When I came across my grandfather’s brother while researching the family tree and learned he’d been killed in Flanders a week before the Armistice aged nineteen, he was news to me. However, when I mentioned great-uncle Edward to my dad and discovered his own uncle was news to him too, I realised something was amiss.
I tried to find out more about him but this poor kid from the slums of west London killed at the arse-end of a war that was literally over bar the fighting proved elusive. Not only had he slipped through the cracks of history and memory he’d left next to nothing behind him, no letters or diaries; even his service record was one of those destroyed in the Blitz.
A birth certificate, a couple of census mentions, a pathetic will written at the age of 18 a few weeks before his death, a medal card and a cemetery record at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission were all I could find.
So I decided to make a journey, a penance if you like, and walk from the spot where he was born on the cusp of centuries in west London to his grave in a small military cemetery close to the Franco-Belgian border and become his first ever visitor, nearly a century late. Maybe I could fill in the gaps that way. On the way I’d pass through battlefields and some of the most famous towns of the Western Front: Dixmuide, Poperinge, Ypres, and learn much about the war, the men who fought it, and myself.
In the meantime, I’d fill in the historical gaps by researching similar young men, ordinary young men, sent off to war like Edward. I read their diaries and letters and listened to recordings of their voices to reconstruct the stark reality of Private Edward Connelly’s war.

There’s no sugar-coating the reality of what this ordinary boy would have experienced – the rats, the barbed wire, the mud, the constant presence of instant, random death – but it’s important to understand precisely what those lads went through. It’s the least they deserve.
Private Edward Connelly was nineteen. He had his life ahead of him. But he was sent off to war and never came home. When I was nineteen I didn’t know anything about anything. I hadn’t done anything; hadn’t lived. That’s the tragedy that underpins this story because Edward Connelly may have been a private in the West Surreys, but he wasn’t a soldier and he wasn’t a hero. He was just a boy.
I made it to his grave in Flanders but, unlike Edward’s, my story didn’t end there. In a way, it had only just begun.
Anyway, here’s the official skinny:

The Forgotten Soldier tells the story of Private Edward Connelly, aged 19, killed in the First World War a week before the Armistice and immediately forgotten, even, it seems, by his own family.
Edward died on exactly the same day, and as part of the same military offensive, as Wilfred Owen. They died only a few miles apart and yet there cannot be a bigger contrast between their legacies. Edward had been born into poverty in west London on the eve of the twentieth century, had a job washing railway carriages, was conscripted into the army at the age of eighteen and sent to the Western Front from where he would never return.
He lies buried miles from home in a small military cemetery on the outskirts of an obscure town close to the French border in western Belgium. No-one has ever visited him.
Like thousands of other young boys, Edward’s life and death were forgotten.
By delving into and uncovering letters, poems and war diaries to reconstruct his great uncle’s brief life and needless death; Charlie fills in the blanks of Edward’s life with the experiences of similar young men giving a voice to the voiceless. Edward Connelly’s tragic story comes to represent all the young men who went off to the Great War and never came home.
This is a book about the unsung heroes, the ordinary men who did their duty with utmost courage, and who deserve to be remembered.