Since our last update in July, Nancy and I have now completed our 1915 programme of visits. In referral, we returned to France on 1 August and took up residence at the "Velodrome" campsite in Albert. Our programme included 38 burial grounds across the Somme Department.
In July 1915 the British Third Army was formed under the command of Sir Charles Munro. Divisions of V11, X (and later) X11 Corps relieved the French Second Army on the front: Curlu (on the River Somme) fifteen miles north to Hebuterne, and on to the right flank of the French Tenth Army (holding the Arras sector). This was not the precursory move that brought about the Somme offensive but was effected to allow the French to prepare their simultaneous attack from Artois and Champagne, in September 1915.
Several of the 1915 Somme burial grounds will be familiar as "1916 battlefield cemeteries": Norfolk, Dartmoor, Carnoy and Authuile for example. Whilst it is true that they all contain casualties from the Somme offensive, these burial grounds were established by the earliest fighting units to arrive on the Somme (August 1915); some eager to protect their own battalion (or regimental) burial plot. A degree of confusing and irregular layout is often the result. Carnoy is a very good example of this "policy"; 2/K.O.S.B which buried their first casualties in row D, then followed with further burials behind in rows E & F; rarely do fighting units' burials extend along the length of a row.
Also, at Dartmoor, for example. it is not unusual to see a vacant space between headstones. This could be from the removal of French/German burials after Armistice. It could also indicate the destruction of the grave by artillery fire. In this case the casualty is usually commemorated by Special Memorial; "Known to be Buried in this Cemetery" and with corresponding detail in the cemetery register. It wasn't until reading the visitor's book at Dartmoor Cemetery that I became aware that not all destroyed graves are treated thus. A visitor had recorded that his grandfather who had died of wounds (at High Wood) on 15 July 1916, had originally been buried in Dartmoor Cemetery under a memorial cross. He is now commemorated on the Memorial to the Missing at Thiepval and not on a special memorial within Dartmoor Cemetery! A vacant space we noted corresponds with the date of his death.
The eventual arrival of field ambulance added some sense of organisation, particularly farther in rear of the fighting line. Examples include Forceville, Mericourt-L'Abbe, Villers Bocage and Suzanne, all of which are extensions to French communal cemeteries. I am aware of instruction from the French authorities regarding burial regulation into their cemeteries, but will need to research this point at a later date. Certainly the layout of this category of burial ground is well defined and easily followed. The vast majority of 1915 Somme burial grounds already contained a varying number of French burials when the British took them over; most were subsequently exhumed after the Armistice and reburied in French cemeteries or repatriated.
The arrival of Field Ambulance units further forward, particularly in 1916, began to infill the "generous" spacing of the early "fighting unit" burials, creating further confusion for the cemetery visitor. Later 1918 burials and post war concentrations add to this confusion. I needed to understand these burial grounds. Therefore we have commenced the plotting of burial dates against the cemetery plan to fully understand the chronology of burials; such is the detail that we are trying to draw out of our Pilgrimage. The work we undertook at Lijssenthoek and Etaples was the benchmark for this later inclusion. I really do not like a cemetery layout to baffle me!
A further responsibility we have gladly inherited is to become the extended eyes of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in Beaurains. A chance meeting with Nelly Poignonnec (communication and public relations supervisor) at the funeral of an Unknown Soldier at Danzig Ally on Wednesday 21 August, she was made aware of our Pilgrimage. She explained the reciprocal arrangement the CWGC has with local French communes – the responsibility of the local mayor – home to many isolated churchyards and communal cemetery burials. Here the cycle of CWGC visits can be as low as one visit every seven years. Until now we have only reported (for example) incorrect headstones, lack of signage or wrong addresses for cemetery location; assuming that the CWGC dealt with poor headstone cleaning and overgrown or weed invested ground!
Our weather throughout August has been the summer of childhood memories – it is raining as I write! However hot, sunny weather is not ideal for standing in front of glistening white Portland headstones for several hours and, at least on one occasion, we have had to return to a cemetery to take photographs because of the position of the sun. On several occasions we have been grateful to Lutyens, Blomfield and co for their design of a covered area to shelter from the rain. These same structures have now sheltered us from the sun! We really should complain; after all we are British!
With the work to replace panels suspended until October, we completed our 1915 Pilgrimage at the Loos Memorial on Saturday and Sunday 17/18 August; no more fitting location could there have been to bring our 1915 Pilgrimage to a close.
We have added a further 194 burial grounds and memorials and said "thank you" a further 116,290 times. In total we have visited 392 burial grounds and memorials and said "thank-you" 252,287 times. Still along long way to go: Thiepval Memorial looms large.
On our return from the Loos Memorial, I was mystified as to why Captain Kilby VC, who is inscribed on the panel to the South Staffordshire Regiment, was not in the cemetery register. He gained his VC posthumously, leading his company and continued to encourage them after his foot was blown off. The Germans raised a memorial to him, but his grave was not found until 1929 when he was buried in Arras Road, Roclincourt. His name had already been inscribed on the Loos Memorial, inaugurated on 4 August 1930. As far as I can determine, no names have ever been removed from the Loos Memorial; there are no infills as on the Thiepval memorial.
As I was sat outside the campsite office - the only place to access the camp wi-fi – researching Kilby's story, my Geordie neighbour was showing his annoyance at the ongoing "Rooney Story". At that point I had just read that Kilby's VC was sold at auction last year for £276,000. Just ten days pay for Mr. Rooney!
Article and images submitted by Steve Binks
The attached image features a design of an "Unknown" headstone which I have never seen before. The base of the stone is obscured and reads, "The Lord Knoweth Them That Are His." Forceville was one of the five trial cemeteries chosen by the Imperial War Grave Commission (predecessor to the CWGC) and the IWGC perhaps changed the design before replicating it in other cemeteries? The name of the cemetery is also absent from the exterior.
Captain Young (middle)
Photographed in Sucrerie Military Cemetery; I suggest the headstone says more than any words that I could add. ["He sleeps in peace. May God remember him for ever." - Ed]
Private Baker (below)
I have photographed most of the privately-raised, non-standard headstones and memorials. Unfortunately the majority are unreadable but thankfully the CWGC has added their standard headstone in front.