The season of Remembrance came early for Longborough resident and former Moreton Show secretary, Tim Gardner.

Tim’s grandfather James Gardner was killed in action in France on October 5 1918, just five weeks before the end of the conflict.

James was 32 years old when he died, leaving a widow and two young sons aged four and six.

He was head gardener to Lord Redesdale at Batsford Park, near Moreton-in-Marsh, and thus in charge of the Arboretum there where he is remembered on display boards and by a tree planted in his memory by the family several years ago.

His name is carved on the War Memorial in Moreton.

James joined the 9th Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment in January 1917 as a Private.

During his training and active service he wrote more than 170 letters and postcards to his wife Mary and his boys. Those letters (but sadly not those he received) have survived.

Since January 2017 his family has been reliving James’ progress: each letter/card has been read on the anniversary of its having been written, typed up as a transcript and emailed to the wider Gardner family.

The letters were written on whatever paper James had to hand at the time, some in ink , others in pencil. They are fragile and sometimes difficult to decipher. They describe his training on the Suffolk coast, his journey to France in August 1917 and.

During his involvement in the 3rd battle of Passchendaele, James was injured and hospitalised, then convalesced near Boulogne before rejoining his unit which by then was defending Northern Italy against Austrian and German advances.

He spent a further period of convalescence on the Ligurian Coast near Genoa.

The letters disclose little about the actual fighting but they do reveal much about James’ daily life, routines, social and sporting activities for the troops and the amazingly efficient Army Post Office – mail was probably as important to the men as food. He comments, too, on life the lived by his wife and sons on the “Home Front”. His family have been able, using various websites, to identify people, places etc mentioned by James.

The letters also reveal James’ constant passion for horticulture – he writes frequently about the climate, crops in the fields, unusual trees and shrubs, wild flowers etc. and was even writing articles for gardening magazines whilst in the Army.

James’ battalion returned to Northern France by train in mid-September 1918 to join the “Battle of the 100 Days” leading to the Armistice. James wrote a brief postscript “in haste” on October 5 before going into the front line on October 3. He was killed by machine-gun fire on October 5 during attacks on Beaurevoir, a small and fiercely defended hilltop village.

The village was finally taken by British troops later the same day. James is buried with 95 others in a beautiful cemetery, overlooking fields, on the outskirts of the village. Fifteen family members, made an emotional visit to the grave this year, 100 years to the day after James’ death. Although they had envisaged a quiet, private visit they had also contacted the Mayor of Beaurevoir.

The village, already planning to commemorate on the same day its Liberation, decided to honour James as a representative of the troops who had freed Beaurevoir.

The four other grandchildren of James, and the rest of the party, were warmly welcomed by hundreds of people in the centre of the village. There followed many speeches (with an interpreter to assist), a French (but Scottish style) marching pipe band, several dozen standard –bearers from branches of the French association of old soldiers, local schoolchildren with flags and balloons, a soldier in full WWI British uniform, a procession to the cemetery, wreath laying and a trumpeter playing The Last Post.

The following day a historical guide, with interpreter, took the family to the presumed site of James’ death and to other First World War sites in the vicinity.

Three of the cousins, Frances Toovey, James Gardner and Julia Cheetham will be laying a wreath on Sunday at the War Memorial in Moreton, Tim having already done so at the Beaurevoir ceremony on October 5.