting in WWI on panel 50 of the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres, Belgium. That’s all we had to go by. But before we got there, as often is the case, we encountered some lovely surprises en route. On leaving Calais Eurotunnel Terminal, we headed slightly north east towards Dunkerque and then south to Esquelbecq for our first stop of this holiday. Here we found a charming free motorhome aire where to spend the rest of the afternoon and night with a wonderful dog walk along the river Yser, as well as a quaint old town with unusually decorated brick buildings, traditional of the Flanders region, and a 13th century castle. There wasn’t a lot of daylight by the time we arrived there, so we left our sightseeing and photo taking for the morning.
Traditional Flanders brick decoration at Esquelbecq, northern France
I love the hearts dating back to the 17th century
And the dormer windows!
16th century Saint-Folquin Church, with its 3 naves of equal size and unusual diamond brick decoration
Esquelbecq Château and gardens
Don’t you just love that watering can?
And how about that snail on the handle?
After buying our baguette at one of the town’s ‘boulangeries’, we continued our journey to Ypres, only about 30 km further east, stopping at a free bus car park near the city centre, and from there we walked to our main destination, the Menin Gate Memorial. The city itself looked very impressive as we approached, but this wasn’t a sightseeing outing (we left that for the afternoon and next day) and we marched on to the Memorial monument as intended.
Enjoying the impressive building in Ypres on our way to the Menin Gate Memorial
The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing is dedicated to the British and Commonwealth soldiers who were killed in the Ypres Salient during WWI and whose graves are unknown. We didn’t know much about Adonis’s relative other than his name was inscribed there and that is what brought us to this city. It was very touching to find all the poppy wreaths placed here recently during the Armistice 100th year Remembrance Day on 11th November and even more moving and humbling to see the thousands of names written on the walls, a total of 54,896 from the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, South Africa, British India and British West Indies. It puts a lump in your throat.
The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing, Ypres
Recently placed wreaths during Armistice Remembrance Day
Adonis pressed ahead while I took some photos and we were very pleased (if one can feel pleased at all about such things) when he found the inscription for a Saysell W.H. from the Monmouthshire Regiment. That left us wondering what the initials stood for and we were very keen to find out his full name and a bit more about him. Armed with his initials and his regiment, a quick search online confirmed he was a rifleman, born in 1894, but somehow this didn’t seem enough and I felt we owed it to him to find out more so that he could be more than a name on a wall, another fallen amongst the million of soldiers who lost their lives in that most awful of wars.
Adonis found his relative’s name inscribed on the wall amongst thousands of others lost during WWI
W. H. Saysell
W.H. Saysell fought with the Monmouthshire Regiment. The list of men missing is simply heartbreaking
Walking away from the Menin Gate and through the adjoining gardens, we found more tributes to other Common Wealth soldiers who lost their lives here.
Remembering those lost from Nepal
And South Africa
We thought that the Flanders Fields Museum might provide some answers and that was our next destination the following day. This museum offers a very comprehensive history of the war with an emphasis on the battles fought around Ypres, with real testimonies from soldiers, doctors, nurses, etc and great exhibits of all war paraphernalia, from weapons to uniforms. But the best thing of all is that we found even more details about W.H. Saysell on a database by the exit. Here we found that his full name was William Henry Saysell, was born in Newport (Wales) and that he died on 8th May 1915, only 21 years old. Given all the information we had read and videos we had watched during our visit, we can safely deduce that he died during the Battle of the Frezenberg Ridge, part of the Second Battle of Ypres, fought from 22nd April to 25th May 1915. 85 men from Newport died that day, the greatest loss suffered by any Welsh town in a single day during WWI. The Regiment lost a total of 211 men that day alone. A tragic event and a sobering thought, but at least we now know a little bit more about W.H. Saysell and what we need to establish now is his place in the family tree, as we are unclear at the present time whether he was an uncle or a second cousin of Adonis’s father. I have tried the Forces War Records, but can only get so far before payment for membership is required, which I really do not wish to do. However, we have a family tree book in storage and I hope we can retrieve it soon to solve this piece of the puzzle. For my part, I would like to find out more about him as a young man before he joined the armed forces as a Private: Was he married or did he leave a sweetheart behind? Did he have a previous job? What kind of things did he like? Are there any photos of him? He wasn’t just a war casualty or a number, but a real man with hopes and dreams, like everyone else. The quest continues.
Information found on database at Flanders Fields Museum, Ypres

20 thoughts on “In Search of a Lost Family Member

  1. Thank you for recording your fascinating journey to find family records, which yielded some information, Fatima. And I hope you can retrieve some more answers from your family tree book in storage soon to find more pieces of the puzzle.

    I gave my husband a Christmas gift of a DNA test, so he can trace his heritage. I wonder what he’ll find.

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    1. Thank you, Marian. I will most definitely continue to try and gather more information about this young and brave family member who fought and died for our freedom.

      I love your thoughtful gift to Cliff. DNA is really fascinating and meeting one’s ancestors is always intriguing and rewarding. I hope he will uncover wonderful facts and will meet amazing relatives.

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  2. What a worthwhile trip. As you say, such a waste of young lives. I have included some of this in my Holland book. I do hope you are able to find out more. Perhaps at a church, his family attended. They often keep good records.

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    1. Thank you for the suggestion, Darlene. I have tried the Newport Births and Deaths Register, but you need to become a member for this too. I am thinking about asking my son to contact his second cousins who still live there to see if they can find out. If not, we will just have to go there ourselves. 😉

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  3. You embarked on quite a personal and historic adventure! It makes me wonder what I could find out about my European ancestors. They were aristocrats before they moved to Jamaica, so probably nothing too interesting there. I do know a few of them were Freemasons though.

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    1. That sounds fascinating! I would most definitely dig into that past: you might even have a title! How cool would that be! There used to be a Marquis in my mother’s side of the family: The Marquis of Villamisar. The title was passed on to the first born male (sexist, I know); the trouble is it would have fallen onto my uncle and then my cousin, who were communists and didn’t believe in such things, so title hasn’t been claimed for 2 generations now.

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      1. I wouldn’t have the title. Like you said, it was always passed down to the sons, which is a major part of the plot in The Moreau Witches and how they manage to hold on to their titles. But, they were landed nobility for sure. They owned thousands of acres of land in Jamaica and had servants.

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      2. I plan to. I promised my mom I would write a story about our family. The Moreau Witches was practice for that, too. I wanted to see if I could do it on a small scale, before tackling it on a bigger one.

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      3. That sounds like a good plan and I am glad to hear it because, after I finished reading the Moreau Witches, I felt I would have liked to know more about Maria and her mother and especially what happened to the former after she joined the gypsies. How did she integrate? What challenges did she face? How did she acquire her fortune? I was hoping you might expand on that intriguing side of the story further. 👍

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      4. I don’t think I understand gypsy life enough to write about them without offending the whole community. 😆 In the new novel, I created a tribe that is based on the gypsies though. I call them Asimatí. They have always fascinated me, so this is my workaround.

        Also, I didn’t know you had finished the novel. That’s great! Don’t forget to leave me a nice review on Amazon or Goodreads, if you haven’t already. 🙃

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      5. I don’t make much of a fuss about doing it for bigger authors or popular books, but I do for smaller, lesser known authors. Every review is a vote in our favour, encouraging someone else to take a chance on us. Thanks again for reading! I hope you’ll like this second book. It’s been slow going with it, but it’s coming along!

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  4. Such an interesting journey Fatima. I’m happy that you both were able to glean a little information on Adonis quest to learn about a relative. All the war memorials are so sobering, to think that almost 55,000 young men lost their lives there…heartbreaking.

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