Leeds & West Yorkshire

WWI soldier's violin played at his grave

Sam Sweeney playing a violin at Ypres WWI cemetery Image copyright Elly Lucas
Image caption Folk musician Sam Sweeney played the violin at the graveside of Richard Howard

A violin made by a soldier killed in battle during World War One has been played at his grave on the eve of the 100th anniversary of his death.

Richard Howard, who died on 7 June 1917 in the Battle of Messines, started making the instrument in 1915 before enlisting in the army.

It was later finished by a luthier in Oxford before being bought by folk musician Sam Sweeney in 2009.

Mr Sweeney played the violin at Pte Howard's grave in Ypres.

He said: "It was incredible. About 100 people were there and some of his descendants came.

"His granddaughter did a reading of a poem she wrote about him. It was very moving.

"It's amazing - his family has been reunited because of this violin."

Image copyright Elly Lucas
Image caption Around 100 people, including some of Pte Howard's relatives, were at his graveside to hear his violin being played

Mr Sweeney, who played the fiddle for folk band Bellowhead, said Mr Howard's relatives did not know of him until he got in touch with them through his research about the instrument.

Mr Howard was a luthier and music hall performer in Leeds who was married and had a daughter.

He was conscripted into the 10th battalion, Duke of Wellington's (West Riding) Regiment at the age of 35 in 1915 and was among seven men from the regiment who was killed on the first day of the battle in Belgium.

Image copyright Sam Sweeney
Image caption Mr Sweeney and his father were prompted to research the instrument after seeing the date and name stamp inside the fiddle

The instrument was left in pieces until luthier Roger Claridge bought it at auction and completed it in his workshop.

It had the appearance of a new instrument but the label inside gave the date 1915 and the name Richard S Howard, which prompted Mr Sweeney and his father to investigate the maker.

"It was actually my dad who did all the research because I was doing my A-levels at the time." said Mr Sweeney, 28.

"We gave all the information to Hugh Lupton, who has weaved it into a story."

Mr Sweeney has been telling his remarkable story of the instrument in his show titled Made in the Great War, which he is touring across the UK until 11 June.

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