Thousands of miles from his Meanwood home, Private Sam Stirk gave his life for his city and his country on October 26 1917.
Now almost a century on from his death, a Leeds student who lives less than half a mile from Pte Stirk’s old Parkside Road home has travelled to Belgium to pay tribute to the 23-year-old as part of a First World War centenary trip.
Notre Dame Catholic Sixth Form College pupil Joseph Doyle, 17, was one of over 70 Yorkshire students and teachers to take part in a Government-funded Centenary Battlefield Tour but never expected he would find a story so close to home.
He laid a commemorative cross at the foot of a panel marking the sacrifice of Pte Stirk at Tyne Cot Cemetery where more than 45,000 Commonwealth soldiers are buried or remembered.
Pte Stirk is one of 34,000 servicemen listed at the cemetery who have no known grave – around 600,000 soldiers lost their lives in Belgium during the Great War.
“It’s quite strange to think that somebody who certainly lived most of his life in Meanwood and probably never left Meanwood before he signed up for the conflict has wound up at this memorial,” Joseph said.
“I just see it as an important part of the past, this is a place that should always be maintained and should basically be a used as a lesson to everybody.”
Joseph was among students to spend time in the UK tracking down soldiers who served from their areas before visiting their memorials through the Government’s Centenary Battlefield Tours programme.
Pte Stirk, of 54 Parkside Road, Meanwood, was serving in 188 Brigade Machine Gun Corps when he was struck down in the Battle of Passchendaele near the Belgian city of Ypres in Flanders.
He was one of hundreds of thousands of troops reported as killed or missing in the battle.
Christine Cox, a teacher at Notre Dame, added: “I don’t think I will be able to walk past there, nor will the students, without thinking that man probably played cricket on that field or walked down there. I think for us, Sam Stirk has come alive.”
The college hopes to add its research on Pte Stirk to the Imperial War Museum’s Lives of the First World War records.
Simon Bendry, national education coordinator for the tours project, said: “It’s about bringing these names to life and linking in with local communities.”
This is the first in a four-part series on the First World War’s links to Yorkshire. See tomorrow’s YEP for more.
TOURS LINK TO LEGACY
Two pupils and one teacher from every state-funded secondary school in the country are being invited on free First World War battlefield tours until 2019.
The Centenary Battlefield Tours aid teaching as part of the Government’s commemoration of the start of the war’s centenary. Pupils enjoy a four-day tour of Belgium and France led by the Institute of Education and operator Equity. Visit www.centenarybattlefieldtours.org for further information.