Chateau war hero's family finally traced

Richard Preston's with his family's memorial plaque
Richard Preston's with his family's memorial plaque

A living descendant to a fallen Burnley soldier, originally buried in the grounds of a Belgian chateau during the First World War, has been traced in Southampton.

The Burnley Express revealed in September the tragic tale of Pte Cyril West Richmond, who was killed days before the end of the First World War and buried in the grounds of the Bossuit Chateau in Flanders, Belgium.

The memorial plaque sent to Cyril's family following his death in 1918

The memorial plaque sent to Cyril's family following his death in 1918

The current Earl, Charles de Talhouët, put out an appeal to trace any descendants of Pte Richmond and his comrades and invite them to a special event at his chateau.

Intrigued by the story, genealogist Robert Linford from Southend managed to trace a distant cousin of Pte Richmond, Richard Preston, who is currently living near Southampton.

The Express caught up with Mr Preston (66) who is even the proud owner of a memorial plaque given to Cyril’s family following his death.

He said: “I received a phone call out of the blue from Mr Linford who said he was a genealogist and had some interesting information about my family.

“I couldn’t believe it when he told me about Cyril and how he had been buried in the grounds of the chateau. I was aware that Cyril had been killed during the war, but none of my family knew where he had been buried.”

Pte Richmond’s remains and those of several of his comrades were re-interred at the nearby Tournai Communal Cemetery in the 1920s when many “field graves” were brought together in military cemeteries.

His mother, Mrs Florence Maria Richmond, of Montrose Street in Burnley, was first told the agonising news that young Cyril was missing in action on October 21st, 1918.

Pte Richmond’s uncle, Mr F. Rawson, of the Manchester and County Bank Ltd in Burnley, had desperately written to the Army frantically searching for more information, until the sad news was confirmed that Cyril had been killed aged just 19.

Mr Preston added: “I feel very proud of Cyril and I’m so pleased that more information has come to light regarding his service, and tragically, his death which came so soon before the end of the war.

“I am actually Burnley born and bred. My father John Preston was the manager of the Midland Bank in Nelson and very well known there and in Burnley. Cyril's younger brother Norton was a shop manager in York Street.

“I moved south many years ago so for Mr Linford to trace me like this is quite remarkable. I would be very proud to travel to the chateau in Belgium and represent my family in Cyril’s memory.

“I am very grateful to Mr Linford who has forwarded me some fascinating documents from the Army regarding Cyril’s service.”

The remarkably detailed documents reveal that Cyril was 18 years and 37 days old and working as a wine merchant’s assistant at Wesleyan when he enlisted in Blackburn.

Although there is no surviving photograph of Cyril, the Army records paint their own poignant picture, casting another light on the horror which caused the deaths of so many young men, not long out of boyhood.

Indeed, it would seem Cyril was still built like a boy. He was 5ft7in tall and weighed 112 pounds or just eight stones.

After basic training he was transferred to France on April 4th, 1918, with the 4th Reserve Battalion Loyal North Lancashire Regiment.

Cyril was transferred to the 20th Durham Light Infantry a day later. The documents also reveal that he was disciplined and confined to barracks on October 11th, 1918, just 10 days before he was killed.

Belgian war researcher, Gil Bossuyt, first contacted the Burnley Express with news of the Earl’s intentions.

Mr Bossuyt, who discovered Cyril’s first resting place and is writing a book on the liberation offensive, said: “It is brilliant that through a number of people we have managed to trace a living descendant. I hope he will be able to attend the commemoration next year.”