Allan Tunningley discovers how the centenary of the start of World War One has brought back poignant memories for a Kendal woman, whose great uncle was killed at the start of one of the conflict’s most notorious battles.

WILLIAM ‘Billie’ Martindale was laid to rest in the French countryside near where he died from wounds inflicted on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, one of the bloodiest of the conflict.

But for 86 years his family back home had no idea of the precise location of the 24-year-old’s grave.

Then 12 years ago, during a holiday to Bruges, his great niece Ilene Holloway decided to trace Billie’s final resting place in the village of Morlancourt.

Finding Grave A19 in 2002 was a poignant moment for the former Westmorland Gazette editorial assistant.

Approaching the immaculately maintained cemetery, where around 70 allied soldiers are buried, a red admiral butterfly rested on Mrs Holloway’s chest.

“I am sure it was something to do with Uncle Billie,” she said. “Butterflies don’t normally settle on you.”

The simple headstone read: “In memory of W. Martindale, Private 22309, 2nd Bn, Border Regiment, who died on Saturday, lst July 1916.”

Billie had died on the first day of the Battle of Somme’s big push.

Seeing his grave reminded Mrs Holloway how, as a child, she had seen a lock of Uncle Billie’s auburn hair, a family treasure belonging to her grandmother Nora Martindale.

“Nana always thought he had been blown up by tanks, but it seems as if he was taken to a field hospital,” she said.

The village of Morlancourt was a quiet place, used by field ambulances in 1916, but was captured by the enemy at the end of March 1918, and held until August 9, when liberation came thanks to the Cambridgeshire Regiment.

“Official news reached Kendal on Wednesday that Pt W. Martindale, of Rishton’s Yard, had died of wounds on July 1st in France,” reported the Westmorland Gazette of July 8, 1916.

“He had been in the 2nd Border Regiment just over a year and landed in France on December 16, 1915.”

Billie had moved to Kendal with his parents two years previously and had found employment at the gas works.

The bachelor was described as a ‘fine young fellow and great favourite with all who knew him’.

His two brothers, Privates Frank and Jack Martindale, also served in the Border Regiment.

Frank Martindale had been reported ‘killed in action’ but had actually been taken prisoner. Both survived the war.

Mrs Holloway, who was joined on her sad mission by husband Norman, said the search for Uncle Billie started after her son Clive started to research the family tree.

“Any mention of World War One brings it back to me,” she said.

“But the signifance of this year’s centenary has made the memory particularly emotional.”