musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Month: May 2015

Finding the Fallen: Ryecroft Cemetery

This morning, after nearly two weeks of ugly weather I finally got a chance to head across to Rycroft Cemetery in Walsall. I had visited that town last month and had been really impressed by it, although the Queen Street Cemetery had been a real non event. I had more hope for Ryecroft though, it has 176 CWGC burials of which 97 are from the First World War and 79 from the second. 
The entrance in the image above is at Google Earth co-ordinates  52°35’53.17″N   1°58’35.59″W, although I did not come in from that entrance, I came in via an entrance in Cartbridge Lane which comes off Lichfield Road. That put me slap bang in the middle of the cemetery, right where I needed to be.  
For once I had made a list and worked my way through the list. The graves were mostly a mix of headstones with or without kerbs, and in some case a square kerb was all that there was. That was going to complicate matters considerably. Unfortunately kerbs tend to get covered by grass and their legibility then becomes problematic. The other issue I was dealing with was the legibility of some of the CWGC stones. I had been seeing a lot of stones that were in dire need of cleaning lately, they were so bad that recognising them from a distance was problematic. 

There were a lot of headstones too, as well as private memorials, but I could see that there was no way I would get every grave in this cemetery photographed, not without eliminating as many as I could first. Once I had completed a section I headed for the next until I had returned to the pathway where I had started out. and crossed into what was a much older area.

Headstones were reasonably sparse on one side of the path, but on the other side things were very different. The one thing that Rycroft had a surplus of was angels, there were lots of them.

There were easily 10 of the big angels in the cemetery, two of which I had not seen before. It never ceases to amaze me how old some of them are, and how expressive their faces are. In fact, these will probably end up being added to my collection. CWGC graves were sparse in this area, but as I approached the main gate things changed, and there was a small plot of WW2 graves. 


The cemetery also has a Cross of Sacrifice and that faces the main gate.  The lodge is to the right of the gate, but I did not see a chapel which was strange.

Outside the cemetery, but bordering on it was another patch of graves that contained CWGC graves, mostly from WW2, and this area was reasonably full. It does seem that this was a Catholic/non-conformist area though, but I cannot be sure. Returning to the main cemetery I found the children’s plot. Usually this can be a very sad place to see, and I do like walking through these areas because they do have a strange atmosphere.
Saying goodbye to the kiddies, I continued my exploration.

Just around the corner from here I discovered two old headstones that had probably been relocated from elsewhere in the cemetery. The first is much older, and it is pretty legible, although I am not quite sure about one part of it:

“William Burn
 departed this life August Y 8
 1756 (9?). Aged 56 
He being the 
firft (first) that is buried here”
                And the other is equally interesting:

to the memory of Edward James Oakley
aged 19 years
who was accidentally drowned 
July 9th 1845 
While engaged in searching
for the body of J.H. Jarvey Esq
Late Mayor of this town,
who lost his life in a pool in Lichfield Street 
while bathing there.
Stay reader and behold the hapless lot
of one whose present will be soon forgot
Reflect on lifes quick transit from the flood
of eager youth to an untimely tomb
I feel this transit with my latest breath
and full of life lay in the arms of death.
  This stone is erected by a few friends
as a token of respect
It left me thinking about where these headstones originated from, and why were they the only two here? Once again answers were not forthcoming

I was roughly halfway by now and I was still encountering CWGC graves at a steady rate. This area was leading towards a small hillock which had headstones all around it. It was a bit of a puzzle, but I did not have any answers, I had to just follow the path, even if it meant backtracking to find that single headstone in the furtherest corner. I could see that I was reaching some sort of end to the cemetery though because I was approaching the main road once again. 

My last few headstones bar one were all past this angel, and it was realistically time to start thinking about home. I cut across the pathway and entered yet another area, and this may have been where the chapel was at one point (assuming there was one). In fact I even wondered if there wasn’t a crypt underneath the structure.
I picked up my last headstone on the right hand side of the road, and I was done. It was time to wave goodbye and go catch my bus home. 
I am sure that she was sad to see me go, but realistically I needed to process the images that I had (498 of them), and see what I was missing and compare that with CWGC data to see what is a private headstone and what is not. Then make a return trip and try to catch the balance of graves. Admittedly this is a very nice cemetery, although many of its headstones are in a poor condition. 
And on my bus ride home I tried once again to get a decent pic of the 30 foot high statue which stands over a former mine.
Some research revealed that the statue is named after a collier killed in an accident.  Known as the “The Brownhills Miner” (or “The Tin Man” as some of the locals call it),  it was nicknamed Jigger after Jack “Jigger” Taylor who died when the roof of Walsall Wood pit collapsed in 1951. 
The sculpture commemorates miners who worked in the town for three centuries before the last Brownhills pit closed. The statue is situated at the junction of High Street and Chester Road North and is by the artist John McKenna
It is an impressive piece, but inspite of my efforts I have not been able to get a decent image of the front of it. Unfortunately he faces the wrong direction for photography, and a tree always ruins my shots! 
That concluded my visit to Ryecroft. The final tally of graves is 153 out of 176 photographed, and 10 private memorials recorded. And lots of angels were seen. And you known what they say about angels? you can never have enough of them. 
© DRW 2015-2018.  Images migrated 30/04/2016. 
Updated: 31/12/2017 — 15:43

VE Day

The 8th of May is celebrated as “VE Day”, or more correctly, “Victory in Europe” day. It marks the cessation of hostilities in Europe, and a change of focus to the war in the Pacific. Germany had surrendered, and it was time to count the cost and bring the soldiers home. This year marked the 70th anniversary of the cessation of hostilities in Europe.


Reading snippets about it today got me thinking about my late father who served in with the UDF forces in World War Two. 

Along with the 1st South African Brigade Signal company he embarked for Egypt from Durban on 09/10/1941, disembarking from the Mauretania in Suez on the 21st of that month. Barely 2 months later he was captured at Sidi Rezegh , being reported missing on 05/12/1941.  He was confirmed as a POW on 15/02/1942. He was not alone, alongside him were a lot of other South Africans who were soon headed to POW cages.
It is difficult to know what he went through, he did not speak about it too much, and I did not know what were the right questions to ask. All information I really have is what I have been able to glean from his service record with the UDF, and even that information is sparse.
 I do know that he was confirmed as being held at “Camp 52” on 01/02/1942, and he was presented with a pocket bible at this camp on 16/07/1942. Campo 52 was situated in Chiavari, a small town in the Province of  Genoa, Italy and  is situated near the Entella River. I had believed that he may have been amongst the POW’s who were on board the “SS Nino Bixio” that was  torpedoed by the British Submarine HMS Turbulent, on 16 August 1942. However, by then he was already in Italy so it is very unlikely that he was on board that ill fated ship. 
I know nothing of what happened to him between when he was given that small bible, and the rest of the war. At some point the POW’s were handed over the to Germans by the Italians, and I know he preferred the Italians to the Germans. He may have been involved in some of the forced marches of POW’s,  but cannot confirm it, and he is is not here to tell the tale. There is a good read about the POW’s at  although it does deal mainly with New Zealanders.
You can bet the time behind the wire was fraught with danger and fear, as well as inactivity, inadequate rations and over zealous guards. It is difficult to know what effect that time had on him. I have read all manner of theories over the years about soldiers who have ended up in captivity, but none have really described the father I once new. The only saving grace is that he was not a prisoner of the Japanese.
When the war ended on 8 May 1945, I am sure that all of those behind the wire were overjoyed because now they were the ones who were able to lord it over the guards that had been lording it over them. And of course there was the chance to go home. The record cards report my father as being repatriated to the UK on 31/05/1945. How he got there I do not know, and neither do I know where he was housed in the UK between then and when he boarded the ship back to the Union of South Africa on 26/08/1945.  I do not even know which ship he sailed on either, but he arrived in Cape Town on 11 September 1945 and was then sent to Pietermaritzburg.
From there he seemed to have been on leave, until he was due to report back on 13/11/1945. Whether that was at Pietermaritzburg or Johannesburg I cannot say, however, the record confirms him as being at the dispersal depot at Hector Norris Park in Johannesburg on 20 November 1945, and he was finally discharged on the 28th of that month with the rank of Lance Corporal.
The Second World War had ended with VJ Day on 2 September 1945.
It is difficult to know what went through his mind as he sat with all those other soldiers for those 3,5 long years in captivity. My father was a reader and I hope that there was a lot to read during that time. I also do not know how much the whole experience affected him either, and how it affected his marriage to my mother. I have no answers to any of these questions, and to be frank I have never considered VE day in quite the same way before.  The one thing I am sure of that VE day was an important one for him and all those held in captivity by the Germans, I do not know where he was held in Germany, so do not know how the bombing or advancing armies on either side affected them, but, you can bet that 70 years ago, somewhere in Germany, a group of South Africans was celebrating, and 70 years down the line we are looking back on this day and remembering those who did not come back. My father was one of the former, and fortunately not one of the latter. 

© DRW. 70th Anniversary of  VE Day 2015-2018.  Images migrated 30/04/2016
Updated: 31/12/2017 — 15:45

Remembering the Lusitania

Today, 7 May, is the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Cunard liner RMS Lusitania during World War One. She is not as famous a shipwreck as the Titanic, in fact her sinking during the war was really just a blip in the casualty numbers, and yet almost 1200 people lost their lives.


Her loss really meant that her sister, the Mauretania, would become famous and she would slip quietly into obscurity, just like the Olympic and Britannic which were overshadowed by the Titanic for all the wrong reasons.  The ship, torpedoed by U-20, sank in less than 20 minutes and within sight of the old Head of Kinsale. It was a sunny day, and not the sort of day for seeing a passenger liner dieing within sight of land. 

Controversy has always surrounded the ship and her sinking. For some reason it is always thought that her sinking brought America into the war, but that is not true. And, there have always been theories about a second explosion that ended the ship, supposedly set off by the munitions that she was carrying.  
The truth is, that when the wreck was explored by Dr Robert Ballard in 1993 it did not show any signs of a massive internal explosion, however, the wreck is resting on the side that was damaged by the torpedo. Many theories have been put forward for the speed which she sank, however, the location of the torpedo damage, the construction of the ship, and the forward motion of the vessel all contributed to her sinking so quickly. Unlike Titanic which had bulkheads that ran from beam to beam, Lusitania (and Mauretania) were both designed with extensive watertight compartmentation because of their possible role as armed merchant cruisers, that meant that localised flooding on one side would cause the ship to list excessively. Titanic went down on a relatively even keel. Lusitania started listing almost immediately, making lifeboat launching extremely difficult. 

Lusitania Life Preserver, Imperial War Museum

There is also the conspiracy that Winston Churchill deliberately “set her up” to be sunk, and that Captain Turner was negligent. The official enquiry   did not find him guilty of negligence, but neither did it provide satisfactory answers about the sinking. There are still too many questions about the Lusitania that were left unanswered, and even today some of the files are classified. 

Propeller from the Lusitania (Liverpool)

The important questions from the enquiry are as follows:
17. Was any loss of life due to any neglect by the master of the “Lusitania” to take proper precautions or give proper orders with regard to swinging out of boats, or getting them ready for use, clearing away the portable skids from the pontoon-decked lifeboats, releasing the gripes of such boats, closing of watertight bulkheads or portholes, or otherwise before of after the “Lusitania” was attacked?
Answer:  No. 
20. Was the loss of the ” Lusitania ” and/or the loss of life caused by the wrongful act or default of the master of the ” Lusitania ” or does any blame attach to him for such loss?
Answer:  No. 
21. Does any blame attach to the owners of the steamship ” Lusitania “?
Answer: No. 
What is certain is the human element in the disaster, and the terrible loss of life. 18 Minutes is not a lot of time to evacuate a large ship, and there was definitely an element of chaos on board, as well as ill discipline and a lack of command guidance. But given the circumstances I expect that the best had been done, but that too many other factors played a role in the sinking.
Lusitania sank 100 years ago, but her story still interests maritime historians because it is still a mystery. And will remain so long after the wreck has finally disintegrated. 

Lusitania Peace Memorial

In the days following the disaster, efforts were made to recover bodies floating in the Irish Sea and washed up on the coast. The dead – both passengers and crew – may be found in several cemeteries and churchyards in Ireland and the United Kingdom. Killed by enemy action, the crew of Lusitania are considered war dead and therefore commemorated by the CWGC.
The bodies of 49 of her merchant marine personnel were recovered from the sea or the shore. The largest group, 34 men and women, are buried in Old Church Cemetery in Cobh.
Those Lusitania crew members missing at sea – some 353 people – are commemorated by name on the Tower Hill Memorial in London.

There are a number of books about the Lusitania, and of course the usual crop of documentaries and TV specials. These are all beyond the scope of this blogpost, and once again the old adage applies, if all the hot air spouted about the Lusitania could be utilised to raise her, she would have been bobbing like a cork already.

1/1250 Lusitania Model (Atlas Editions)


Image of the Lusitania Memorial in the old church cemetery in Cobh by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen – Own work by uploader, Used under license CC BY-SA 3.0
Postcard images from own collection. 
© DRW 2015-2018. Created 07/05/2015, images migrated 30/04/2016, some images added 11/09/2018
Updated: 11/09/2018 — 15:14

Finding The Fallen: Sutton Coldfield.

On my recent trip to Birmingham, one of the stations that I passed was Sutton Coldfield, also known as “The Royal Town Of Sutton Coldfield”. The only reason I decided to head out that way was because according to my list, there were 46+3 graves buried in the old cemetery in the town. That is reason enough for me, and I packed my goodies and headed out in that direction. 
It did not seem to be too big a place, although my Google Earth  Map did show a substantial park, as well as the usual conglomeration of buildings, churches and houses. My goal was not too far away although I did mess up by taking the wrong turning. (I seem to be doing that a lot lately), and it was probably because I detoured at the Holy Trinity Church first. 
There is an interesting plaque in the park below the church that was of interest, and it sums up a bit about the town. 
Bishop Vesey is buried in this church and he has a lot to do with the revival of the town after the War of the Roses. Sadly the church was not open so I could not go look at the effigy inside the church. The graveyard has been levelled, and the headstones are now stacked along the periphery wall. The area around the church is much higher than the floor level of the church which could be as a result of the amount of burials within the original churchyard.
The cemetery I was going to was really and overflow for the churchyard, and it in turn had an extension once it was full.  
Following my detour I eventually found the cemetery, and started at the extension as there were only 3 graves there to find. The extension is also full, and I wonder where burials are now happening? I walked the rows, looking for the first burials, but it was quite a large area. 
Fortunately my graves were in an area close to the road and I almost fell over them while I was looking. Unfortunately they are not a healthy colour, and are really in dire need of cleaning. 
Then I headed to the old cemetery, with its lodge and chapel. I did have grave numbers for the graves, but these did not tally with how the sections were marked on the map.
I was just going to have to find what I could and try reconcile those known graves with graves that I was missing. 46 does not sound like a lot, but the reality is that once the recognisable graves have been found  the private memorials are what is left over. Their legibility is often poor, and in some cases the headstones are overgrown with moss, or even toppled.
As cemeteries go it was not too bad, a nice mix of old and newish headstones, although some parts were looking slightly sparse. The easily found graves went quickly but I was soon sitting with 8 graves that were hiding from me, and I had to eliminate each one separately. By roughly midday I had only two to go and the discovery of grave numbers on the occasional grave did mean I could walk a section and count, and then try another section and count. Surprisingly both graves were right under my nose! The private memorial toll was quite high too, I found 8 PM’s amongst the graves, and that was surprising.   Rent paid, it was time to head off home. 
I headed in the direction of the station, but veering slightly off course towards where a sign had pointed out the Town Hall was. If there was a war memorial it would probably be close to the Town Hall. 
My supposition was correct, and the War Memorial was opposite the Town Hall on a small island. It was a very pretty memorial too, very reminiscent of some that I had seen in London.
The Town Hall was also quite nice, with an impressive clock tower. Although the actual building seems to be in danger of becoming more yuppie pads.
I was close to the station so decided to get myself over there and homeward bound. The station is not really a huge one,  but it does have a very nice tunnel, and I waited for the light at the end of the tunnel!
When it did arrive it turned out to be the local to Birmingham, and not one of the many diesels that I had heard at the cemetery.
It appears that at some point close by the railway splits, with the diesels and their container trains heading in one direction, with the locals in the other.
The station was also the site of a rail disaster on 23 January 1955, but I am not sure where it happened in relation to the station as it was on that day. A plaque was unveiled at the station to commemorate the event.
Sutton Coldfield Rail Disaster Mmemorial_- 2016-01-25

Sutton Coldfield Rail Disaster Memorial_- 2016-01-25

(Image by © Optimist on the run, 2016 /, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Master and Miss Harrison are both buried in the churchyard of  St Peter and St Paul, Weobley, Herefordshire.  
I had accomplished what I had set out to do, and was suitably satisfied, peckish and tired. There was not too much to see in the town though, and I doubt if I will head out there again, but it was an interesting interlude and a glimpse into yet another interesting town. 
© DRW 2015-2018. Images migrated 30/04/2016, updated 24/11/2016 
Updated: 31/12/2017 — 15:48
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