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The Great War Centenary Walk

On the 26th July, I will begin a 200 mile walk from France through Belgium to the heart of the Rhineland, Cologne. I will follow in the footsteps of my Great Grandfather Matthew Rolls nearly a century ago, who was in France at the time of the German Surrender in November, 1918. Just over month later, he and his colleagues were in Cologne for Christmas Day.

This Endeavor honors the millions of soldiers on all sides, who paid the ultimate price the whimsical greed of antiquated imperialist nations, and who were literally laid to waste in the most awful conditions by inept armchair generals.

This challenge (and it will be extremely challenging) intends to raise funds for the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum (SOFO) which opened its doors for the first time in June this year.
The museum will preserve the memories and heroic stories of the truly great people who offered up and in many cases gave their lives for their country and county in War. As well as the standing exhibits and hosting of events, SOFO will provide comprehensive hardcopy and electronic archives for local, national and even international people to research their family heritage.
This is a vital local charity, providing a service very close to my heart for quite obvious reasons, ‘lest we forget’.

I would be very grateful if you would donate here:

I aim to complete the walk within 10 days, arriving on the centenary day that Great Britain declared war on Germany.

Historical Background

Matt Rolls (Rolls)

My Great Grandfather was a 39 year old local Wallingford Postie, when he volunteered for the Great War in December 1915. He was a well-known and respected, principled man, and it is my hope that he wanted to fight as an older man, in lieu of a younger. In any case, it wasn’t until 1917 that his offer to die for his country was graciously accepted, and it was probably because they were running out of able bodied men.

Luckily for Rolls, he was a skilled horseman and even though he lacked a bourgeoisie background he was drafted into the artillery where equine skills were in great demand.

The concept for this walk stems from a letter written over 90 years ago on the 8th December 1923. It was written by a very young Canadian Officer in the 63rd Royal Garrison Artillery, no 443 Battery (‘443’) of which my 41 year old Great Granddad was the Officer Commanding’s Batman. His beautiful but illegible handwriting is pictured below and I have replicated for ease of reference.

Dear Rolls,

(Front side) This time in the year often reminds me of Christmas 1918 with the battery at Bachem and the old Mess – Have never seen the Major, although I heard from him from Miami Florida. He was married in 1920. Do you ever (Rear side) – see any of the old mess members? – I should like to see them but this must serve to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year – With fond memories of ‘443’

Sincerely Yours,

E. B. McPherson

What accompanied this letter was even more interesting. It was extracts from his field book from back in late November and early December 1918, after the cessation of hostilities. It lists the places ‘443’ had visited whilst chaperoning the German army back home which, for the record, actually hadn’t been defeated when the Germans singed the armistice agreement.

My Grandmother and her sister Agnes, were prolific writers and keepers of letters and postcards, and this remains a family trait. In 2006 Following the passing of Connie Wheeler (My grandmother) my parents moved into the family home Montclair . Since the arrival of my parents, our family has unearthed lots of historical bits and bobs that have helped provide some vivid insights as to life at Montclair. The pinnacle of these is a couple of ornate biscuit tins, full of correspondences, many written over a century ago – and most from the front or on the march.

Starting in Maubeuge France and finishing in Cologne in Germany, the route follows in the footsteps of my Great grandfather and includes the vast majority of the place names listed.

My other great grandfather

No doubt most native British people will have family history associated with the Great War. In preparing for this challenge, I have investigated the exploits of my mother’s Grandfather, who has a remarkable story also.

George Henry Jessop, my Great Grandfather on my Mother’s side
George H Jessop was a North London lad from Harrow, who enlisted for 22 years in 1905 with the 2nd Battalion the Essex Regiment.

(from the Wiki) “2nd Battalion, The Essex Regiment was in Chatham serving with 12th Brigade, 4th Division when war broke out in August 1914. 4th Division was held back from the original British Expeditionary Force by a last minute decision to defend England against a possible German landing and the 2nd Essex were sent to Cromer and Norwich in a defensive role. The fate of the BEF in France and the lack of any move by the Enemy to cross the channel, reversed this decision and they were recalled to Harrow then proceeded to France, landing at Le Harve on the 28th of August. They arrived in time to provide infantry reinforcements at the Battle of Le Cateau, the Divisional Artillery, Engineers, Field Ambulances and mounted troops being still en-route at this time. They were in action at the The Battle of the Marne, The Battle of the Aisne and at The Battle of Messines in 1914. In 1915 they fought in The Second Battle of Ypres. Between the 5th of November 1915 and 3 February 1916, 12th Brigade were attached to 36th (Ulster) Division, providing instruction to the newly arrived Division. In 1916 the 2nd Essex were in action during the Battles of the Somme. In 1917 they were at Arras, in action during the The First and Third Battles of the Scarpe, before heading north for the Third Battle of Ypres, where they fought in The Battle of Polygon Wood, The Battle of Broodseinde, The Battle of Poelcapelle and The First Battle of Passchendaele “. It was in this battle that George Jessop was severely injured, by shrapnel. After which, his trench was overrun and most of his platoon killed. Even with his severe injuries, he managed to extract his platoon commander back to British lines, but he had already died of his wounds. This battle of Passchendaele is known as ‘the Battle of the Mud’ and was horrific, even by Great War standards.

The Battle of the Mud

George Jessop’s 22 year Scorecard

Sgt Jessop immediately right of the OC

About Adam

A true Oxfordshire lad, Adam was born in Wallingford in 1980 ad was brought up in Cholsey. From a young age he has maintained a vivid interest in military History. Whilst studying archaeology at Cardiff University, he joined the Royal Welsh Regiment, as a reservist, with whom he saw service in Basra Iraq in 2004. Adam moved back to Oxfordshire in 2005 subsequently joining 7 Rifles at Edward Brooks Barracks, Abingdon where he is a Sgt. He works full time as a Senior Publisher for Elsevier in Kidlington. In his spare time he likes Rugby, Reading FC, hiking, and his garden.
Adam lives in Sutton Courtenay with his wife Helen and their cat Pepper.

Contact details: 07766162892