The story of how we made contact with the granddaughter of Louis Marie Joseph Vital Danzanvilliers is really quite remarkable. When I suggested one sunny Sunday morning in February, that my friend in Belgium, Bart Seynaeve, take photos of some of the Summerstown182 graves, in my wildest dreams I could not have imagined what it would lead to. Let alone that he would hop on his bike that very day and get some pictures back to me that evening. But then Bart and I have collaborated on First World War projects where crazy and wonderful things have happened, so perhaps I should have expected it. As explained in a previous post ‘The Frenchman’, one of the cemeteries Bart went to was at Vlamertinghe, a small hamlet west of Ypres. There he found and photographed not just Louis Danzanvilliers’ grave but a wreath placed beneath it. ‘To Grandad, All my love, Marie’. Bart not only gave me this priceless photographic clue but not long before, he put me in touch with Dorothy Williams. It was corresponding with this genealogist from Preston, whose interest in where the Sunday School Teachers lived, that gave me the idea to indicate their homes on a map. The note on the wreath also mentioned Marie’s husband’s name and from that small scrap of information, Dorothy was able to provide me with an address in Tamworth, Staffordshire where Marie might possibly live. We knew Louis had a son who would have been seven when Louis died, Marie was surely his daughter. The first address I wrote to didn’t provoke a response but then Dorothy came up with another and I tried again. A few days later the phone rang and I was talking to Rosemarie Matthews in Tamworth. Some weeks ago she sent this beautiful photo of who she believes is her Grandad in what she described as his ‘Number Ones’. He may not be the grand french aristocrat I had first imagined he would be when I read his name, but he certainly looks the part. Rosemarie, named after one of Louis’ middle names, was understandably a bit bemused at how she’d been tracked down, but she was thrilled to hear about the interest in her Grandad. She feels a strong connection with him and visits the grave in Belgium regularly. It had been the latest visit in November when she placed the wreath that Bart spotted. For many years she had made these journies with her husband Colin but he unfortunately passed away last June and this was her first solo visit. Rosemarie was brought up in Summerstown and although she has lived in the midlands for about 50 years, she still feels a bond with this area and last visited about ten years ago when she went to the church and had a look at the war memorial. She’ll be back soon hopefully to do a guided walk.
Louis was born in Paris but came to London aged three with his parents and brother Arthur. He worked in a hotel in central London. Rosemarie thinks he was quite small, five foot two, and perhaps only eligible for the army through the ‘bantam’ selection process. He was though bigger than his wife Caroline who was four foot tall and developed serious back problems through hard work and constant bending in the laundry. In 1911 they were living in a two-roomed property at 636 Garratt Lane near to the corner with Maskell Road. The site of where the house was is now occupied by a lighting showroom on the edge of the Riverside Industrial Estate, roughly opposite Artemis kebab shop. Louis joined the 12th Battalion of The Suffolk Regiment. This was what was nown as a ‘bantam battalion’ (consisting of men between 5 foot and 5 foot 2 inches). Enlistment began in the summer of 1915 after a shortage of manpower resulted in the war office dropping the minimum height of men who were allowed to join the army to 5 foot. The result of course was that many of the bantams were under the regulation age and parents kept reclaiming them. Louis was at the other range of the age scale and was killed near Ypres on 13th July 1917, aged 39. Rosemarie thinks he may be the oldest soldier in the cemetery. Her father, Louis Edward Danzanvilliers was only seven when his Dad died and visited the grave in Belgium in his fifties for the first time. He had tried to find Louis’ army service records but was told they were destroyed in the blitz. Caroline received the blood-stained ‘webbing’ Louis was wearing when he was killed but it upset her too much, so it was thrown out. Neither Caroline or Louis Edward talked very much about the death. In 1937 Louis Edward married a Vera Doris Kerslake. Come the Second World War, Vera left London due to the bombing raids and consequently Rosemarie was born in Haselmere in Surrey in 1943. It was a sensible move because 636 was indeed seriously damaged in one raid. After the war, the family moved back to 82 Summerstown, at the southen end of the road near the White Lion pub and curiously thirty years earlier the home of another member of the Summerstown182, William Francis Brown. Rosemarie attended Smallwood School and her younger brother David was born in 1949. Louis Edward, a toolmaker by trade worked for an engineering company on Summerstown called Elm Works. Rosemarie lived here until she was twenty when in the early sixties she left to join the army and met Colin. She has been in the midlands for about fifty years now but still feels a strong bond with this area and last visited about ten years ago when she went to the church and had a look at the war memorial. Apart from David and his family, the only other Danzanvilliers she knows of live in Brittany. So, Louis Danzanvilliers, short of inches, long of letters – we are so pleased to know a little of your story and are extremely grateful to Rosemarie Matthews for sharing it with us.