One of those to be lost in the action at Arras with 7th Suffolk, was Second Lieutenant Isaacs.
Henry Roland Isaacs was born in 1897. The only child of Joseph and Pauline Isaacs, he came from minor nobility. His father was a cousin of the Marquess of Reading. His mother was Belgian born. He had not been with the Battalion long, but had transferred from 4th Suffolk in the days before the Arras offensive.
He was killed as 7th Suffolk tried to assault the Feutchy-Chapel Redoubt on 9th April. His body, along with that of fellow officer, Captain D.W.A. Nicholls, were buried in a makeshift cemetery alongside the Feuchy-Neuville Vitasse Road.
The loss of their son in battle brought unimaginable suffering to Mr. and Mrs. Isaacs. Devout Catholics, they sought spiritually to reconcile themselves with his loss. They wrote to the Imperial War Graves Commission, asking to have his body removed from its grave to allow them to take it to Lourdes for a Roman Catholic burial, but the authorities refused. Distraught, Mr. and Mrs. Isaacs asked if they could be allowed to travel to France to erect a family vault in which to inter him. This too was also refused on grounds of safety. The IWCG did however photograph Henry's original grave in its original plot alongside the Cambrai road, and his parents vowed to return to France as soon as it was safe to do so, and to erect a vault and memorial in his honour.
In 1919, when it was deemed safe to do so, Mr and Mrs Isaacs travelled back to Arras to find their son's grave. Returning to its location, they were horrified to see that the cemetery was no longer there. The ravages of war had meant that this ground was fought over again in 1918, and the grave of their son and also that ofCaptain D.W.A. Nichols, were now missing.
Isaacs was said to be the only catholic in the Battalion and after a few minutes of searching, a shattered post was found bearing the letters "R.C." hopeful that this was a catholic grave, they consulted the IWGC photograph, but alas, his original grave was not marked in this way. Mr Isaacs had with him the original burial reports of his son's internment and he hoped these would provide him with a clue where to look next.
His son was shot in the left breast. The bullet piercing his "Dayfield body shield back and front". It indicated that fighting was close and possibly even, hand-to-hand. The report continued stating that he wore a "body belt with pockets sewn up containing, besides reserves of currency notes, Catholic medals, gold, silver and "Fix" gilt". And he wore a ring of aluminium with copper insert marked "Yser 1914, 1915". After talking with locals, even describing his sons teeth, Mr Isaacs drew a blank. He described his son's teeth and the appearance of Capt Nicholls "but his face and chest were smashed by a shell". Sadly, it was to no avail.
Distraught and without a body to inter, his parents consoled themselves in 1920, to purchase three quarters of an acre of ground at the spot where their son had been killed. It was fenced off and shrubs and trees were planted, brought especially from England. Poplar trees shielded the rear of the plot in the direction of the old German front line. His parents constructed inside, an elaborate calvary with the figure of the crucified Christ upon it which bore a plaque with the following inscription;
SAINT, SAINT, SAINT EST LE SEIGNEUR DEU DES ARMEES IN EVER LOVING MEMORY OF 2ND LIEUTENANT HENRi ROLAND ISAACS 7th SUFFOLK REGIMENT HERE HE GAVE HIS LIFE FOR GOD, ENGLAND AND FRANCE AT THE BATTLE OF ARRAS APRIL 9TH 1917 R.I.P.
They also paid for new bells to be installed in the newly reconstructed church at nearby Feuchy and so that they could visit their son's memorial as much as possible, they brought a house at 11 Rue de Beaufort in Arras.
By the 1930s, the problems of maintaining the memorial along with the Isaacs failing health, were all too apparent. In 1934, Mr. Isaacs asked the IWGC to take on its maintenance for which he would pay, but they reluctantly declined. The Second World War caused the Isaacs to return home leaving their sons memorial unattended. Mr. Isaacs it is believed, was killed in an air raid on London in 1942 and never returned to his son's memorial. Mrs. Issacs never did return to France but she died in 1954.
By this time the memorial was overgrown and in a poor condition. More valuable elements of the Calvery had been stolen and it had been partially damaged in the fighting of 1940. It was not until 1978 that the Souvenir Francais took over its care and maintenance, which they still undertake to this day. It is the only private memorial to a Suffolk Regiment officer on the Western Front.
Welcome to our online 'blog' charting the history of the many Battalions of the Suffolk Regiment and the part they played in the Great War.
Starting back in March 2014, we have recorded the events of 100 years ago on the centenary of their happening.
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