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Some may feel that visiting the battlefields of and cemeteries the Second World War is a strange way to spend ones leisure time, but for many it's time very well spent. It's an opportunity to visit and pay respects to friends and family who lost their lives in what we all hope was the last world war. Battlefield Tours offer pilgrimage trips to battlefields, museums, memorials and war cemeteries throughout Europe and as far afield as South Africa and Thailand.

For one man in particular, his visit to a war cemetery was a chance to visit the father he never knew and ultimately it led him to family he didn't know he had…

'Tell me it's Raymond'

It was perhaps Ray's fifteenth visit to the small but beautifully maintained Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery down a narrow leafy lane on the outskirts of Venray in Holland. The flowers, and small wooden crosses of remembrance on his dad's grave stood out in bold outline, to see it covered in fresh flowers came as a great shock.

Paying a visit to his father, Sergeant George Schofield, Royal Ulster Rifles, who had been killed on the 1st November 1944, had become a yearly pilgrimage for Ray since he first discovered where his body had been laid to rest, following a chance meeting with a young Dutch couple in London in 1989.

During the last months of the War, his mother had been left a young widow with a small child, whose father had never seen him. Ray had been born after his father had left for the invasion of Normandy. After the War his mother remarried, she sought a good life for them all and Ray's name was changed to Almond, his stepfather's name, following the adoption procedure. Mr. Almond, a professional soldier, travelled the world with his young wife and adopted son, to whom he was a most loving father.

On reaching maturity, Ray decided that he also would join the Army and signed up with the Royal Corps of Signals. He too travelled the world to different scenes of conflict, rising to the rank of Sergeant Major, until badly injured in a parachuting incident, he had to face the reality of giving up the job he loved. His specialised knowledge led him into the Diplomatic Service and he again found himself in far flung places, before he settled down working in the City of London.

His adoptive father, had by now passed on and Ray himself, now a father of two sons, found time to think of his real father. Then came the chance meeting with the young Dutch couple and he learnt were his fathers grave was to be found.

In early 1989, Ray, his wife Jane and Robert, their young son, drove to Holland to visit his father's last resting place. On entering the cemetery for the first time he was struck by the peace and tranquillity and was impressed by how beautifully it was being maintained. Forty five years after his father had died, Ray and his young family stood for the first time in front of the white headstone with its simple inscription: 'Sgt. 7011515 George Robert Schofield, Royal Ulster Rifles, 1st November 1944'.

Now that he had found his father, Ray wanted to visit regularly and he contacted Ian Alexander of The War Research Society, who regularly organises pilgrimage tours to the battlefields of Europe. After his first visit with them in 1990, Ray became involved with the Society and now is in charge of the Video Section which records all visits to the cemeteries and battlefields. Over the years he has made many people happy with a commemorative personalised video of their visit to a loved one.

He also made contact with his fathers regimental association and through them got in touch with some of the men who had fought alongside his dad. He learnt that this father had been a highly respected professional soldier and even located his dad's best pal, Des, who had been with him when he had been shot by a German on return from a night patrol.

In all the visits to the grave, the only wreaths that Ray had seen on it were the ones he placed there himself, so now in September 1999, to walk into the cemetery and see it covered in fresh flowers came as a great shock. With his friends from the Society, he tried to read the messages on the cards that accompanied the flowers, but to no avail as it had been raining and the writing was unreadable. However some initials and a possible name, could be made out. A quick check in the visitors book (every Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery has one) revealed similar handwriting, and the name M. Manns, of Laleham. Could this be a friend or relative of his Dad?

On his return home Ray made some enquiries through a friend, and came up with a phone number of a Mrs. Manns in Laleham. It took Ray three days to pluck up the courage to telephone the number. A lady answered, and Ray, asked if she had recently visited Holland. 'Yes' came the reply. 'Did you visit Venray Cemetery?' asked Ray. 'Yes' came the reply, in a rather inquisitive way. 'Why were you visiting my Dad's grave?' said Ray. After a moment of silence the lady said 'Tell me it's Raymond I'm speaking to?'. 'That's right' said Ray. 'Ray Schofield?' came the reply. 'No Ray Almond, I was adopted, who are you?' 'I'm your Auntie Madge, we have been looking for you for over 50 years, I am your Dad's sister'.

Madge the oldest surviving member of the family arranged a party so that all could meet Ray, and a decision was made that they would all make a pilgrimage to Venray to visit George's grave. The Society arranged the pilgrimage, and on the morning of Sunday 28th May 2000, the family group along with some friends stood in silent respect to George, whilst a Scottish Piper played the lament, 'The Flowers of the Forest'.

As the sound of pipes faded away, a solitary figure walked into the cemetery. It was Des, George's best pal. He had heard of the visit but had initially been unable to join the group, at the last minute he decided that it was too important a day to miss so had asked his son to drive him overnight to Holland from his home in the south of England.

This was Des's first visit to his pal's last resting place and he related the first hand story of how George had been killed. They had been ordered to go out into the enemy lines to take a prisoner and George, in his usual way, had asked Des to accompany him. They had fought their way through Normandy and into Belgium together and had even celebrated Ray's birth, before now becoming involved in the Battle of Overloon and Venray.

The night patrol had been a success, but whilst in No Mans Land, on that dark November night, George had spotted a German Patrol. They had just come out of the woods south of Overloon. Whispering to his men to 'Get Down' he made sure they had heard him and were safe, when the burst of a German machine gun broke the silence and George lay mortally wounded. He lay with his head cradled in the arms of his best pal, Des. Realising the severity of his wounds George's last words through stifled breath and tears were: 'I'll never see my baby'. He then passed quietly away.

Later that day Des managed to pinpoint the spot where it had all happened and a poignant visit was made by Ray and his family to the place where his father had died all those years ago.

Battlefield Tours and The War Research Society

Battlefield Tours (The War Research Society) have taken thousands of pilgrims, veterans, widows and children to visit the battlefields, memorials and last resting places of the fallen. This is combined with interesting, historical, guided tours of the areas of the First and Second World Wars in Northern France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Italy. They also have visits to South Africa and are planning a special trip to Thailand and the Burma railway in 2002.

They conduct educational school tours that take in History and English Literature examination subjects relating to the First World War. They have a team of very experienced couriers, drivers, carers and helpers who are all like minded people with a genuine interest in the wars and who are keen to pass on their knowledge.


Battlefield Tours:

Other useful links:
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
The Royal British Legion


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