“In Flanders Fields the poppies blow / Between the crosses, row on row.”
For anyone, this is a moving passage from the poem “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae.
But for Australian woman Julie Steele, it’s a poem that came to life in the most unexpected way.
She found the exact spot where her forgotten ancestor, a fallen WWI soldier, was buried.
Then she flew halfway around the world to his grave – 100 years to the day that he was killed – to say, “We have not forgotten you.”
A family legend
Julie had a vague awareness that someone in her family had served in World War I. And she knew a few details about him.
His name was Tasman Fixter. He was originally from England.
He left a pregnant wife behind in Boisdale, Victoria when he enlisted in the Australian Military Forces and was shipped to the warfront.
Tasman’s son never met him, as he was killed in action in Belgium.
His son moved back to England but had no children. There were no direct descendants left to remember him.
The legend comes to life
But thanks to his great-grandniece Julie, Tasman’s story does not end here.
She started doing family history research and discovered all sorts of new tidbits about Tasman’s life.
From , she found out that his wife’s name was Elizabeth, and he was 24 years old when he enlisted on that fateful day of September 14, 1916.
It was exactly at this time that Julie was planning a trip to Europe and realised that she would be there on the 100th year anniversary of Tasman’s death.
Remembering a fallen soldier
Julie’s idea of visiting Tasman’s grave was initially a whim, but with her passion for research became very real. She booked her trip to include a visit to his grave.
With the help of the staff at the In Flanders’ Fields Museum, Julie was able to visit the site of his death, using the coordinates she found on Ancestry pinpointing the dugout where Tasman had died and was first buried.
She then used the information about him being exhumed and moved to Hooge Crater Cemetery, which she also found on Ancestry, to visit his final resting place.
Julie was there on September 20th, on exactly the one hundred year anniversary of Tasman’s death – right about the time he was believed to have died, about 1:00 p.m.
She was able to say,
“We are still in Boisdale. We still have relatives who bear your name. We have not forgotten you.”
To commemorate her visit, she left a small laminated card with a message for him, a message she had traveled over 16,700 kilometres to deliver.
For Julie it was a very unique journey.
But the connection with the past and the members of our families who gave their lives in service to their country is something many of us can uncover.
What ties to our shared military past will you discover in your family?