Mobile student earns trip to France and Belgium with powerful World War I project
Even if he had survived the war, Matthew Rossiter would likely never have met thirteen-year-old Belle Melvin.
Rossiter was born over 120 years ago, on July 19, 1896, and died at the young age of 20.
But through a richly detailed and elaborate heritage project, displayed at the Regional Heritage Fair at Brookside Intermediate on May 3, Belle has come to know her great-great uncle Matthew Rossiter, whom she describes as patriotic and loyal, but also humorous, and with surprisingly good penmanship.
Matthew was her great-grandmother Belle’s brother. Belle is named after her great-grandmother.
Born and raised in Cape Broyle, Rossiter was a fisherman before enlisting in the war in May of 1915.
He sailed to Scotland in June of 1915, training there until April 5 of 1916.
For the display, Belle had a full copy of his military records on hand, as well as typed copies of letters written home during war time. The letters were provided by the Collet family.
“Matthew’s letters make you realize that he was a young man from down the Shore— not just a photograph on the wall,” said Belle. “They show his love for his family and country. And the letters show that he was a very brave, loyal, patriotic, determined, strong, and had a great sense of humor.”
In his letters, Rossiter talks about life in the trenches and the battlefield, and the daily grind in the war zone.
In an early letter, he joked that he would be home before his socks wore out.
He was reported missing at Beaumont Hamel during the Battle of the Somme. Rossiter had been killed in action July 1.
His father received the telegram July 31 that Matthew was reported missing. On Oct 7, he received word that his son had been killed in action.
The original Memorial Plaque, commonly known as the “Dead Man’s penny,” given to the family upon his death, was a part of the display.
“There’s no rank written on it, because they believed that death had no rank,” explained Belle.
There is no known grave site marking where Rossiter is buried, though his name is etched in the Newfoundland War memorial at Beaumont Hamel.
In two months’ time, Belle will be able to see the etching for herself.
Along with 18 other students, Belle will travel, all expenses paid, the Trail of the Caribou in France and Belgium this coming summer, as an Ambassador with the provincial Honour 100 campaign, which marks the centennial anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.
She’ll be gone from June 28 until July 6.
“It’s a really good opportunity,” said Belle, who admitted she’s very excited about the upcoming trip.
Belle worked for about two months, off and on, on the project, which was not mandatory or required for any of her classes. She said it was a chance to learn about her family, about the past, and about the ultimate sacrifice made by so many.
“It reminds us of where people came from,” said Melvin. “How we’ve changed as the years went by… And what they died for our freedom. How they went through all that pain for us.”