MARK GARDINER (with help from Neil Mackenzie)
During a trip to Ypres in 2006 Neil and myself had discussed how many cemeteries there were in the Salient and how long it would take to visit them all. Our guide on that trip, Clive Harris, reckoned six days was a reasonable estimate. Over a few beers in a Croydon pub a few weeks later we decided to see if we could get round them all. We did not realise at the time how much work was to be involved - which is probably just as well!
In the end we extended the area to cover not just the Salient but the cemeteries in the Plugstreet Wood area down to the French border and some of the back areas as well - 170 cemeteries in all with only two being in France. We also decided that we should try and find out something about at least one man in each cemetery so we could pay our respects and to make each visit more meaningful.
The men we chose came initially from a number of memorials with which one of us had some connection:-
In Croydon (South London):-
Purley & Coulsdon Memorial
Whitgift Grammar School Roll of Honour
Old Whitgift Middle School Memorial (now Trinity School) - whose archivist, Annie Morley, was particularly helpful.
The other memorials were:-
London Joint City & Midland Bank Memorial (now HSBC) at Canary Wharf
Great Harwood Memorial (near Accrington)
Accrington Memorial (thanks to Andrew Jackson who maintains the on-line Greater Accrington Roll of Honour (http://www.pals.org.uk/honour/index.htm)
London Joint City & Midland Bank Memorial
We tried to ensure we had men from a wide range of regiments, a wide range of ranks (from Private to Brigadier-General) and that each of the Commonwealth countries was represented - although as we realised later, we did miss out Newfoundland.
The research took a LONG time. Because so many records were lost in the Second World War we could find nothing on most of the soldiers we originally chose to research. But after trawling through hundreds of microfilms and with plenty of assistance from members of the excellent Great War Forum we had something on at least one man at each of the cemeteries we were to visit and photographs of a few of them. Luckily Neil had decided to take a career break starting from November 2006 which meant he was able to make a number of visits to the National Archive at Kew.
Both of us had attended Trinity School at Shirley Park near Croydon which, unlike Whitgift its brother school, does not have a roll of honour for those who were killed in the First World War. So, after speaking to the school archivist we were going to use the trip as a starting point for the creation of a roll of honour for our old school.
We also got a number of detailed maps of the area and planned our route to the last detail - this was to save us a lot of time in the long run and we only got lost a few times! In all our trip was to last for 9 days (including a rest day) with cemeteries visited on our way in to Ypres on Day 1 and on our journey back to England. On the days in between we had to fit in about 24 cemeteries a day.
For each grave we were to visit (over 300 in all) we had a small wooden cross obtained from the Royal British Legion, a flag of the appropriate nation (although in some cases this was the modern flag rather than one they would have recognised); we would also takes photos of the headstones of each man visited as well as general views of the cemetery and sign the visitors book.
The notes in the following sections cover our trip around the Salient. In a number of cases we had war diaries and maps detailing the activity of a man's unit during the period in which he was killed but we have only been able to summarise the main points here.
We had photos of some of the men and women but, due to copyright, have not replicated them here. We took some 600+ photos on the trip and only a small selection are included in this article. If you would like a photo of the grave of one of the men mentioned or a general view of one of the cemeteries please contact us through the Great War Forum where Neil is a member (his user name is Neil Mackenzie - he is not known for his originality!!).
Copyright © Mark Gardiner, March, 2008
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