My great-uncle William Lorimer Joyce was from Brecon in Wales, although originally the family came from Ireland, as the surname suggests. So when war broke out he joined the 4th Battalion of the South Wales Border Regiment.
Both William and my grandfather were gardeners, working on big estates in those days. (It must run in the family, as both my mother and I are keen gardeners; she used to run a florist’s shop.) It was the custom then that gardeners were sent to Kew Gardens for about a year or two to learn various things. My grandfather learnt all about alpine plants. I don’t know what area of botany William learnt about. When William had completed his two years at Kew Gardens he went off to Canada to join an elder brother. While he was there World War One broke out, and he came all the way back to join in because he thought it was going to last for a few months. He didn’t want to miss out. But unfortunately in 1917 he was captured and put in a POW camp in Mesopotamia. And that’s where he died.
I’m not sure whether it is true, but my grandfather thought he died of starvation. We do know that the conditions in the POW camps were so terrible that not only the prisoners but also the people who were guarding them were dying of starvation because there just was no food getting through.
Kew Gardens remembered all their workers (or Kew-ites as they were known) who lost their lives in the war in two ways: an entry in the Kew Guild book and a permanent memorial in the gardens. This is part of the eulogy by the Kew Guild:
‘Mr Joyce died at Sangahun, Turkey on Oct 2nd 1917.
Most of us had read in the daily newspapers of the terrible privations and rough treatment of British POWs at the hands of the Turks. Only recently have we learned from his mother that a fellow Kew-ite was among them. Mr Joyce died at Sangahun, Turkey on October 2nd 1917. He entered Kew Gardens in March 1908 from Plys Dynan Gardens, Newbridge-on-Wye on the completion of the 2 years’ term. Mr Joyce went to Ontario, Canada in the spring of 1910. Such is the brief record of another brave soldier Kew-ite to whose sorrowing mother we extend our sympathy.’
If you go to Kew Gardens you can find the Temple of Arethusa. This was set up after the war, with the money raised from visitors’ and friends’ subscriptions. The cost of erecting the memorial was about £150, which doesn’t seem so much to us today. The Temple of Arethusa is set in a beautifully peaceful area. Inside is a war memorial, and on the war memorial is my great uncle’s name: William Lorimer Joyce.
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