Stalybridge war hero relatives reunite at commemoration service

TWO long-lost relatives of a Stalybridge war hero killed in action at Passchendaele have been reunited following commemorations to mark its centenary of one of the great battles of the First World War.

Sheila and William at the Stalybridge Remembrance Day service

Warrant Officer William Rhodes, who serve in the Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers in Colchester, had always intended to visit Passchendaele and the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing on this landmark.

It was also highly poignant as his great-great-uncle Sgt William Rhodes was killed on July 31, 1917, the first day of the third battle of Ypres, at the age of 30.

Warrant Officer Rhodes, who lives in Ipswich, was interviewed on the BBC’s programme commemorating the battle while at the graveside of his relative who was from a well-known Saddleworth family.

Watching the programme at home in Altrincham was Sheila Rhodes Edmunds, Sgt Rhodes’ granddaughter, who knew instantly he was a relative as he had the same name.

She said: “It was an enormous shock to find a relative I did not know existed.

“I sat down to watch the ceremony from Tyne Cot and didn’t take much notice until this man appeared at the graveside and said he was William Rhodes and Sgt Rhodes was his name sake.

“I instantly took a closer look and realised that we were related.”

Sheila tracked down Warrant Officer Rhodes and the pair have since been reunited.

Their first meeting was at Chester Military Museum a couple of months ago and they were also both at the Stalybridge Remembrance Day service.

She said: “If  William had not been selected to go to Passchendaele and not done the piece at the graveside, I would have been none the wiser that he was family.

“It has been exciting to meet William and my mother would have been pleased had she been alive.”

Sheila’s mother Irene was Sgt Rhodes’ daughter but never knew her father who was killed in action before she was born.

Irene visited her father’s grave every Armistice Day for the last 26 years of her life.

“She was determined to go for the 90th anniversary 10 years ago, and died one week after returning home,” explained Sheila.

Sheila added that Irene and her two siblings were first taken to Belgium in 1927 when the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing was unveiled.

Local historian Frank Harrop, who researched the backgrounds of those on the War Memorial, produced a booklet for the family about Sgt Rhodes.

Sgt Rhodes was born in Millbrook in 1887. He lived on Huddersfield Road and after marrying in 1908 moved from 423 to 372 on the same road.

He was a former pupil at Millbrook Wesleyan School and Sunday School and prior to the war was employed in the spinning department at Stayley Mill, Millbrook. He was well known in the town as a bass vocalist and sung at many concerts.

Sgt Rhodes, who was in the Cheshire Regiment, was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal with his citation reading: “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty, he led his platoon with the utmost skill and fearlessness, doing his most valuable work and showing remarkable judgement and powers of leadership. He set a splendid example to all his men.”

A report of Sgt Rhodes’ death was in the March 23, 1918 edition of the Stalybridge Reporter.

It read: “Mrs Rhodes, of 301 Huddersfield Road, Stalybridge, has received a communication from the War Office that her husband, Sergeant William Rhodes, Cheshire Regiment, was killed in action in the field in France on July 31st, 1917 (date assumed).

“Sergeant Rhodes had just been awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his brave conduct in action in which it is now assumed he was wounded and lost his life. In connection with this engagement, there were eight honours awarded. It was a small ‘stunt’ by the famous company and the fact they got eight honours shows how successful it was.”

 

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