Burnley family's pilgrimage to pay respects to fallen hero 75 years on

The sacrifice of a Burnley soldier who gave his life in the Second World War has been marked by his family.

The family pay their respects at Arthur's grave in France
The family pay their respects at Arthur's grave in France

Corporal Arthur Haigh was killed in action on September 4th, 1944, during an engagement with German forces at the village of St Pol, following the D-Day landings to liberate France.

Arthur was serving with the 1st Battalion East Lancashire Regiment which landed on July 29th, 1944, in Normandy.

His son-in-law David Herbert recently located his grave and other information through the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and set out to pay his respects.

David (79) said: "Arthur left his wife Edna and three young children, Annie, James and Jean. I married Jean in 1962. Jean never knew anything about her father. She was not three years old when he died and as he was on military service he probably did not make many visits home.

"All I knew about him was that on our marriage certificate it stated that Jean’s father was Arthur Haigh [Soldier Deceased]. But thanks to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission I was able to establish the date of his death and where he was buried, which was the British Forces Cemetery near the village of Pernes, France."

With this information Jean and David talked about visiting the cemetery at some time. Unfortunately this never happened as Jean sadly died in October, 1996, a victim of breast cancer.

But the thoughts of visiting the cemetery still remained with David and on January 5th, nearly 75 years after Arthur Haigh’s death, David and his children Catherine, Jackie, Neil and Adrian were able to pay their respects to their grandfather.

‘It was quite an emotional moment standing next to the gravestone of the man we never knew," added David.

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"The cemetery is the last resting place for 1,078 graves of men who had died in the First World War and 18 from the Second World War. There were also seven other graves of soldiers of the East Lancashire Regiment who also died on Monday September 4th, 1944, so we were able to place a floral tribute on each headstone.

"The other 10 casualties were members of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and the Rifle Brigade. As the words of the famous poem ‘For the Fallen’ by Laurence Binyon state, 'we will remember them’."

On September 6th, 1944, The East Lancashire Regiment was part of the force which, after four years of German occupation, freed the town of Ypres, Belgium.

Ypres is the site of the Menin Gate Memorial where every evening since 1929 the Last Post Ceremony is respectfully carried out.

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David added: "This is a short but very moving ceremony. We were very moved to stand in the memorial, which contains the names of 54,000 soldiers who died in the First World War and have no known grave. It was a very humbling experience and brings home to you the terrible conditions and the great sacrifice they made.

"Our whole trip was both memorable and worthwhile. My only regret is that Jean was not with us."