by Mary Flowerdew
Sunday 19th May
Up at the crack of dawn, luckily loads of alarm clocks had been set – after all it was the morning after the night before “ Eurovision Song Contest ” and “ Rock the Moor.” Taxi arrived way too early, to catch some ‘Z’ds” before we left, his normal shift started at 3am but last night he started at 1am – I keep him talking all the way to the meeting point to ensure he stays awake. Got to Bushey – drove up and down the road several times until I finally convinced the driver to ignore the sat nav and go to where the parked coach was (clue!). Poor old Clive was on the floor fixing a puncture, not great at that hour of the day, the only consolation was that they had made it to Bushey Police Club!
The chaps on the coach are very friendly, love the topic and are very knowledgeable
Breakfast on the ferry. Then onto “Loos“ region and several cemeteries (so many dead, so many never recovered, so many unidentified) – a wreath at one of the chap’s relatives grave at Vieille-Chapelle Cemetery, John Schofield VC – there will be a wreath for Gordon too. (My Great Uncle Gordon Flowerdew VC) – a picnic lunch at Quarry cemetery (need to be quick!) and the bar on the coach! (private hours!) Walked the ploughed fields, found ordnance, clay pipes and perfume bottle lids – unexploded bombs and shells at field edge. Finally into Arras – hotel is clean and friendly, town is historic (and damaged by warfare) – much Art Deco because of the rebuild in the 1920s.
Monday 20th May
Good old traditional French breakfast, good bread, good coffee.
Onto Arras Memorial – 35,952 commemorated who were lost, never found. All denominations, Christians, Jews, Sikhs. The most touching parts are the personnel messages, inscribed at the base of the headstones, which would have cost families dear at the time – “He was a good son,” “From the wifie” – just heartbreaking.
Jon talked about “ Alf Razzell” of the Royal Fusiliers and his lifelong concern about his pal “Bill Hubbard” who was mortally wounded and Alf tried to carry him out of no-mans land, but the pain was too great for Bill and Alf had to leave him in a shell hole. Alf then handed his silver ring to a German stretcher bearer in the hope that he would rescue Bill.
Jon was presented with an engraved plaque commemorating the 60th trip of the Met Police, ‘Hampstead Pals’ and a certificate of honour from the Royal Fusiliers who he has supported and been an advocate of, because of his friendship with Alf. A generous donation was also made to the Royal Fusiliers museum by the Hampstead Pals.
Whilst stomping around the cemetery, putting stones on Jewish graves , I noticed some lads from the East Yorkshire Regiment, (my grandfathers regiment) then a whole wall of names on the monument. So Grandad was here! How spooky to realise and how lucky I was to have him. Buried here is also Tommy Nelson, Scottish Rugby International and pal of John Buchanan (39 Steps) who he dedicated his book to.
Behind the British cemetery memorial, a short walk brings us to “The wall of rifles “ where folks – after terrible interrogation by the Gestapo were shot – the people of Arras rarely go there, because of bitter memories of collaboration .
John Grieve, detective par excellence, who conducted and presented the evidence into the facts surrounding the disappearance & death of Rudyard Kipling’s son Jack, is keeping a wonderful notebook with hand drawn and painted sketches – what a treasure for future generations. Doing “Poets on the Western Front” and their graves.
“Four Years on the Western Front” by a Rifleman – Aubrey Smith took us to Agny Military Cemetery and the grave of his best friend, Claude Vallentine Warne age 27 of the Rifle Brigade and blown up on the road with his horses (Gog and Magog) nearby and also the Poet, Edward Thomas Royal Garrison Artillery, killed in action on the first day of the Battle of Arras 9th April 1917.
Pulled into a lay by and there was a huge crucifixion scene in the trees – in memory of Harry Isaacs of the Suffolk regiment who died aged 19 on the first day at Arras and buried at the side of the road. His parents bought the land and put up the memorial (the family were Jewish and converted to Catholicism) The parents couldn’t get there until 1919, by which time the grave was destroyed but they got the monuments from Lourdes to put where the grave had been. The family moved to Arras to be near their son and every day would cycle from Arras with flowers. They had passed over by the end of WWII – and had no descendants, so it is unclear who owns the land. The memorial is now maintained by the ‘Souvenir Francais’ of Arras.
Up to Monchy le Preux, where General Jack Seeley’s (Galloper Jack) son was killed, Jack galloped overnight on ‘Warrior’ to get there when he learnt he had been killed , only to arrive just after the burial. The town was adopted by the Isle of Wight and they have strong affiliations. Jack Seeley was Lord Lieutenant of the Isle of Wight.
Also a Caribou Memorial for the Newfoundland Regiment and an Infantry Memorial to the 37th Division designed by the sister of the commanding officer.
The battle of “Monchy le Preux” was very important in the battles of Arras, the Germans wanted to hold it and we gained it on the 11th April 1917 (great loss of life, 1400 horses killed) Germans took it back in April 1918 and then it was regained by Canadian Mounted Rifles in August 1918. A Canadian Officer, Charles Rutherford raised a white flag and went to the German blockhouse and told them “You are surrounded by Canadian troops who do not take prisoners – if you surrender you will be treated honourably” so they did all 40 of them, only to find there were only 3 Canadian soldiers! The officer got the VC.
In 1998 they found 27 infantrymen buried in a number of shell holes and they were reburied in the little Monchy cemetery designed by Sir Edward Lutyens (as a Roman Villa , because there were lots of Roman remains around). 1000 French people came to the ceremony but didn’t enter the cemetery out of respect for British property given by the French in perpetuity. Two guys were identified, one was 6’ 7” and therefore identifiable, both Royal Fusiliers and the Duke of Kent (turned up late) was present.
Pissing with drizzle – so an indoor picnic back at the hotel – for which I sliced mountains of cheese – wine at lunchtime so French, so not everyday! We had champers & strawberries at the Arras Memorial that morning.
Guemappe Cemetery. Predominantly Scottish. (Seaforth Highlanders) 10 officers & 54 men in a mass grave killed in attack on village on 23rd April. Seldom visited. Then to ‘Tank Cemetery’ a trench grave for Cameron Scots – headstones close together because it is a mass grave, buried in their kilts with their arms around one another.
Found shrapnel shells and shrapnel balls (like nail bombs) After the war the shrapnel balls were collected and melted down for church roofs, as they are made of lead.
Over one hundred British Cemeteries in a 17 mile radius! Germans only have one major graveyard on Arras battlefields at Maison Blanche because they lost the war. A mass burial of 44,000 souls. After lunch we went to Moeuvres Communal Cemetery for Charles Pope V.C of Met Police Chelsea Division to lay a wreath. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown tried to reduce the spending on the War Graves Commission by 80% in 2002 and reduce gardeners and change “ in perpetuity“ to 99 years – no way Jose! – the dead are watching you! If a headstone has no cross or Star of David or religious symbol, I think it belongs to an atheist.
To Gavrelle, where the church holds a massive oak cross commissioned by Prime Minister Asquith’s son, Arthur of Hood battalion who was so appalled by the loss of life of his battalion during the battle for the village on 23rd April, that he bought the cross and had it engraved with the names of the known killed on that day.
The church is full of saintly statues – it always makes me smile – France! such a saintly, socialist country. The village has been adopted by “Westminster” (through the association of the Queens Westminster Rifles that fought there)
The village of Gavrelle was subject to a round-up of resistance fighters betrayed by a British deserter during the second world war. French resistance women who collaborated with the British were on Hitler’s orders, beheaded by the Germans, face upwards so they could see the axe man and the axe. After the war, women who collaborated with the Germans were publically shaved, tarred and feathered by the French.
Back at the Hotel. In the evening the band played until the early hours (they are very good) with some wonderful ‘intercourse music’ (between courses of food!). Bruce and Paul shimmying to the Mavericks, ‘Dance the Night Away’
Tuesday 21st May
Up early with the intention of going to the ‘supermarche,’ somehow despite getting down to breakfast early we missed the 8.15am coach – too much gassing , I guess.
On the coach, today is Clive Harris from ‘Battle Honours’ to assist Jon and the Chief of Police from Lorraine, Paul Nicolas. He brought a vintage bottle of Mirabelle 1973 (Plum Brandy) – so at 0925hrs we all had some, yikes!
Ypres today. Originally there were three gates at Ypres – The Menin Gate was destroyed except for two lions, which were stolen by Australians. The Menin Gate British memorial to the Missing was designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield with 54,000 “lost” men on the gate (never found) – 86,000 men in total never found on Ypres salient. The ‘Last Post’ at 8pm has been played since 1927, by the Ypres Fire brigade using silver bugles from the British Legion – it only stopped in 1940 when the Germans occupied Ypres – the night of the day the Germans left in 1944 it restarted.
186 British cemeteries in Ypres Salient, One million British soldiers killed, wounded or missing in the defence of the town. The British had promised to defend Belgian neutrality (Prince Albert was King of the Belgians).
Morning. Ploegsteert Café. We meet Clive Harris of ‘Battle Honours’ here who joins the coach. One of the burial sites near Ploegsteert Wood was in the grounds of the Hennessy “Brandy” family chateau. In 1925 the owner demanded they be removed or he would destroy them. This almost caused a serious diplomatic incident and was raised in parliament and there was even a move by old soldiers to have him assassinated. Eventually the remains were re-interred and the side of the road by the Berks Cemetery Extension Memorial (11,000 names) – it is fronted by two lions , one snarling and the other serenely smiling. It may be that the Hennessy family were put out because the Australian soldiers, when they dug the underground tunnels ended up in the Hennessy wine cellars and drank all of the ”Moet & Chandon”.
Weather even more dire and drizzly, so had picnic lunch in ‘The Brothers in Arms’ Memorial Café at Polygon Wood, Johan opened up just to let us have an “inside” picnic. Very much an Australian battlefield hang out – the Australians took Polygon Wood during the battle of Passchendaele in September 1917.
Onto Sanctuary Wood British Cemetery to honour Bill Hay 9th Royal Scots, a Scotsman and friend of Hampstead Police who had his ashes strewn around his ‘youthful chums’ in the cemetery – we laid a wreath and then sprinkled the grave with his favourite tipple, Drambuie.
French cemetery – the strategy for the French was to save Europe , so much of a bigger picture than the other allies. The French lost 23,000 men the day before Mons A massive cemetery at Potize. Then.. Tyne Cot British Cemetery – 12,000 men the largest British Cemetery in the world with 60% unknown graves.
Onto Ypres – rebuilt brick by brick, as it was raised to the ground – you wouldn’t know it – to look at it. 8pm and the ‘Last Post Ceremony’ at the Menin Gate – Three buglers, about 8 wreaths laid. I always wanted to be there – I never realised it was actually in the middle of Ypres – on the telly it always seems like a green, grassy area (I now know that is the view from above – canals and grassed area)
Wednesday 22nd May:
Spent this morning looking at Somme battle details so I could remember Ernest and the East Yorkshire Regiment. I now realise what learning opportunities I missed. (Ernest Harold Leonard) But then Ernest would say that the ‘Bullring’ at Etaples was far worse than any battle. Then that wonderful chap I knew through Paddy who was at Archangel ,Russia. How come I didn’t write it all down?
H.A.C (Honourable Artillery Company) Cemetery. Ecoust St Mein – Sir Edward Lutyens (Romanesque with Gertrude Jeykll gardens with Poplar Trees, low walls – so man is one with the landscape). Ex-soldier architects were instigators of these cemeteries in France and Belgium – one planted English roses so that each soldiers grave would have a shadow of the English rose on them at some point in the day.
France lost more men on the first year of the war than the Brits in the whole war.
Jon says that the Guinness Book of Records states that the Somme was the biggest battle ever and that the bombardment could be heard in England! The Somme – first day 60,000 casualties to the British Army – the German Field Army was also decimated at the battle of the Somme. All the finest NCOs were lost. The Somme has no major towns apart from the little town of Albert. It is like a heath land – the objective of the British was to support the French and drive out the Germans. They were ‘Kitcheners Army’ and I guess that was Ernest as he didn’t join up at the beginning of the war.
Each British Army Division has a ‘flash’ – for the 12th Division for instance, it was the Ace of Spades, which would be on lapel badges and all property, even the horses which would be branded with the ‘Ace of Spades.’
Ovillers Military Cemetery – The Somme. Laid a wreath to the memory of Alf Razzell & Royal Fusilliers and the fateful attack on the village. Then the tale of Harry Lauder’s son, Captain John Lauder. Jon read out the article written by Sir Harry Lauder about the day he heard the news of his only son’s death – heart breaking and the hopes of a reunion after death. When Sir Harry Lauder came to the cemetery to his son’s grave for the first time, he lay on the grave and thrust his hands into the earth to caress his son. Some say John Lauder was deliberately shot by his own men who didn’t like him – but he was shot from the front, in the stomach, so the stories are tosh. Lauder wrote the famous song ‘Keep right on to the end of the road’ in memory of his son – now sang at Birmingham F.C.
Thiepval British Memorial to 73,000 missing of the Somme. I left a cross for Ernest and his pals East Yorkshire Regiment Panel. High Wood – and almost a whole panel of names, so lucky to have Ernest back. Picnic lunch here. Then, Lochnagar Crater – biggest man made crater. La Boiselle project – opening the tunnels and a visitors centre at the Glory Hole – ongoing. Afternoon. Passed ‘High Wood’ where Ernest fought. The wood still closed off because it is unsafe to enter due to unexploded munitions. Onto the cemetery at Point 110 near Fricourt, where the officer love of Siegfried Sasoon is buried. I hunted the nearby fields and came back with horse harness buckles and shell pieces – 100 years on!
Fricourt and finally, a German Cemetery – iron crosses with four names per cross/grave. Some Jewish headstones (apparently erected more recently – atonement/guilt?) No flowers, poppies or messages – no present day remembrance.
Back at the Hotel, ‘Quiz night’ first half, ‘Film themes’ – two lead tables with scores of 26/30, a second round on general knowledge and we won! (I knew my random knowledge of Les Paul would come in handy one day) A bottle of fizz as a prize.
Thursday 23rd May
Made it to the supermarche! – stopped myself going French ‘supermarche crazy’ just! Sun out this morning, blue skies – then it hissed down in big lumps and still cold – brrrr ! Going to the Somme again and Dernancourt Military Cemetery – 1,200 graves behind the front line where soldiers were brought to die. Jon read a piece by the son of a war graves gardener who applied for the job in 1953, moving from Cornwall to Dernancourt. We were here to remember Sapper Harris. His grandson Jon Buoy is on board with his wife, Jan. Sapper Harris’ daughter only died in 2012 aged 97, having only encountered her father as a babe in arms. (We saw the photo). Jon (Buoy) read out a letter sent home from Sapper Harris (just before he was fatally wounded) and two about his death.
Lunch at ‘Tommy Restaurant & Museum’ in Pozieres village. Totally rebuilt after the war. British and German trenches in the back garden. The owner Dominic, has dug up stuff, loads of Australian regimental stories and artefacts.
Onto Amiens this afternoon. Whilst at Pozieres, the tale was told of Bert Jacka of the Australian Army and a psycho! A fearless killer. Shot 11 times during the fight for the village, should have been promoted and won another two VC’s but for his poor attitude towards his senior officers. He survived until 1932 before succumbing to his old wounds. He became Mayor of St Kilda in Australia.
Albert – Amiens road (straight) leads to Amiens prison where in WW2 there were 250 French resistance fighters imprisoned, due to be shot on 19th Feb 1942. In a daring raid, on 18th February, British Mosquitos flew straight down the road at a height of 10’ to bomb the prison walls (Operation Jericho) and release the prisoners (or kill them if needed) – one of them knew about the D-Day landings and Churchill was concerned that if tortured he may give the game away. Group Captain Percy ‘Pick’ Pickard DFC led the mosquitos in (and was shot down when he circled back to check on everyone getting away) after he crashed and was killed with his navigator, the French locals removed all I.D from the bodies and they were buried in Amiens Cemetery next to the prison, where to this day the French still honour him every 18th February) He had given his wife an Old English Sheepdog ‘Ming’ as a wedding gift which used to watch him fly off and wait, looking skywards until Pick returned and gave 4 sharp whistles to summon the dog. On the day of the raid, the dog howled and came in. His wife and son emigrated to Rhodesia after the war and on 18th Feb 1952 on the anniversary of his death, his widow distinctly heard four sharp whistles, the dog howled and fell dead. The news made the papers in the UK.
Onto Namps-au-Val cemetery for Gordon Flowerdew VC. Jon brought a poppy wreath and Coral wrote a lovely message from the both of us (his relatives) Jon read excerpts from ‘Galloper Jack’ about Gordon, Jack Seeley and Warrior. Fabulous.
We also put a cross on the grave of a fusilier in memory of the Royal Fusilier who was murdered in London yesterday.
Onto the Canadian Monument at Vimy Ridge, fabulous sculpture, like the Gates of Rohan. Wonderfully conveying the grief of a nation. There was a competition in Canada to design and build the monument and the winner, Walter Allward designed and carved the whole thing himself. It took 10 years and was inaugurated by Edward VIII. The land around the monument has been bought by Canada – so is Canadian soil, the land has not been reworked since the war so is completely potted with shell holes – trees have been planted, which had to be provided by the Germans and had to grow in the toxic soil.
At the hotel that night..
Inspired by Bruce Dobson’s ‘goatie’ beard , Coren used Yves Saint Laurent eyeliner to give all the chaps black eyebrows, goaties, sideburns and moustaches (many varieties including Handlebar ) it took years off them!
A jolly time had by all.
Great Pals and thank you!