When Matthew Livesey was killed before he could fight in the Battle of the Somme, his sister Lizzy diarised her efforts to locate his final resting place
Matthew Livesey was excited, yet apprehensive about fighting in the First World War.
The 27-year-old left the security of his family home in School Lane, Bamber Bridge, and waved goodbye to Higher Walton Albion football club, where he was a well-loved member, to enlist with the King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment.
Whilst he knew the risks of being in combat, he never predicted that it would be his own gun that would accidentally kill him before he was able to fire his first shot at the Battle of the Somme.
He was marching towards the French town of Albert on July 1 1916 when his ammunition which he was carrying accidentally went off. He lost his arm and his leg and as he desperately tried to carry on, he died from his wounds.
His fellow soldiers buried him on the roadside and they carried on their march.
As news was sent home of Matthew’s demise, the regiment was unable to tell his family – parents, John and Susannah, and two younger sisters, Lizzie and Hilda – where he was buried and so he had no official grave.
When the war was over, Lizzie and John travelled to France with the YMCA in 1920 in a bid to find where he lay.
During the six days, Lizzie detailed her experiences in a diary.
She met a lot of people on the journey and wrote about their stories. There was one girl living at the hostel where she stayed who had lost her whole family when her house got bombed by the Germans. Soldiers dragged her out of the rubble and she had nowhere to go, so she stayed at the hostel and looked after the people staying there.
In one diary extract she details how she found a woman’s leg on the roadside: “On again for about two more miles into the midst of No Man’s Land past piles and piles of barbed wire, shell holes big enough to hold a house, dug-outs all complete with steps into the bowels of the earth and what is this?
“A human leg with a stocking on. And here is a horse with its head stuck out from the ground. It must have been buried alive. I wondered where it’s rider was.”
As each new place brought hope, they were dashed as time ran out before they had to return home. After six months, Matthew’s body was found and moved to Blighty Valley Cemetery, near Albert.
Lizzie returned the following year and laid the plastic wreath she had kept in hope. Lizzie never married or had children, but it is believed she had a fiance, who died in the First World War.
She died in 1976, aged 85, and was buried on the 60th anniversary of Matthew’s death – July 1.