Sixty nine years after his death in Normandy Lance Corporal Alfred Raymond Hope is being honoured at a Remembrance service attended by 36 soldiers from the Queen's Royal Hussars in Ecots, a small hamlet near Caen.
The Service of Remembrance conducted by Padre Neil McLay also saw Trooper Matthew Brown, aged 23 from Derby, give a reading and the laying of a wreath of red poppies by Tpr Ieuan Davies, 20 from York.
Ahead of the formal beginning of the service M Jean-Pierre Hoste, the Mayor of Ecots, welcomed the soldiers, Madame Martine Fournier, the Mayor of St Georges en Auge and residents from the surrounding villages, including French veterans and remarked: “ Ladies and gentlemen, dear allies and friends. In my capacity as Mayor and representing the people of Ecots we bid you a warm welcome.
"It is very appropriate to be welcoming you, soldiers of the Queen’s Royal Hussars, on this great day of commemoration and remembrance, to honour the memory of Lance Corporal Hope who died on the field of battle on 18 August 1944 at Ecots a few steps from here, as he fought for the liberation of our country.
"We are especially happy to have this opportunity to express our gratitude to him in the presence of representatives of his regiment. This ceremony is testimony to that gratitude and his memory will forever remain alive in the soil of our village.
The service concluded with the customary two minutes silence to remember all Armed Forces personnel who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country and the playing of the Lament – the piper’s version of the last post – by piper Tpr Kristoffer Paxton from the regiment’s Duke of Edinburgh’s Squadron.
Quest to find out more
It was on the 18 August 1944 that LCpl Hope, and soldiers from the Kings Royal Irish Hussars, entered Ecots to be met by welcoming villagers, being the first Allied soldiers they had seen. Regrettably, these initial jubilations were to end when German forces attacked the village and Alfred was killed close to where he is now buried in the village’s ancient church.
His is the sole grave of a British soldier in the cemetery and since the end of World War Two it has been tended to with care and affection by the villagers as well as the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
This story and service may never have happened had it not been for the endeavours of Richard Wilson from Monmouthshire who came across Alfred’s grave whilst visiting the area. Formerly, a Naval Officer his interest was immediately struck as to why a soldier should be buried in the small cemetery rather than in one of the many Commonwealth War Graves Cemeteries in the area, and so began the quest to find out more information and locate any of Alfred’s descendants.
With research continuing, and with more information being established each day on the circumstances that led to Alfred’s death, Richard contacted the Regiment to alert them to his discovery and ask whether it would be possible for the Regiment to visit and pay their respects to Alfred. The QRH were pleased to try and accommodate and after several months of planning the outcome was this poignant Remembrance Service.
Speaking after the service Major Charlie Haines, Officer Commanding, Squadron Leader The Duke of Edinburgh’s Squadron QRH said: “As the Regiment begins to train its soldiers in preparation for any future deployments, acts of Remembrance retain a very real significance.
"Remembering our forebears allows us to honour their actions and those who made the ultimate sacrifice. It is not only this but it also provides the ability to study and learn from past conflicts; as the Army draws down from over a decade of operations, opportunities like this will be coming increasingly important in educating ourselves.
"It also gives the Regiment a chance to thank the people of Ecots for their dedication in looking after the grave of a fallen Hussar for which we are eternally grateful.”
'Pay our respects'
Although this is the first chance the QRH have had to formally attend LCpl Hope’s graveside to pay their respects, their fallen are never far from their memory. A memorial to the 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars, on which LCpl Hope’s name is recorded, stands outside their Regimental Headquarters in Sennelager, North West Germany and tradition dictates that all soldiers salute the memorial out of respect to their fallen comrades.
On his part in the service Tpr Davies said: “The service went really well, the QRH is very much a family Regiment and it was a privilege to be here to pay our respects and to say thank you to the villagers who have looked after his grave.” On his reading Tpr Brown echoed these thoughts and added, “For me being relatively new to the Regiment it was nice to play part in the service and to pay respect to someone who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
Regrettably, despite appeals in Alfred’s home town of Darlington it has not been possible to locate any of his or his wife Alice Ivy Hope's living descendants to inform them of today’s service.
After the ceremony, as part of their continued education and development the soldiers departed to undertake a study of the surrounding Normandy battlefields in order to gain a better awareness of the actions and difficulties their forebears experienced in the immediate aftermath of D-Day.
Tpr Lennie Chaney, 19 from Leicester, commented: “The service today made a powerful impression on me and I am now looking forward to visiting the areas [the] King’s Royal Irish Hussars were in to understand what they had to go through.”