Belfast Telegraph

Family's pride for Ulster war hero with no grave: Edmund Gray died in No Man's Land rescuing wounded

By Chris Kilpatrick

He is an Ulster soldier who went to the front but never came home to his young bride-to-be.

Private Edmund Gray kissed his fiancée goodbye as he left for the Great War.

Not only did the 26-year-old die in the bloody conflict, his body was never recovered.

He was killed clambering across No Man's Land in a desperate attempt to save a comrade.

Almost a century on, his family told how relatives spent decades fruitlessly searching for answers as to his final resting place.

Born in an Orange hall in his native Bessbrook, Co Armagh, he served his time as a weaver from the age of 14.

One of nine children, in 1915 he joined the Army and was soon sent to the front with the Royal Irish Fusiliers.

Outgoing and popular, Edmund was renowned as being deeply humanitarian. The nightmarish scenes he encountered at the Battle of the Somme in 1916 traumatised him. More than 1,000,000 men on all sides were killed or wounded during the battle.

As a stretcher bearer he would give his life trying to help stricken soldiers.

His letters home told of his horrific experiences.

"My mother was his younger sister and more or less idolised him," Edmund's nephew Stanley McMinn said.

"He survived the Somme and going over the top, but he was absolutely horrified by it. He saw what weaponry could do to people."

Edmund died at the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917.

Mr McMinn said of the day Private Gray died: "There was an officer stranded in No Man's Land, deep in mud. Eddie and his friend went out with their stretcher but a German shell blew them to pieces. His body was never recovered."

A short time later the telegram arrived at the home of Private Gray's family.

So devastated by the loss was his fiancée, she was said to have spent days walking aimlessly round Bessbrook.

Among items belonging to his uncle which Mr McMinn treasures is a locket with pictures of Edmund and his sweetheart.

"She was a lovely-looking girl," he said. "Her name was Alderdyce and she would later move to the north west."

The authorities told them there could never be a grave to visit.

"I have the letters his mother wrote to the Ministry of Defence asking where his grave was," said Mr McMinn.

"It was so hard on them. My mother worshipped him and she always spoke of him.

"Growing up he was an idol for me, too. There's hardly a day passes I don't think of him now."

BACKGROUND

Private Edmund Gray was killed in battle during the First World War. Heartbreakingly for his family and young fiancée, the 26-year-old Bessbrook man's body was never recovered. Later this year his nephew Stanley McMinn will take part in a ceremony marking new woodlands commemorating the First World War. Four flagship woodlands, one each in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, are being planted by the Woodland Trust as part of a £12m project to provide a permanent memorial to those killed in the conflict. A tree will be dedicated to Private Gray on the site in Faughan Valley, Co Londonderry

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