Niece pays her respects to Great War hero uncle

The great niece of a Clitheroe war hero who fought in World War One travelled to Belgium to mark the 100th anniversary of his death.
Private James Birtwell.Private James Birtwell.
Private James Birtwell.

Private James H. Birtwell lived in St Mary’s Street, and served in the 17th Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers during the Great War.

The local lad, who enlisted in January, 1915, as an 18-year-old volunteer, lost his life at the age of 22, after being in an explosion, believed to be a German trap. The private, who was awarded a Distinguished Conduct Medal, was serving with his unit in France and Flanders, when he took part in the battle of Kortrijk, to liberate the village of Marke, where he was later killed on October 20th, 1918.Last month, Janet Clegg, of Clitheroe, travelled to Belgium by train to attend a ceremony organised by the Historical Association Markebeke and lay a wreath at her uncle’s gravestone as a mark of respect.Janet was accompanied by Sarah Helen Snow, from Dartford, who used to live in Marke. The duo were also joined by Danny Oddie, grandson of Thomas Oddie – a cousin of James who lives in Belgium.Janet said: “A service of remembrance was held on the 100th anniversary of Uncle Jimmy’s death at his graveside in a local churchyard in the small town of Marke. “Very moving tributes were paid at the ceremony by Geert Vandevelde, Freddy Vandevoorde (Marke Historical Association) and Vincent Van Quickenbone (Mayor of Kortrijk). “They also honoured the war hero by placing wreaths on his grave and there was a solemn performance of the standard bearers and speeches. The service was followed by a reception at the Baron’s castle Blomme Gem.

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“I was grateful to be joined on the trip to Belgium by Sarah, who as a child used to place flowers on James’ grave – she always wondered about him and his family history. “As a result, she contacted Clitheroe Town Hall around July this year, who in turn put her in touch with Shirley Penman (Civic Society Archives) who in turn put her in contact with me. “It was then we decided to travel to Belgium.” One of six brothers and three sisters, Mr Birtwell has five surviving nieces, Mrs Barbara Winnard, Mrs Jean Bentley, Mrs Dorothy Cotteril, Mrs Adela Howarth, Mrs Frances Woods and numerous great great great nephews and nieces.