FolkestoneJack's Tracks

A landscape of cemeteries

Posted in Longueval, Neuve Chapelle, Villers-Bretonneux, Ypres by folkestonejack on August 28, 2011

Anyone who has driven through the countryside of northern France or Belgium will recognise the dark green road signs that indicate a Commonwealth War Grave Cemetery is approaching. The sight of the beautifully maintained roadside cemeteries, large and small, soon becomes a familiar part of the landscape. Our drive from Ypres to Amiens presented many such moments of recognition.

Ypres at sunrise

Our drive took us out of Ypres, south to Messines Ridge British Cemetery, and then on to the Indian War Memorial at Neuve Chapelle. The memorial is located at a busy roundabout where the D947 crossses the D171 and it is rather remarkable that the moment you walk through the gate this world slips away. The beautiful space inside exudes calm and peace.

The Indian War Memorial at Neuve Chapelle

Detail from the Indian War Memorial

Our third stop was Arras, where we re-visited the Arras Memorial, having once again discovered that a distant member of the family was listed on the panels here. It seemed like a bad day to be crossing Arras as half the town seemed to be dug up for roadworks and it was the day of a marathon so many roads were closed or reduced to single lanes. Nevertheless, we eventually made it through to the memorial where we paid our respects to Frederick Henry Kent.

Exterior of the Arras Memorial

Interior of the Arras Memorial

The next stop was one of the smaller cemeteries, Grove Town Cemetery at Méaulte. After a number of frustrating drives in the past trying to locate small cemeteries we had taken the precaution of doing our homework this time and came armed with printouts showing the location of the cemetery on satellite images of the area. This proved very necessary as many of the printed and online maps that we consulted showed roads that seem no longer to exist following the construction and subsequent extension of Albert-Picardie Airport.

Grove Town was the name given to a casualty clearing station at Méaulte which dealt with the casualties from the Somme battlefields from September 1916 to April 1917. After the war the cemetery must have resumed a more peaceful aspect at the end of a dirt track amongst the fields, but these days it is just a short walk away from the perimeter fence of the airport (which apparently sees regular use in the transportation of aircraft parts from the nearby Airbus factory). Nevertheless, at the time of our visit all was quiet.

A quick check of the cemetery plan showed us where to find Thomas William Bailey and we paid our respects. I wonder what he would think, as a worker in the GWR factory at Swindon, of the modern day engineering taking place at the nearby Airbus factory and flying out above him.

Grove Town Cemetery from the roadside

Cross and graves at Grove Town Cemetery

Grove Town Cemetery

The penultimate stop on our journey was Delville Wood, Longueval, where my grandfather’s cousin, Cecil Henry Bushell, died on 3rd September 1916 just eight days short of his 18th birthday. The wood today is the location of the South African War Memorial and its tranquilty is as far removed from the horrors of the past as you can imagine.

Cecil Henry Bushell (1898-1916)

Our final stop of the day was the Australian War Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux, near Amiens. The memorial commemorates all Australian soldiers who fought in France and Belgium, with the panels listing those who died at the Somme, Arras and in the battles of 1918.

The Australian War Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux

Th steps up to the The Australian War Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux