Luck, coincidence and diligent research combined to replace the headstone on the war grave of a Goudhurst man, George Baker, one hundred years after he died during the Battle of the Somme.
In 2007, the late Bob Brown, then chairman of Goudhurst’s Local History Society, discovered that George Baker’s headstone showed his name as Barer. At his instigation, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) re-engraved the name, but the result was far from satisfactory, with a K being imposed over the R.
On a visit to the Somme last September, local historian Roger Joye was surprised to find a wreath of poppies on the grave even though he and his wife, fellow historian Gill Joye, had found no direct descendants, despite extensive searching.
A few days later, the exact centenary of George Baker’s death was commemorated at the war memorial in Goudhurst. It was attended by George Jessel DL, High Sheriff of Kent. When told of the mystery and the state of the headstone, he offered to contact the CWGC to see what could be done to improve the engraving.
On that same centenary day, 28th September 2016, members of George Baker’s family made an unrelated visit to the grave at Méaulte, France. They planted a wooden cross bearing just their Christian names. In October, the CWGC wrote to George Jessel to say they had installed a brand new headstone and enclosed a photograph. By coincidence, the family’s cross was included, with legible names.
Gill set about tracing the names, constructing a family tree descending from George’s sister, Mary. Contact was then made with the family. It was then learned that the wreath Roger had seen had been laid by George Baker’s 14 year-old great-great-niece, Miriam Small, during a school visit in July 2016.
In March this year, to commemorate the renewal of George Baker’s headstone, Goudhurst & Kilndown Local History Society, the Goudhurst branch of the Royal British Legion and Great War Battlefields of Goudhurst arranged for a group of local people to attend a ceremony at the Cemetery at Méaulte.
Poppy wreaths were laid on George’s grave (pictured) and the Last Post was sounded.