musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Category: CWGC

The Mud of Passchendaele

On 31 July 1917 the third battle of Ypres started. but it is more commonly remembered as the Battle of Passchendaele. A name synonymous with mud, wasted lives and no gains for the high cost in human lives. The battle took place on the Western Front, from July to November 1917, for control of the ridges south and east of the city of Ypres in West Flanders, and was part of strategy decided by the Allies at conferences in November 1916 and May 1917.

An estimated 245,000 allied casualties (dead, wounded or missing) fell in 103 days of heavy fighting. many of those killed were buried in the mud, never to be seen again. 

South Africans generally recognise the Battle of Delville Wood as our “definitive battle”, and as such we do not commemorate it the way Delville Wood is commemorated, and a quick search for 31/07/1917 at the South African War Graves Project website will only bring up three pages of names, of which at least one page may be discounted as not occurring in the battle. However, from 31 July 1917 many families in the United Kingdom would be discovering that they had lost a father, or a son, or a husband. My current project is called “Lives of the First World War” and there I am encountering many of the casualties from that battle. I was particularly struck by a private memorial that I photographed in Reading Cemetery in 2015.

Serjeant Charles Stewart MM. lost his life on 31 July 1917, probably in this very campaign. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Menin Gate like so many of his countrymen and comrades who would loose their lives tomorrow, 100 years ago.  He is also remembered on this overgrown gravestone that I found by chance. 

The sad reality is that  little, if any, strategic gain was made during the offensive, which was in fact a total of eight battles.  It increased the soldiers distrust of their leaders, especially Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, and left many soldiers utterly demoralised, shell shocked or badly wounded. The often atrocious weather just made things that much worse for Tommy on the ground, whereas the Generals, far behind the lines could condemn the lack of progress safely in the dry map rooms of their headquarters.    

The French lost 8,500 soldiers. while estimates for German casualties range from 217,000 to around 260,000. Bearing in mind that each one of these casualties had parents, possibly wives, occasionally children. A single death would have repercussions that would affect many more people.

World War One is really a series of disasters, The Somme battlefields, the icey sea of Jutland, the slaughter of Gallipoli, the mud of Passchendaele, the horrors of chemical warfare, the rattle of machine guns and the cries of the wounded and the dieing.

There were many heroes in these battles, and many wore the uniforms of nurses who had to drag extra strength from within to deal with the flood of blood in the casualty clearing stations as the wounded were brought in. Their story is often overlooked amongst the khaki uniforms, but their sacrifice was equally important. A light of sanity in a world of blood soaked madness.

We commemorate the battle from the 30th of July, but for those caught up in the trenches the hell would continue right through until November.  The only light on the horizon was that it would all stop a year later on the 11th of November 1918. 

Unfortunately, we never seemed to learn those lessons from the First World War, because a second war was looming in the future, and that war would define our world from then onwards.  

Remember the Dead.

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.”

© DRW 2017. Created 30/07/2017. The “Ode of Remembrance” is from Laurence Binyon‘s poem, “For the Fallen“, which was first published in The Times in September 1914. 
Updated: 21/08/2017 — 12:23

Shot at Dawn

In April 2015 I visited the National Memorial Arboretum and one of the many Memorials I saw on that day was the “Shot At Dawn” Memorial. 

Shot at Dawn Memorial

I commented at the time:

“The subject is a difficult one to read up on, because of the controversy of so many of the hasty decisions made by those who endorsed the executions. It can be argued that in many cases the sentence delivered did not take account of the circumstances of each individual, and the age and maturity of so many of those who were executed.
It is true that there were executions for offenses that were not related to cowardice or “lack of moral fibre”, some men were executed for murder. However, the fairness of the court martial process is often questioned, and those high ranking officers who sat on these tribunals were often seen as being totally out of touch with the reality of the situation of soldiers on the ground. It could also be argued that in many armies, the benefit of any sort of hearing did not exist, and the men were shot outright, often on the field of battle.”

Each wooden post that has been driven into the ground represents one of those who had their lives taken from them by the court martial process. 

The statue is fronted by 6 similar pillars, representing the firing squad who had to do the deed. A target was pinned on the person to be shot, and supposedly none of the squad knew whether his bullet would end the life of the accused. However, if blanks were used they would easily know whether their rifle fired a blank or a live round.   

This past week I read a book entitled For the Sake of Example, by Anthony Babington, first published 1983. It is an oldish book, but it is the first one I have read that dealt with the issue of those who were “shot at dawn”. It made for very sad reading because many of those deaths were not necessary in the first place. The common thread I saw in the book was the phrase “setting an example”. I also read a lot between the lines, and there was evidence of very perfunctory “trials” (Field Court Martial), with a swift verdict and the case would be “shoved upstairs” for some higher up to agree with and so on until it reached the desk of Field Marshall Haig or whoever was the end of the chain.

Once they rubber stamped the verdict and passed it back downwards the sentence would then finally be read out to the person who had been found guilty and often he would be shot the next day. It is doubtful whether anybody of high rank gave those meagre findings more than a glance and probably muttered “setting an example” before passing the buck to the next person in the chain. Many of the cases I read about were the result of poor decisions made by the man who was about to be shot. No real account of domestic circumstances was taken, and neither was much attention paid to the mental health of the soldier apart from a brief lookover by the closest doctor.  Many of the men who lost their lives were suffering from what we call today “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (aka PTSD)” , and given the horrors of the typical First World War battlefield it is understandable why so many ended up with the symptoms of PTSD.

One comment was made quite often: “unfit to be a soldier” and it was used in negative way, irrespective of whether the soldier was a success in civilian street, or a good father or dutiful son. The career soldiers with their rubber stamps did not give a hoot. Would we be able to say the same thing about them if ever they ended up on civvy street? would we condemn them as being “unfit to be a civilian” and take them outside and shoot them?

It is an incredibly difficult decision to take a person’s life, although if you were used to sending off complete battalions to their death in nonsensical attacks surely one more wouldn’t make you loose any sleep. I get this feeling that the Tommy on the ground was really just a number, irrespective of whether he was a regular soldier, a conscript or even a volunteer. Let’s face it, many of those who flocked to the colours were under the impression it would all be over by Christmas and they got a rude awakening when it carried on until November 1918 instead. A large number of those who flocked to the colours were young, often under 20, as were some of those who had their lives brutally ended by a squad of men from their own side. The shooting of a soldier often propelled his dependants into poverty as they no longer had the income that was sent home by the soldier, and if my memory serves me correctly a least one solder was shot shortly after he got married, widowing his bride even before he got to know her properly.  

The First World War did bring about many changes to the military, and fortunately the practise of shooting somebody for taking a stroll down the road to visit a girlfriend or local tavern was not as prevalent in that war. It could be that many who had served in the first slaughter avoided the mistakes that were made back then. Political pressure was also used to change the way these situations were dealt with, although it was way too late for the 20,000 who were found guilty of offences carrying the death penalty. 3000 soldiers received the death penalty and 346 were carried out.

In 2006 the British Government agreed to posthumously pardon all those who were executed for military offences during the First World War, but that was too many years too late for the families of these victims of officialdom. The irony is that even though a pardon has been granted, the pardon “does not affect any conviction or sentence.”

*Update 09/08/2017*

While uploading images to Lives of the First World War,  I encountered a private memorial to Arthur James Irish who was “executed for desertion” on 21/09/1915, although the grave (and CWGC record) states he was killed in action in Loos, Belgium. He is buried in Sailly-Sur-La-Lys Canadian Cemetery

This is the first time I have encountered a grave connected to one of those who was executed by firing squad, and I will do some more reading about the case. It could be that the information is incorrect, or it may be a genuine case of mistaken identity. In any event it does not excuse those who rubber stamped these executions without looking into individual circumstances. 

Executed for Murder.

There are three interesting cases in South Africa that need mentioning, although none are from the Western Front during the First World War. 

The first being that of “Breaker Morant” and Peter Handcock.

Lieutenant Harry Morant was arrested and faced a court martial for “war crimes”. According to military prosecutors, Lt. Morant retaliated for the death in combat of his commanding officer with a series of revenge killings against both Boer POWs and many civilian residents of the Northern Transvaal.

He stood accused of the summary execution of Floris Visser, a wounded prisoner of war and the slaying of four Afrikaners and four Dutch schoolteachers who had been taken prisoner at the Elim Hospital. He  was found guilty by the court martial and sentenced to death.

Lts. Morant and Peter Handcock were then court-martialed for the murder of the Rev. Carl August Daniel Heese, a South African-born Minister of the Berlin Missionary Society.  Morant and Handcock were acquitted of the Heese murder, but their sentences for murdering Floris Visser and the eight victims at Elim Hospital were carried out by a firing squad  on the morning of  27 February 1902.  Morant’s last words were reportedly “Shoot straight, you bastards! Don’t make a mess of it!”

They are both buried in Church Street Cemetery in Pretoria.

The next incident is the case of a Veldkornet, Salomon Van As who was executed by firing squad on 23 June 1902, against the back wall of the jail in Heidelberg, having been found guilty of the murder of Captain Ronald Miers at Riversdraai 12 miles south of Heidelberg.

On 25 September 1901, Captain Miers approached a party of Boers under a white flag most likely with the intention to convince them to surrender. What exactly happened is not known, the British claim the Captain was shot in cold blood which made this a war crime, however Van As claimed he acted in self-defence. 

Today the bullet holes from that execution can still be seen on a stone that has been picked out in white paint on the back wall of the building. 

Two years after the war the British authorities apologised to his parents and offered compensation after admitting that false witnesses had been used against him during the case. He was buried in a shallow grave close to the old cemetery (Kloof Cemetery) but reburied on 13 October 1903.    

 

Executed for Rebellion.

Our next example is equally interesting because of the emotions that it raises.  Josef Johannes “Jopie” Fourie was executed for his part in the 1914 Rebellion in protest against the decision to invade German South West Africa as part of the international war effort against Germany. Fourie was an Active Citizens Force (ACF) officer in the Union Defence Force at the time and had not resigned his commission. As a result he was tried under court martial and was sentenced to death. This quirk also means he is eligible for commemoration as a casualty of war by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and his name has been put forward for consideration.

He is buried in Pretoria’s Church Street Cemetery. The same cemetery where Breaker Morant and Peter Handcock were buried. 

© DRW 2017. Created 02/06/2017, updated 09/08/2017

Updated: 21/08/2017 — 12:21

Portsmouth Cemeteries, a retrospective

This morning, while editing my Victoria Cross grave collection, I realised that I had not done a blog post on my visit to Portsmouth Highland Road and Milton Cemeteries, although I had done one on my flying visit to Kingston Cemetery.   This retrospective post is to rectify the matter so that I can carry on with my editing.

Portsmouth is not too far from Southampton, but I never really saw too much of it because I always ended up at the Historical Dockyard,  my first visit happed in April 2013, and it was really a taste of this great naval city and its large chunk of maritime history. My visit to Milton and Highland Road were for a different reason though. There are 9 Mendi Casualties buried in Milton Cemetery, and I really wanted to pay my respects. Fortunately one of the Hamble Valley and Eastleigh Heritage Guides was willing to take me to the cemetery to see the graves. 

I also had a map of the two cemeteries in my camera bag, and it showed the location of the Victoria Cross and George Cross graves in the cemeteries. I wanted to photograph as many of them as I could while I was there.

The day was not too sunny, but only rain would have deterred me in this quest. Our first port of call was Milton Cemetery (Google earth:  50.798967°,  -1.060722°). The cemetery is really closer to Fratton than Portsmouth, and when I had first checked it’s location I had considered it was do-able on foot from Fratton Station. 

Milton Cemetery Chapel

Plaque attached to the chapel

The cemetery  was opened in 1911, and contains 426 graves from both World Wars. The 1914-1918 burials are mainly in Plot 1, while the 1939-1945 War burials are widely spread throughout the cemetery.

8 Mendi casualties are buried in this row

Being a Royal Navy base and manning port, it is inevitable that many of the graves do have a naval connection, although Haslar Royal Naval Cemetery in Gosport contains the majority of naval graves in the area that I am aware of.

To be honest, Milton was not a very interesting cemetery, it was a bit too modern for my tastes, although there were a lot of interesting finds to be made in it. There are two Victoria Cross graves (Sidney James Day VC and John Danagher VC) and one George Cross grave (Reginald Vincent Ellingworth GC) in it. John Danagher VC was serving with Nourse’s Horse (Transvaal) during the first Boer War when he was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions on 16 January 1881 at Elandsfontein, near Pretoria.

The Cross of Sacrifice is also present in the cemetery, but I did not photograph any of the military graves apart from ones that interested me. It was really a fleeting visit as I did not want to take up too much of my host’s time. Fortunately he has an interest in cemeteries and is a member of the Friends of Southampton Old Cemetery.

Random Images from Milton Cemetery

   
   
   

And then it was time to go and we headed off to Highland Road Cemetery which is about 1,5 km away as the crow flies. (Google Earth:  50.786022°,  -1.067228°).

Those heavy clouds did nothing to make the chapel stick out more, Oddly enough the Google earth image shows a marker in the middle of the graves tagged as “St Margaret C of E Church”. I do not know whether that tag is supposed to relate to the chapel. There is one more building in the cemetery and I suspect it may have once been the Dissenters Chapel or a Mausoleum. The history of the cemetery may be found on the Friends of Highland Road Cemetery website.

Highland Road Cemetery was definitely the nicer of the two cemeteries. It was opened in 1854 and contains war graves from both world wars. The 1914-1918 burials are spread throughout the cemetery while the 1939-1945 War graves are widely scattered.

There are eight Victoria Cross graves in the cemetery and I am pleased to say I found them all. (John Robarts.VCHugh Shaw. VCWilliam Temple. VCHenry James Raby. VC. CBHugh Stewart Cochrane. VCWilliam NW Hewett. VCIsrael Harding. VCWilliam Goate. VC.)

I am however very sorry I did not photograph the grave of Reginald Lee who is buried in the cemetery. He is remembered as being in the crows nest with Fred Fleet, on board the ill fated Titanic when the iceberg was sighted at about 11.40 p.m. on 14 April 1912, although it was Fleet not Lee who shouted the famous “Iceberg Ahead”. (Frederick Fleet is buried in Hollybrook Cemetery in Southampton)  

The Mausoleum above is for members of the Dupree family, 

I would have liked to have revisited this cemetery in better weather, but realistically it would have been a very long walk to get there. As hindsight always says “it is too late now”

Random Images from Highland Road Cemetery 

 
   
   
   

It was time to leave this place and head off home. It had certainly been a productive morning, and I liked those. I would revisit Portsmouth in the future, but I never managed to return to it’s cemeteries. 

© DRW 2013-2017. Retrospectively created 12/05/2017. With special thanks to Geoff Watts and Kevin Brazier. 

Updated: 24/05/2017 — 12:48

Return to West Park

My very first war grave photography for the South African War Graves Project happened in 2005 according to the file information that I got from the images that I took. 

It is hard to believe that so many years later I would be standing in front of the CWGC Plot in West Park Cemetery ready to do it all again. 

I was never really happy with my original images, my camera back then was not the world greatest, and to be frank I messed the first row up badly and ended up redoing it at least twice. I now have over 10000 war graves to my name and am probably much better at taking war grave images now.

The layout of the plot has not changed and my map from back then is still relevant today.

The major difference was that I was going to photograph the whole plot in a morning instead of over a few days. 

L/Cpl Lucas is grave number one in the plot.

And once the first image is taken it is really a continuous process that is only interrupted when a shrub gets in your way.

The plot is looking very beautiful, the grass is cut and the beds are planted and tended, and that is very different from when I was first here in 2005. Back then the grass was dry as it was winter, whereas it is now April and heading into Autumn in South Africa. Make no mistake, it was a hot day! In fact the weather on this day was very similar to that predicted for the rest of the week, although by Friday I will hopefully be back in the UK.

There is something about the symmetry of this plot that I find fascinating,  

There is also a cremation memorial behind the Cross of Sacrifice and it commemorates those who were cremated.

And behind the plot is a small SADF/SANDF plot where a number of soldiers are buried. You can see the memorial to the right of the big tree. There are quite a few Border War casualties that are buried elsewhere in the cemetery, and I spent many hours over the years looking for them. 

You can see the original graves as well as the newer additions to the plot of graves of members of the SANDF. Once the graves were photographed I moved across to the Police Plot which is a bit deeper into the cemetery. Sadly there have been a few new additions to the plot, and that is never a good thing, especially when a the policeman is killed in the line of duty.

However, before I photographed the war graves, I had stopped at the “Heroes Acre” area of the cemetery to see if there had been any changes, and of course I was curious to see the grave of Ahmed Kathrada and Joe Mafela. They had been buried 3 days prior to this so the odds of a headstone were small.

Admittedly, many of the names on those headstones are not known to me, but some are, and a number of them touch a chord. None more so than Nkosi Johnson. At the time of his death, he was the longest-surviving HIV-positive born child, and the furor that was created when he tried to attend school really opened many eyes in South Africa.

Right opposite that area is the Westdene Bus Disaster Memorial and graves. In 2012 I had photographed them all and was saddened to see how they had been vandalised. It was the anniversary on 27 March and yet there is still a very raw wound around the disaster. I was able to get new images and shall process them and pass them onwards to eggsa for updating. 

The last bit of graving that I did in West Park was to re-photograph some of the graves in the EC section (English Church). It was really a case of having better quality images because my early images were not as good as they are today. Does a new camera make a difference? certainly, and of course the right lighting does help too. Unfortunately I now struggle with getting down to take the image, actually, I struggle to stand up. 

It was time to go home and I bid the cemetery goodbye and drove out the gate. I have 800 images to process, and they will show the difference between 2005 and 2017, assuming that there is one. Will I return one day? if I am in the country and I have transportation I probably will. It is important to monitor the condition of the graves, although CWGC does tend the graves under their care, and City Parks does look after this large space. And while the cemetery does have its moments it is not a great one like Braamfontein and Brixton where the weight of ages is heavy. In the almost 3 years I have been away quite a few open spaces have been filled, and technically the map that I drew many years ago has changed quite a lot since I started it. 

Maybe one day I shall complete it, but not today. 

© DRW 2017. Created 02/04/2017

Updated: 06/04/2017 — 06:21

Camberwell Cemeteries in Danger

When I first arrived in London in 2013, one of the first cemeteries I visited was Camberwell Old Cemetery and at the time I did not really take too much notice of it. It is an old cemetery and there is a small chance that I may have family buried there, but I cannot confirm it.

I visited the cemetery twice, and on both occasions the weather was grey and chilly and the remnants of snow may still be seen on some of my pics. I had no real reason to visit it though, and it was by sheer luck that I picked up one of the two Victoria Cross burials in the cemetery during my first visit (Albert McKenzie VC).

The cemetery was really divided in two, the first part being a normal maintained cemetery, while the other being a heavily wooded area, probably much older and reminiscent of Nunhead Cemetery. Given the weather I did not explore very long in this area because the mud and undergrowth really precluded doing very much. I was actually quite puzzled by the state of this area, but I did not know the history at the time. 

The cemetery is located on Forest Hill Road, and covers approximately 30 acres (0.12 km2).  The site was purchased in 1855 and it was originally meadow land.  The first interment took place in  July 1856 and over 30,000 burials took place in the subsequent 30 years. In 1874 the cemetery was further expanded by seven more acres and by 1984, there were 300,000 interments. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camberwell_Cemeteries)

Map courtesy of Kevin Brazier

There are 291 First World War burials, and war graves plot is in the north-east corner of the cemetery and contains two screen walls. One commemorates almost 160 casualties buried in the plot, the other bears the names of those buried in the remaining war graves scattered throughout the cemetery that could not be individually marked. Those remaining graves are much important than we realise in the light of what is happening at Camberwell Old Cemetery.

The war graves plot also contains a group of special memorials to the 14 casualties of the Second World War buried in the cemetery. 

   
   
   
   

So what is going on at Camberwell Old Cemetery?

From what  I can  read in short it is “Southwark Council is cutting down acres of inner city woods to mound over graves and next to dig up thousands of people’s remains to sell their graves as ‘new’ burial plots” (http://www.savesouthwarkwoods.org.uk/home/4593424362).  That will include the unknown burial plots of the war graves scattered that are throughout the cemetery that could not be individually marked. The cemetery is more than a mere burial place, it is a green lung in a busy city, it provides homes for woodland and small creatures, it is a valuable recreational space and it is a historic cemetery. It is difficult to know the whole story because there are two sides to each story, but my gut instinct says that what they want to do is fundamentally wrong, although the rational part of me says that come hell or high water they are going to do it irrespective.  The part that really gets to me is that “the Church of England has said the Commonwealth War Graves Commission do not need to mark the poor soldiers’ graves – to avoid making them seem special and for ‘practical purposes’, that is, to allow cemeteries to bury on top of them”. http://www.savesouthwarkwoods.org.uk/48-ww1-soldiers-graves/4593715253. It would be interesting to know why these graves have been “lost” in the first place and why they were not accorded a CWGC headstone at the time. I do suspect that there may be private memorials involved, and as such CWGC has no real jurisdiction over those graves.   

Camberwell New Cemetery

Before I made my second trip  I first visited Camberwell New Cemetery which is not too far away. It contains 198 Second World War burials, almost 80 of them forming a war graves plot and the rest are scattered throughout the cemetery. A screen wall commemorates almost 120 of these casualties (including those buried in the plot) whose graves could not be marked with individual headstones, together with a further 56 Second World War casualties whose remains were cremated in Camberwell (Honor Oak) Crematorium.  

I will be honest and say that the cemetery was not really memorable, in fact I took very few photographs of the place.

In 1926 the first part of the land was laid out as a cemetery and was consecrated by the Right Reverend William Woodcock Hough, Bishop of Woolwich, and the first interment took place on 23 May 1927. The Crematorium was built in 1939 to meet a growing demand for cremations and it is situated in the cemetery grounds, ten acres of which were landscaped as memorial gardens. 

What did interest me at this cemetery was the Civilian Casualties Memorial that was seemingly under restoration.

This was the first one that I had seen since arriving in London, and I have seen a number of others since then. 

I did not spend too long at this cemetery and set off for Camberwell Old Cemetery to photograph the grave of William Stanlake VC, and I recall at the time thinking that finding it in that mass of vegetation was going to be very difficult, but fortunately the plot was easily found.

Path to the grave of William Stanlake VC.

And then I headed off for home. I seem to recall visiting Motherwell and Brockley cemetery on this trip too. No wonder I was so tired all of the time. 

The destruction that is happening at these two cemeteries is very sad, and while I do not live in London I do have an interest in these happening because I have seen it so often before. I do not think that the destruction and re-use of these two cemeteries can be halted, but I do hope that the damage can be minimised or stopped before these two spaces are irreversibly changed.

It is worth visiting the  Friend of Camberwell Cemeteries website to read for yourself what is going on. Let us hope that sanity prevails. 

© DRW 2013-2017. Retrospectively created 11/03/2017

Updated: 11/04/2017 — 12:49

Blundering around Bushley

The winter weather was decidely pleasant when I set out for the village of Bushley in Warwickshire, I had one CWGC grave to photograph so it was worth the walk to get there.  However, this was really a test to see how well I could cope with an extended walk like this. Unfortunately I have been suffering with unspecific hip and back pain and that has really curtailed my meanderings in the countryside. The church of St Peter is just over 3km away via the Mythe Bridge, which is not really far until you factor in the return walk and the gallivanting I had planned for my return trip. 

The route encompasses the magnificent Mythe Bridge that I had photographed last year, 

crossing the River Severn

and then following the signs until you reach the village which is in Warwickshire as opposed to Gloucestershire.

The church is easy to find too, it is the highest point there.

The church of St Peter was rebuilt in 1843 by Canon Dowdeswell and consists of chancel, north and south transepts, nave and west tower and spire, it is a Grade II listed building and was designed by Dr Edward Blore & Sir Gilbert Scott.

The graveyard is in a reasonable condition and I spotted a number of 1700’s graves in it, which means that there was a church here for many years before the current building was erected.

My CWGC grave was easy to find, and I also found one private memorial.

The War Memorial is affixed to the outside wall of the church and covers both world wars.

I am always curious as to what these parish churches look like inside, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the church was unlocked.

The building inside is much smaller than it looks from the outside, but it is a very beautiful church on the inside.

There are a number of wall memorials to members of the Dowdeswell family and a few floor memorials but I could not get a clear image of those.

 The Font may date from the late 12th century, while the organ was erected in 1908.

Time was trickling away and I needed to start making tracks out of here, I paused at the Nativity scene in front of the pulpit. Christmas was upon us, and it is a very special time in any church.

I returned to the churchyard and took more photographs.  

As can be seen the churchyard is higher than the surrounding pavement, which ties into the fact that there are more people buried here than reflect in the 177 memorials in the churchyard with a total of 352 names.

The registers for the church go back to 1538, and the oldest date on a memorial is 1633.

The churchyard does have an extension next to it, although that is nowhere near full.

Then it was time to head back to the Mythe Bridge for my next bit of exploration.

On the right hand side of this image is the sealed off entrance to the tunnel that runs underneath this road. 

It was part of the former Upton-upon-Severn to Tewkesbury line and I had been looking for the other end of the tunnel half heartedly for some time. I now had a better idea of where it was, I just had to find it. There is a footpath that runs along the bank of the Severn and by the looks of it I would be able to reach the general area without doing too much bundu-bashing.

The footpath was muddy and there was not much to see in the bush, hopefully at some point I would at least find a clue as to where the tunnel entrance was. Eventually I reached a crossroad with gates in 3 directions, the bush had thinned a bit but was still quite thick, but after checking the gps I was probably close to where I suspected the tunnel was. I walked around the one gate and voila… there it was.

It was bricked up and the entrance door had no visible hinges or lock so was probably fastened from the inside.

Sadly the local graffiti artists had expounded on his occupation, but I was kind of cheesed off that they had found this spot before I had, To see inside that tunnel I would need a long ladder and that would not fit in my slingbag.

There was an interesting little brick hut next to the tunnel with a pipe leading to the roof, but I have no way of knowing what it was in aid of, although I suspect it may have had something to do with signalling.

Then it was time to leave this remnant of the railways and head off towards town and lunch. I had achieved what I had set out to do and that was great. I could now plot that railway almost to Ashchurch Station, I just had to find one more illusive item. 

I crossed to the bank of the Avon and took a quick pic of the King John’s Bridge which was commissioned by King John in the late 12th century.

and a strange dredger called Canopus. 

and finally a gap in the former railway embankment that leads to the tunnel. 

and then home was in sight. 

It had been a long walk, and I am tired and sore. I am afraid I will have to stop taking these extended walks because recovering from them is long. Fortunately tomorrow is a bank holiday so I can take it easy, but I may just head out to….

DRW 2016-2017. Created 26/12/2016

Updated: 11/04/2017 — 19:17

Merchant Navy Day 3 September 2016

When I was young I wanted to go to sea in the Merchant Navy, however. South Africa did not have much of a merchant navy or otherwise to go to sea with so I never did. I regret that even so many years down the line. However, given my poor eyesight and lousy maths the odds are I would not have been able to join up anyway, albeit it in the deck department. As a result the I have always considered the Merchant Navy to be a very special breed of people: “They that go down to the sea in ships….” 

Because of the peculiarity of living in South Africa I really relate more to the British Merchant Navy than the South African one, and as a result this is partly why I am posting this today on Merchant Navy Day, and flying “the Red Duster” 

The Merchant Navy suffered appalling losses during both World Wars, often going to sea in coffin ships which could only plod along at the slowest speed conceivable; floating targets for an enemy strike and crewed by men who returned back to their ships time and time again, in a service that was largely forgotten by the civilian population and that was vitally important to the survival of Britain and her allies.

The thousands of casualties are commemorated at Tower Hill Merchant Navy Memorial in London, and the statistics for the casualties are frightening. By the end of World War One, 3,305 merchant ships had been lost with a total of 17,000 lives. In the Second World War, reached a peak in 1942. In all, 4,786 merchant ships were lost during the war with a total of 32,000 lives. More than one quarter of this total were lost in home waters.   

Seafaring today is nothing like that of the past, crews are smaller, ships are larger and more efficient (although do not look as good),  the coffin ship owners and their accountants still exist though, squeezing every drop of sweat from those manning ships that often fly flags of convenience and with a mixed crew that often has no common language. The one thing about a ship is that once it is out of sight of land it is really a world of it’s own, and like those who sailed on voyages during wartime there is one common enemy that all seafarers face, that can snuff out their small ship with impunity and leave no trace behind. The sea is a fickle medium, it can kill and be kind, but is always to be respected. 

Merchant Navy
A war, a convoy, a letter through the door,
A wife that is a wife no more
Her children are called away from school
To be broken the news so terribly cruel
“Your father has sailed to a distant land
And can not be reached by human hand
No more shall we meet him upon the quay
He can not come back to you or to me”
Some days later, when tears have passed
Her children asleep and quiet at last
She sits down to wish of one more goodbye
And to ponder and puzzle and ask merely why?
The warships guard the convoys tight,
Prepared to stand, prepared to fight.
But they are not who the foe will attack.
They hunt the ones that cannot fight back.
“My husband has sailed to a distant land,
Following orders of higher command,
He sails his ship on a distant sea
Never again to dock on an Australian quay”
Who will remember the warships and crew?
The soldiers in trenches, the men who flew?
All will remember the forces of men,
Who left, never to return again.
But who will remember the brave men of sea
Whose ships were unarmed and could only flee?
Who shouldered the burden of feeding their land,
In ships with conditions fit for the damned
I will remember, with poppy and voice
To tell of the merchant ships and of their choice.
The tankers, the trawlers, the fishing boats too
I remember their sacrifice and say Thank You
Kerry Dainty (aged 17)

We have a large debt to pay to the Merchant Navy of the two world wars, and this day is theirs alone.

© DRW 2016-2017. Created 03/09/2016. The poem “Merchant Navy” was found on the Forces Poetry and Stories Forum. I am currently attempting to contact the poet to obtain her permisison to publsih this work.  It is also worth going to http://www.merchant-navy.net/forum/poetry-and-ballads/4449-merchant-navy.html

Updated: 14/12/2016 — 20:03

Return to Kensal Green

Number 2 on my agenda on this fine morning in June 2016 was a visit to Kensal Green (all Souls) Cemetery, although St Mary’s next door was my real priority.  I had managed to snag most of the Victoria Cross graves in 2013, so this was a visit to see whether I could photograph the others that I am missing, and update any images that I had. The weather on my original trip had been grey and cloudy and while it was grey and cloudy on this day it did seem just a bit nicer and brighter.

However, the moment I walked down that path I was shocked. In places the grass was so high I could not see into the 3rd row of graves!  It reminded me that the weather can affect the vegetation and it is a never ending task to keep a cemetery free of undergrowth, and that is true of South Africa as well as Britain.

I really just followed the path, heading towards the chapel, photographing as I walked; at least the weather was a wee bit lighter but I was scared that it would rain so I had to make sure there was a place to shelter. In the back of my mind was a grave I really wanted to find as I had not really done a decent job of it last time around, and it really intrigued me. The only clue I really had was that the gasometer was visible in the background so at least I knew which side of the path it was on. 

The cemetery has a lot of mausoleums and statues. Some are in a derelict condition, some are not, and some are listed buildings and are to be restored. Most are sealed against the weather and intruders, and some are so tangled into the undergrowth they have almost disappeared. 

The chapel is really more like a huge crumbling art gallery that is in dire need of restoration, and there is no real way to photograph the whole building in one image, it is just too wide. On the end bay of each wing are statues but the plaster in the bays is crumbling in places and the floors no longer seem all that certain. What did this building look like when it was built? It must have really been an impressive structure. Today it looked like it was about ready to give up.

I continued past the chapel, really looking for one mausoleum in particular….

This is the Andrew Ducrow Mausoleum, and it is really an exercise in Egyptian and Greek mythology. It must have been quite a spectacle way back when it was erected, because that is certainly true of it today.

Random images.

It was VC hunting time, and I headed towards the areas where my map indicated. But, in all of the locations that I visited I was unable to find the graves (which were mostly flat slabs) due to the excessive grass and undergrowth. The one exception being when I stopped to look around and looked down to find I was standing next to a VC grave! 

I headed towards the “colonnades” which are situated along the one boundary of the cemetery. A block of flats backed onto the structure and a box came flying out of one of the windows to fall close to the top of the structure.

I still cannot quite fathom what this structure was for, and the Kensall Green website does provide an explanation: “… Along part of the northern boundary-wall a series of catacombs extends, which are at present calculated to contain about 2000 coffins. The line of these vaults is indicated, above ground, by a colonnade of Greek architecture, designed for the preservation of tablets and other monuments in memory of the persons whose bodies are deposited underneath”. (http://www.kensalgreencemetery.com/history/index1.html)”   Where was the entrance to these catacombs?  apparently there was a door on the west side, now hidden by undergrowth.  However the colonnades are crumbling and most of the wall memorials are now blackened remnants, and in some case they have fallen off already and their remains scatter the floor. It is however a fascinating structure and makes for interesting photography. I did a photo essay on the structure with more images of the memorials in it. 

With my VC search abandoned I now decided it was time to find my missing grave. In 2013 I had photographed a statue of a small girl leaning on a cross, but had not managed to photograph the inscription, and I wanted that inscription. However, she was intent on not being found and I waded through waist high wet grass looking for a small statue to no avail. I had more or less given up completely when my meanderings took me back to the area where the skeletons of the gasometers stand. It was almost as if this child was teasing me because I knew she was around, but did not know where. Then I spotted her out of the corner of my eye and was able to finally put a name to a statue. 

Her name was Winnie Smith, and she died on 20 March 1904 and she was almost 6 years old when she passed on. She has stood her lonely vigil for over 100 years, and the odds are there is nobody alive from her immediate family that even remembers who she was. But, I had remembered and was glad that I could finally put a name to that small statue. Curiously it is very possible that this is a representation of what she looked like in real life as this is not an off the shelf statue.

Kensall Green does have a lot of angels in various states of repair, and I saw quite a few that I had missed in 2013.

The CWGC records that there are 536 burials in the cemetery although I did not see too many scattered graves. In 2013 I had not had the chance to photograph the small plot of graves close to the exit as it was undergoing restoration at the time. This time around I was fortunate enough to be able to visit it and photograph the graves of which 3 were of South Africans. 

I also visited the Screen Wall where more casualties are listed as having graves that could no longer be individually marked.

And having completed that area it was time to head for home and the Thames to take my last images of the RMS St Helena. Kensal Green is an impressive cemetery that is best experienced twice. It is big, it can be very overgrown in parts, it can be overwhelming in others. There are areas where recent burials have occurred and you may end up bumping into grave diggers along the way (I did). It is hard to know what it looked like when it was founded, or how it looked over the years. However, there is one sobering memorial that must be shown.  

My time was up, and I will leave you with more random images. 

© DRW 2016-2017. Created 10/06/2016

Updated: 15/12/2016 — 07:17

Return to St Mary’s Roman Catholic Cemetery

I had last been in Kensal Green in March 2013, and had never been too happy with the pics I had taken. To exacerbate matters, when I went “next door” to St Mary’s I had been caught in a snow storm and had had to abandon my expedition without finding the VC graves I was looking for originally. Kensal Green is an impressive place, and it is the sort of cemetery that you need a lot of time in because there is just so much to see. 

Getting there is not too difficult. You grab the Bakerloo Line, change trains at Queens Park, then travel one station to Kensal Green. The cemeteries are both not even 200 metres away. Because St Mary’s Roman Catholic cemetery was more of a priority I headed there first. There were 3 Victoria Cross graves that I needed to find; these were the graves I had not found in 2013, and now I was armed with a description of each grave on top of the map I had gotten from Kevin Brazier in 2013.

The cemetery is a Roman Catholic one and it can be quite overpowering with the many mausoleums and statues. It is however quite large, but I did not venture too far from the main gate and chapel area.

The road from the entrance leads to this split, the building on the right is the chapel and one of the mausoleums is next to the pole. The Belgian War Memorial is on the path leading left.

The Chapel

The Chapel

There are enough mausoleums to fill a blog post, and some of them it is possible see inside because of clear or broken windows. Some are really beautiful inside, but I often wonder how many people actually go into them so many years after they were erected.  Some are in a poor condition, but generally they seem to be in a sound condition.

 

Looking at my images now it is difficult to imagine a Victorian era funeral taking place here. It was established in 1858 so the funerals were not only a time of mourning but often a social event.

My personal favourite has to be this one. 

My VC grave search went well and I was able to find all three graves in short order, although I kept on being distracted by statues and small details on graves. I cannot help it, that is how I am.

 

I have to admit she is beautiful, but I do wish I had photographed up into her face.

There are 318 CWGC casualties buried in the cemetery, although I did not go deliberately hunting them down as the cemetery has already been photographed;  naturally now I regret not doing it. But, it is always a reason for returning one day.

 

The weather, which had been warm with slightly blue skies was changing, and I decided that I really needed to get next door and see what was going on there. So I made tracks for the exit, and will leave you with some random images.

Random Images

 
 

And then it was time to head next door to Kensal Green (All Souls) Cemetery. I bade my farewells and walked down the lane, I felt much better now that I had had a chance to explore a bit of this place, unlike last time when I was more interested in keeping snow off my lens than anything else. Who knows, maybe one day I will return.

© DRW 2016-2017. Created 10/06/2016.   

Updated: 15/12/2016 — 07:18

The Battle of Jutland

The anniversary of the Battle of Jutland is one that is rarely remembered, because the war at sea was far remote from the realities of the slaughter of the trenches in France. The clash of the Grand Fleet and the High Seas Fleet sent many sailors to their deaths, often trapped within the ships that they fought, or drowned as the cold waters of the North Sea closed over them.

 

The Royal British Legion produced an information pack to commemorate the battle and I have drawn heavily from that pack to produce this post.

I have never really understood this Clash of Titans, my interest is more related to the ships themselves than the physical act of battle. However, it is 100 years since the thunder of guns was heard in those distant waters, and it is fitting that tribute be paid to those who lost their lives in or after the battle, and to remember them as being part of one of the largest and most costly fleet engagement of the First World War. The battle, which took place over Wednesday 31 May and Thursday 1 June 1916 and the 100th anniversary provides an opportunity to commemorate the sacrifices and contributions made by all those from the Royal Navy, Merchant Navy, fishing fleets, shipbuilding towns and coastal communities who continue to guarantee The United Kingdom’s security in peace and war.

A Short History and Reflection.

Jutland will always be remembered for the huge sacrifices that our naval personnel made. Britain is an island nation with no town more than 75 miles from the sea. Many families therefore have relatives who served at sea and this is the perfect moment to reflect, not only on the sacrifices made during this sea battle but also to commemorate the maritime contribution and the sacrifices that have been and continue to be made by all those from the Royal Navy, Merchant Navy and coastal fleets who serve to ensure the nation’s security.

In 1914, Britain had the biggest and strongest navy in the world. Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz (1849–1930) greatly expanded the size and quality of the Imperial German Navy, until the German Navy grew to become one of the greatest maritime forces in the world, second only to the British Royal Navy.

After the British success at Dogger Bank in holding back the German attack in January 1915, the German Imperial Navy chose not to confront the numerically superior British Royal Navy in a major battle for more than a year, preferring to rely on its lethal U-boat fleet. However, in May 1916, with the majority of the British Grand Fleet anchored far away at Scapa Flow, Vice Admiral Reinhard Scheer believed the time was right to resume attacks on the British coastline. Scheer ordered 19 U-boats to position themselves for a raid on the North-East coastal town of Sunderland, using air reconnaissance craft to keep an eye on the British Fleet. Bad weather hampered the airships, however, and Scheer called off the raid, instead ordering his fleet to head north, to the Skagerrak, a waterway located between Norway and Denmark off the Jutland Peninsula, where they could attack the Allied naval interests and with luck, punch a hole in the stringent British blockade.

Unbeknownst to Scheer, however, a newly created intelligence unit in Britain had cracked the German communication codes and warned the British Grand Fleet’s commander, Admiral John Rushworth Jellicoe, of Scheer’s intentions. Consequently, on the night of 30 May, a British fleet of 28 battleships, nine battle cruisers, 34 light cruisers and 80 destroyers set out from Scapa Flow, bound for positions off the Skagerrak.

On 31 May, a British naval force commanded by Vice Admiral David Beatty spotted a German squadron of warships and confronted them some 75 miles off the Danish coast. The two squadrons opened fire on each other simultaneously. This lasted around 55 minutes, during which time two British battle cruisers (HMS Indefatigable and HMS Queen Mary) were destroyed with the loss of 2,000 sailors. The remainder of the German fleet then joined, so Beatty was forced to fight a delaying action for the next hour, until Jellicoe arrived with the rest of the Grand Fleet. Both fleets faced off in their entirety, and a great battle of naval strategy commenced. As sections of the two fleets continued to engage each other throughout the late evening and the early morning of 1 June, Jellicoe manoeuvred 96 of the British ships into a V-shape surrounding 59 German ships. The German flagship, Lutzow, was disabled by 24 direct hits but was able, before it sank, to sink the British cruiser Invincible.

Admiral of the Fleet John Rushworth Jellicoe,

Admiral of the Fleet John Jellicoe,

Admiral of the Fleet David Richard Beatty

Admiral of the Fleet David Beatty

The German fleet withdrew under cover of darkness at 18:30 on 1 June, thus ending the battle, and cheating the British of the major naval success they had envisioned.

The Battle of Jutland engaged a total of 100,000 men aboard 250 ships over the course of 72 hours. The Germans claimed it as a victory for their High Seas Fleet. At first the British press agreed, but it was not so clear-cut. The German navy lost 11 ships, including a battleship and a battle cruiser, and suffered 2,500 casualties; the British sustained heavier losses, with 14 ships sunk, including three battle cruisers, and 6,000 casualties. Ten more German ships had suffered heavy damage, however, and by 2nd June 1916 only 10 ships that had been involved in the battle were seaworthy. The Royal Navy could have, however put 23 ships to sea at this point. On 4 July, Vice Admiral Scheer advised the German high command that further fleet action was not an option, and that submarine warfare was Germany’s best hope for victory at sea. Despite the heavy losses, the Battle of Jutland had left British naval superiority on the North Sea intact. 

 

 

Many of the casualties from HMS Queen Mary, HMS Black Prince, and HMS Invincible are remembered on Portsmouth Naval Memorial, where around 10,000 sailors of the First World War are commemorated.

Key Facts

  • The Battle of Jutland was fought over 36 hours – from 31 May to 1 June 1916
  • There were a total of 250 ships in the battle; 151 British Grand Fleet and 99 German High Seas Fleet
  • There were 100,000 sailors overall engaged in the Battle, of which 1 in 10 were wounded
  • More than 8,500 were killed in total; 6,000 British, 2,500 German
  • Death was sudden and on a huge scale – Queen Mary 1,266, Indefatigable 1,017, Invincible 1,026, Defence 903, Black Prince 857 (German: Wiesbaden 589, Fraulenlob 320)
  • One thousand men lost their lives when a magazine exploded on the British battlecruiser Indefatigable
  • The British Grand Fleet was under the command of Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, who after the war became one of the founders of The Royal British Legion
  • There was no clear winner in this battle, but it did convince the Germans never again to challenge the British Navy in the North Sea
  • This was the first time in history that a carrier-based aeroplane (from HMS Engadine) was used for reconnaissance in naval combat
  • There were four Victoria Crosses awarded after the Battle. (Jack Cornwell (HMS Chester), Francis Harvey (HMS Lion), Edward Bingham (HMS Nestor) and Loftus William Jones (HMS Shark)). 
  • HM The Queen’s father – George VI, the then Prince Albert, Duke of York – took part in the battle, and was mentioned in despatches for his action as a turret officer aboard Collingwood
  • The last surviving veteran of the battle, Henry Allingham, a British RAF airman, died on 18 July 2009, aged 113, by which time he was one of the last surviving veterans of the First World War
  • The British losses amounted to 113,300 tons sunk. (Battlecruisers: Indefatigable, Queen Mary, Invincible. Armoured cruisers: Black Prince, Warrior, Defence. Flotilla leaders: Tipperary. Destroyers: Shark, Sparrowhawk, Turbulent, Ardent, Fortune, Nomad, Nestor.)
  • The German losses amounted to 62,300 tons sunk. (Battlecruiser: Lützow. Pre-Dreadnought: Pommern. Light cruisers: Frauenlob, Elbing, Rostock, Wiesbaden. Destroyers (Heavy torpedo-boats): V48, S35, V27, V4, V29

The Battle of Jutland also caused a rethink about the way capital ships were designed and fought, and some of the flaws in the British ships were addressed. Unfortunately the vulnerability of the battlecruiser design would be once again exposed when HMS Hood was lost to KMS Bismarck in 1941

The most famous Battle of Jutland VC recipient was Boy 1st Class Jack Travers Cornwell, aka “Jutland Jack”.  

John Travers Cornwell, Boy 1st Class (RN) was born on 8 January 1900, at Leyton. When the First World War broke out his father promptly joined the Army, and Jack joined the Royal Navy. He went through preliminary training at Devonport from 27 July 1915 and became a Boy 1st Class on the light cruiser HMS Chester for active service in Admiral David Beatty’s 1st Battlecruiser Squadron.

A few months after Jack Cornwell joined his ship, Admiral Beatty came to grips with the German High Seas Fleet near Jutland on 31 May 1916; he was mortally wounded in action, and died two days later in Grimsby hospital. He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross [London Gazette, 15 September 1916]:

“Mortally wounded early in the action, Boy, First Class, John Travers Cornwell remained standing alone at a most exposed post, quietly awaiting orders, until the end of the action, with the gun’s crew dead and wounded around him. His age was under sixteen and half years.”

The Times’ History of the War records that Cornwell “had been brought ashore, he had died at Grimsby of his wounds, and through one of the stupid blunders which are inseparable from officialdom he had been buried in what was no better than a pauper’s grave. No sooner was the truth known of the lad’s last hours of life and the manner of his death than public opinion demanded a befitting reinternment. Accordingly the body was exhumed, and there was an impressive funeral in Manor Park Cemetery. A picture of the boy, standing by his gun, with Admiral Sir David Beatty’s report of the incident, occupies a position of honour in more than 12,000 schools.”

On 23 March 1917, a large company witnessed at the Mansion House the presentation to the Board of Admiralty of Mr. Frank O. Salisbury’s picture, ‘John Cornwell, V.C., on H.M.S. Chester.’ Sir Edward Carson, the First Lord, received the picture and paid a high tribute to the dead lad’s courage and example. “I ask people who grumble if they ever heard the story of John Travers Cornwell… I feel that this boy, who died at the post of duty, sends this message… to the people of the Empire: ‘Obey your orders, cling to your post, don’t grumble, stick it out”.

The 5.5″ gun from HMS Chester that Jack Cornwell had manned during the Battle of Jutland is on display at the Imperial War Museum.

 

A lot has been written about the mistakes made at Jutland by those in command, but so little has been written about those who manned the magazines or who operated the engines or who fed the crew. When I was young there was a quizz programme on Springbok Radio, and I recall that one of the contestants was being quizzed on the Battle of Jutland. At the time I thought that he was incredibly knowledgable about the battle, but that it was not really a subject that somebody like myself would ever understand. I still do not understand it.

The Battle of the Somme was famous for the carnage that was inflicted during the campaign, but at sea it was a different story altogether. Once the ships had passed and the wreckage was dispersed there was nothing left to see, it was as if nothing had ever happened, but those who were there will tell you that it was a battle like none seen before, or since, and those who were in it would never forget it.

© DRW 2016-2017. Created 30/05/2016. Most of the information on this page comes from the Royal British Legion Information Pack on the battle of Jutland. I have also used links to Wikipedia and of course Victoriacrossonline  

 

Updated: 15/12/2016 — 07:21
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