We have recently completed a nine day Road Trip covering just over 1,000 miles to the Midlands and north of England, the Isle of Man and Wales in our search for 13 casualties who were on our Outstanding Visits List. With only two exceptions, the casualties were all buried and mourned in their local communities.
The final resting place for ten of the casualties was ‘Unknown’ when we embarked on our project in Autumn 2007. Six names were recorded on the Brookwood 1914-1918 Memorial Wall (Bwd), three in the Canadian Book of Remembrance (CBR) and one in the UK Book of Remembrance (UKBR). The CWGC holds the Books of Remembrance in Ottawa and Maidenhead respectively.
The burial place of these casualties has been established through the efforts of many individual researchers and voluntary organisations. The Far From Home project has been able to submit documentary proof for five of these casualties (names in italics below) to the CWGC. We felt a special bond with each of these five men when visiting them and are delighted to see those names are now displayed at their final resting place on the CWGC website.
With the exception of our hotel on the Isle of Man, we otherwise relied on the welcome facilities of the Travelodge group throughout our Road Trip.
Our first stop was at the picturesque Warwickshire village of Ratley, just over the Oxfordshire county boundary. Shem England (Bwd) was one of 17 members of the extended England family who served in the Great War and are remembered on a plaque inside St Peter ad Vincula Church. Shem has a private headstone surrounded by several graves of other England family members. Along with other casualties from the parish, he is also commemorated on the War Memorial adjacent to the church door.
Next, we moved on to St John the Divine Church at Horninglow, Burton on Trent in Staffordshire. We supplied the CWGC with a copy of the page from the Burial Register for George Taylor (Bwd) but the church is unable to specify where he is buried in the churchyard. Between us, we spent three hours checking all the marked grave plots, many of which are in a poor or often illegible condition, but were unable to locate him. In all likelihood, the CWGC will decide to erect a headstone with an inscription reading “Buried elsewhere in this churchyard”. George will now be revisited by us at a later date when his commemoration is in place.
The morning was spent at the 150 acres National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas, a few miles south of Burton on Trent. The site was gifted to the British Legion and “is the UK’s year-round centre of Remembrance; a spiritually uplifting place which honours the fallen, recognises service and sacrifice, and fosters pride in our country. It is a living and lasting memorial”. (http://www.thenma.org.uk/about-us/who-we-are/). The site is dominated by the circular Armed Forces Memorial which is reached up a series of steps and is usually featured by television as a part of their outside broadcasts on Remembrance Sunday. One of the photographs shows a split in the wall. At the 11th hour on the 11th day and the 11th month each Remembrance Day, the sun beams its light through this gap and strikes the wreath at the centre of this Memorial.
One special section was the paving stone walk which commemorates all of the 145 overseas-born World War 1 recipients of the Victoria Cross. This was only unveiled in March 2015 and fifteen are Canadians. One of these is Captain Francis Scrimger, Canadian Army Medical Corps who helped save thousands of men from the lethal first gas attack in 1915. Realising that it was chlorine gas, Captain Scrimger called for his men to urinate on a piece of cloth and hold it over their faces – thus reducing the devastating effects of the gas.
The Shot at Dawn memorial to the 326 WW1 soldiers executed by the British Army had a particular resonance for us, having written a two part article about the 23 Canadians which was recently published in Stand To! Magazine by the Western Front Association. (See ‘Published Articles’ here on our Far From Home website (https://www.canadianukgravesww1.co.uk/published).
It was a hugely moving but particularly disturbing experience. The first of the Canadians to be Shot At Dawn was Private Fortunat Auger on the 26th March 1916.
Alfred Johnson (Bwd) is buried in a large war grave section to the left of the entrance into Eccleshall Road cemetery at Stafford. As with George Taylor, it proved to be impossible to identify the actual location of his grave within the cemetery and his CWGC headstone notes “Buried elsewhere in this cemetery”.
After passing the Jodrell Bank Observatory, a part of the University of Manchester, we met Mike Akerman in Prestbury, a Cheshire village near Macclesfield. As Archivist at St Peter Church, we had been in touch with him in 2014 when it had been established John Henry Mayers (CBR) had been buried in the churchyard. At that time, he had offered to take us to the grave whenever we visited Prestbury. Without his generous offer, it would have been hugely time consuming to comb the large and wooded churchyard.
Later Mike also took us to his own parish church, St Christopher at Pott Shrigley, Cheshire to see the stunning and poignant congregation of seated Perspex “There But Not There” Tommy silhouettes. We are hugely grateful to Mike for making our visits so fulfilling.
We will be posting Days 3 to 9 in the next few days.