Cemeteries and World War 1
in the Herts, Beds and Bucks area
As a person who has always had a healthy interest in anything historical, and now with some six years' experience of World War 1 behind me, I thought it might be interesting to share with you all some knowledge gained through the simple matter of stumbling around various local graveyards and carrying out some detective work into the WW1- related graves and memorials found within. Now I don't know if any of you are "as annoying" (as my wife puts it!) as me when it comes to going out for the day, or whilst on holiday, and finding local items of 1914-1918 interest, but it is often quite surprising just what one can discover when out and about. For the purpose of finding the various locations referenced within this narrative, please note the reference numbers for each location on the map which appears at the end.
Now, take for instance a simple matter of a recent visit I made to one of my company's local customers to discuss various quality issues. Fortunately for me in my role as Quality Manager - and further to copious use of a 'silver-tongue'- our customer was 'suitably subdued' and I was duly allowed to make my way home!
||Now it happens that just up the road from this particular customer's premises is the church of St Mary the Virgin in the small village of Pitstone (location 1), Buckinghamshire, not a million miles from Dunstable. Once I'd seen the cross of sacrifice in the very front of the churchyard, my interest was considerably heightened! My next move was to stroll around the graveyard (as one does when one has wandered around the massive cemeteries of Belgium and Northern France.)|
I eventually came across three of our brave lads from the first world war and one from the second, who had all obviously made it back to the UK, probably only to die of their wounds once here. It would appear that all four of them were local Pitstone lads who had the fortune (if one could call it that) to be buried amongst their loved ones.
Further studying of the graves provided the following information:
29472 Pte J Monk of the Ox & Bucks Regiment; Died 17 Oct 1918 aged 24. His inscription reads: 'Peace, perfect peace'.
7670 Pte G Wells of the Bedfordshire Regiment; Died 20 Oct 1914 aged 29. His inscription reads; 'Greater love hath no man than to lay down his life for another He died for his Country'.
721304 Pte W G Bates of the 24th Battalion London Regiment; died 24 Feb 1919, aged 31. His grave has no inscription.
As mentioned above, also of interest in this churchyard is a WW2 RAF Commonwealth War Grave of 1605194 Leading Aircraftsman R R I Smythe; Died 11 May 1943 (which was incidentally just five days before the famous Dambusters' raid on the Ruhr Dams, but that's another story from another war altogether )
All of the above are named on the grand Cross of Sacrifice situated in the front of the churchyard.
|Another local village I visit through my work is Lilley (location
2), in north Herts, not far from Hitchin. In this village's delightful churchyard
there is a Commonwealth War Grave to the following person:
10216 Pte S Clark of the 1st Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment; he was another early war death, as he died on 25 Oct 1914.
Also in this churchyard there is a memorial gravestone to Driver Walter John Webb of the 54th E A Division Signal Corps, Royal Engineers. Upon it is the inscription: 'Died 7th May 1916, aged 19 years. This stone was erected by his comrades with whom he served in Gallipoli'. Interestingly, the CWGC website (www.cwgc.org) lists him as actually dying on the 6th May 1916, instead of the 7th. The website also gives his service number of 1838, which doesn't appear on the stone.
|On the road home from this area, in the small village of Breachwood Green (location3, not far from Kimpton), I came across a local Baptist churchyard. In here resides two CWGC graves; one to 86149 Pte G E Angell of the Machine Gun Corps; he died on 26 Oct 1918, and according to the CWGC website, he was aged 32. Incidentally, his wife Matilda lays buried next to him; her gravestone states that she died only ten years later, on 6 Jan 1928 at the age of only 41. The second military grave belongs to 202923 Pte B D Hillsdon of the Royal West Kent Regiment, who died, age unknown, very near the end of the war, on 16 Oct 1918.||
Also in this churchyard there is a civilian grave of a Mrs Ellen Holton, which quotes that she was the mother of Private Arthur Holton; according to the inscription, he was 'killed in France in 1914'. The CWGC website tells us that 6730 Private Arthur Holton was aged 34 and a member of the 1st Battalion The Bedford Regiment when he was killed early in the war on the 7th November 1914; he has no known grave and is commemorated on the Le Touret Memorial in Northern France.
Whilst in this area, along the road into the village of Kimpton itself (location 4) one comes across a beautiful memorial, complete with decorative chained perimeter, with the names of 28 of our brave boys from the First World War; an incredible amount for what must have been a very small village at the time. I did speak with a local who indicated that some of the relatives still live within the village, which could lead to some further detective work
Photo: Tony Sanders
Further on down the road into East Hyde (location 5)-the place made famous (or is it infamous!) for 'the sewage works by the side of the Lower Luton Road'- you will come to the East Hyde Holy Trinity Church. On further examination of the upward-sloping graveyard one doesn't find any CWGC graves, but if you look up to the top of the steep slope you can't miss the massive stone family vault of the Werner Family, dedicated to the Baronet Werner Family. This vault is a delightful piece of architecture, resembling some sort of Gothic six-arched castle. Upon closer inspection, one sees that the vault has some eight panels around it's periphery that carry details of the various deceased Werner Family members. One of these panels has a particularly interesting inscription on it; this being "To the dear honoured memory of Alex Pigott Werner (aged 19). Second Lieutenant of the Welsh Guards. Youngest Son of Julius Werner-Bart, who fell in action at Ginghy, France, Sept 10th 1916. Buried in the Citadel Military Cemetery near Fricourt". Either side of this huge 12-foot high structure are two further separate 4-foot-cube stone memorials, dedicated to the memory of the family's deceased lifelong-long friends and servants.
||Roughly in the same sort of area, travelling along the road through the village of Whitwell, Herts (location 6), towards Welwyn, one comes across a large Cross of Sacrifice on the left hand side of the road which has, amongst many names, that of the late Queen Mother's brother Captain Fergus Bowes-Lyon of the Black Watch (Royal Highlanders). A quick look on the CWGC website reveals that he died on the 27th September 1915, has no known grave, and is commemorated within panels 78 to 83 of the Loos Memorial. He was 26 years old. It is known, obviously, that the Queen Mother's family resided locally in the family home.|
|Coming a lot further south into south Herts, further interesting World War 1-related graves can be found within the Churchyard at Mutton Lane, Potters Bar (location 7). These include two WW1 war graves to the following: S/306738 Pte H J Childs of the Royal Army Service Corps who died on 12th April 1917. A quick look on the CWGC site reveals that he was in fact a member of the 69th Field Bakery and was the son of John and Elisabeth Childs, of Potter's Bar; husband of Ethel Harris (formerly Childs), of 28, Brunswick Crescent, New Southgate, and also, 55741 Pte T G Lawman of the 18th Training Reserve Battalion who died eight days after the armistice on 19th November 1918. Again, the CWGC website reveals that he was the son of Mr. T. G. Lawman, of 1, Bentley Cottages, Quaker Lane, Potters Bar.||
Another WW1-related grave of interest that can be found here is the tiny grave of 'The Infant Daughter of Lord and Lady Trenchard'. This was the daughter of the great Sir Hugh Trenchard, First Marshall -and founder- of the Royal Air Force who lived nearby in South Mymms. In this cemetery also resides one WW2 airman's grave as well as one memorial stone to a Pilot Officer Michael A L Longman who, it is stated, died in a mid-air collision on the 21st September 1955.
Whilst on an aviation theme, this particular cemetery used to house the graves of Commander Wilhelm Schramm and his 15 crew members of the German Schutte-Lanz Airship SL-11, until they were re-interred some years ago at the large cemetery for similar German dead at Cannock Chase, near Birmingham. This was the airship famously brought down by the guns of Royal Flying Corps Captain William Leefe Robinson in his BE2C Biplane over Cuffley on September 3rd 1916, for which he received the Victoria Cross. The story of Leefe Robinson and SL-11 brings us to further local graveyards around the area. Firstly Robinson himself, who unfortunately died, aged 23, on 31st December 1918 from the effects of the great Influenza epidemic of late 1918/early 1919. He lies buried in the little cemetery situated at Harrow Weald, Stanmore (location 8).
Photo: FIRM Website
This tiny cemetery is situated opposite the Harvester restaurant, honourably titled 'The Leefe Robinson'. It is known that every year on Armistice Day the school of St Bees, which Robinson attended as a boy, sends a wreath of Poppies to honour his memory. Whenever I've visited this quaint graveyard there have always been the remnants of such a wreath.
Further to the Leefe Robinson subject, but still staying on the Airship raid of the same day that he earned his VC, one can see the large gravestone dedicated to two sisters, Frances Mary Louise and Eleanor Grace Bamford, in the church of Essendon, Herts (location 9).
Essendon Church (Postcard by T J Norton, Essendon)
These were two daughters, aged 26 and 12 respectively, of the local Blacksmith, William J Bamford, who were killed during the same 3rd September 1916 raid by the bombs of one of SL-11's sister airships, the L-16. This airship was captained by another of Germany's great airship commanders, Erich Sommerfeldt. Incidentally, there is mention of the damage done to the church during this raid stated on a plaque attached to the base of the church tower. The girls' mother and father's graves can be found a little further up this graveyard. They died in the early 1940s.
|Whilst also in a more southerly Herts location, the large graveyard at Ridge (location 10), not far from London Colney, (on the left if coming from the Hatfield/St Albans direction) reveals many graves from both the First and Second World Wars, but beware; the ground there can be quite marshy. Also, whilst in the St Albans area, if one ventures into the central area of the large Hatfield Road Cemetery off of the Hatfield Road (location 11) on the left hand side if coming from Hatfield) one finds a total of 93 war graves from the First World War, many of whom belong to military personnel who died in hospital in the St Albans area (mainly Napsbury).|
Many of these are Australians who ended their days far from the sunshine that they knew and loved. The graves are located within a delightful area surrounded by hedging, situated very near the Cross of Sacrifice. Co-incidentally, a very interesting booklet describing this graveyard - as well as the famous St Albans Street Memorials - can be purchased from, amongst other local places, the St Albans Abbey gift shop; please note the cover illustration of this booklet has been reproduced here with their kind permission.
This now ends this mini guided trip around the locale. It should be noted that if you check the mileage using the trusty Microsoft AutoRoute programme (as per the attached map), a grand total of 103 miles is covered, but that is down to our friends at Microsoft and AutoRoute! I can assure you that this Tottenham supporter would never spend the money required to cover that sort of distance; you will find that you can cover this trip around our fair countryside in a lot less mileage than that!!
As a footnote, I have found that the more trips I go on to the battlefields of Belgium and France, so my thirst for discovering similar in this country grows. As this 'hobby' is of an on-going nature, I aim to write future sporadic articles on other discoveries uncovered on my travels around the UK. Amongst them will feature relevant sights around the southern England area of Wiltshire, Hampshire and Dorset
The Grand Route (Courtesy of Microsoft Corp)
for a direct email link to the author of this article, Michael Farrier
Copyright © Michael Farrier, February, 2004.
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