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Photo gallery: War pride runs deep in family of High Kelling businessman

09:00 10 July 2014

Brian Thaxter

Brian Thaxter's family war memorabilia. Pictured with a photo of his grandfather Lewis Thaxter. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2014

Hanging up pride of place in a family home the portrait of Pte Lewis Thaxter shows a smart, confident young soldier.

Battle of Cambrai

The Battle of Cambrai was fought in France on the Western Front between November 20 and December 17 1917.

Cambrai was a key supply point for the German Army and the battle was a British campaign.

The aim of the battle was to take Bourlon Ridge, which would threaten the rear of the German line to the north.

During preparations it was decided to incorporate tanks into the attack which would include new experimental artillery action.

The battle began at approximately 6am on November 20 1917 with a barrage of 1,003 guns on German defences.

Fighting was focused on the Bourlon Ridge area and by the end of November British forces had been force into trenches in Bourlon Woods.

On 28 November, more than 16,000 shells were fired into the wood.

Field Marshall Douglas Haig ordered a retreat on December 3 and by December 7 the British gains were abandoned except for a portion of the Hindenburg line around Havrincourt, Ribécourt and Flesquières.

The Germans recovered most of their early losses and gained a little elsewhere.

There were an estimated 47,596 British casualties, of whom 9,000 were taken prisoner, and 53,300 German casualties, of whom 11,105 were taken prisoner.

But the 28-year-old farm worker and father-of-one from Gresham was one of the millions of victims on the Western Front during the First World War.

The photograph is one of many items of family war memorabilia belonging to businessman Brian Thaxter, 67, from Avenue Road, High Kelling.

Mr Thaxter, co-director of Thaxters of Holt, is the grandson of the Norfolk Regiment soldier who died on the first day of the Battle of Cambrai on November 20 1917.

The battle ended on December 7 1917 and was the first great tank battle of the conflict.

Brian Thaxter's family war memorabilia. His grandfather Lewis Thaxter.
PHOTO: ANTONY KELLYBrian Thaxter's family war memorabilia. His grandfather Lewis Thaxter. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

He also has Lewis’ death plaque, given to the families of soldiers, postcards sent to the soldier’s mother and son from the front and his Christmas tin which was given to all servicemen and contained gifts including cigarettes,a pencil and paper.

Mr Thaxter said: “You didn’t have to sign up if you worked on a farm but I think they wanted the experience. They wanted to go and help the country.”

His other grandfather, Pte Cecil Turner, from Roughton, fought in the Essex Regiment and died aged 26 on April 14 1917 at Flanders Fields.

And his great uncle Pte Albert Field, from Gresham, who also worked the land, was killed on May 27 1918 aged 26.

He fought with the Norfolk Regiment and signed up in Norwich at the same time as Lewis.

The pair trained at Melton Park in Melton Constable.

Lewis’ son Charlie, Mr Thaxter’s father, was only five when his father died.

After Lewis was killed his wife Florence moved to Sheringham and never remarried. She wore a brooch with his picture in every day but rarely spoke about him.

The war memorabilia was passed down to Mr Thaxter by his father, who lived in Holt and died in 2001.

Mr Thaxter, who has two children and four grandchildren, said: “I was always more interested in the family war history than my brother. I feel sad I never saw my relatives but what they did was good. If they had not done what they did we wouldn’t be where we are today.

“I think Lewis would have been a bit of a lad. He was a bit like me. He was hard working person wanting to look after his family. My dad could remember Lewis. He was always talking about him.

“I’m so proud of Lewis. There has always been pictures of him in the house.”

Such is that pride, his son and grandson have taken on the name.

Lewis was buried at Villers-Plouich British cemetery in France and Mr Thaxter visited the grave in 1989.

He plans to see it again this year following the route his ancestors would have taken.

The 67-year-old also hopes to visit the Arras Memorial in France and Tyne Cot Memorial in Belgium where Cecil and Albert are commemorated.

Mr Thaxter said it was emotional visiting Lewis’ grave where he placed roses from his father’s garden.

He also has the death plaques of Cecil and Albert and medals from his great uncle Charlie West who survived the Western Front and lived in Sheringham until he died.

Do you have an interesting First World War story from north Norfolk? Email sophie.wyllie@archant.co.uk

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