Buffnut's 2021 Tour of Great War Sites...And Other Animals

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Jul 25, 2007
Cambridgeshire, England
About a week ago, on the "What Cheered You Up Today" thread, I posted that I was heading to France and Belgium to visit some Great War sites. One foolish forum member suggested I post pics....so here I am. Be careful what you ask for!

Clearly, this will be an image-intensive thread but I hope it's informative.

Day 1 was spent in the Ypres area. I bounced around a lot of different locations but the key locations are all pretty close together so it's easy to do by car...plus it's late September so the summer tourist hordes were nowhere to be seen (YAY!!!!).

First stop was to visit a relative, Cpl Stephen Orme Gamble, who was killed by an artillery shell as his Royal Engineers unit advanced through Ypres on 30 April 1915 - it seems he just timed his run badly as his unit was working forward under shellfire. He was buried in Ramparts Cemetery which, like virtually every Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery, is absolutely beautiful, right next to the defensive moat that once surrounded the entire town of Ypres. I parked the car in a street next to the cemetery and just walked in through the nearest entrance, and there was Stephen's grave right in front of me.

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For reference, you might find this image interesting which was taken in 1919 of Rampart's Cemetery (Stephen's grave is nearest the camera). I came across this image on the Great War Forum and have been trying to locate an original copy ever since, alas to no avail (as yet). Trust the Royal Engineers to develop one of the most elaborate crosses in the entire cemetery:

Stephen Orme Gamble - Ramparts Cemetary (Large Cross in Foreground).jpg

Here's a close up of his gravestone:


And here's the only pic I have of the man himself. It's very poor quality but it was sourced from our local newspaper so it's definitely him:

Stephen Orme Gamble (1883-1915).jpg

Ramparts is a small cemetery but it's in a beautiful spot and very peaceful. Here's a pic from the other end of the Cemetery that I'm really pleased with:



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Second stop was Essex Farm Cemetery where John McCrea penned his famous "In Flanders Fields" poem. The concrete bunkers of the aid station where McCrea was treating the wounded are still there. They were built into the bank of the Ypres Canal to protect the medics and their patients from German artillery fire. They look in a pretty bad way but they have at least been stabilized...and, frankly, I prefer this kind of preservation to a complete "restoration" which would ruin the appearance of the site.


And the reverse view looking back towards the cemetery:


Here's the interior of one of the chambers with a somewhat askew ceiling...it can't have been a pleasant work environment but I s'pose it beats getting hit by shells:


Any patients who succumbed to their wounds didn't have far to be carried....the Essex Farm Cemetery is literally about 10 feet away from the aid station. Not sure that would be reassuring if I was a patient:


One of those interred at Essex Farm was Rifleman Strudwick of the Rifle Brigade who was killed on 14 January 1916....he was 15 years old. His grave is commonly marked with multiple poppies and crosses, and even a collection of small bears. I'm not sure what he'd have made of the bears since he probably saw himself as a man, not a child. Regardless, it's still a terrible waste of a young life:


The day before McCrea wrote his famous poem, one of his best friends was killed. McCrea's words still ring out over 100 years later:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.
Next stop was the Cloth Hall in central Ypres. This huge landmark was intimately familiar to any of the soldiers who served in the region...and it was a well-known target for artillery gunners. Today, the hall houses the In Flanders Fields Museum which, frankly, was rather disappointing. It tries to tell the entire story of the First World War but it can't devote enough space to cover the topic adequately.

My biggest frustration was not being able to climb the tower. It was only recently re-opened to the public so I was hoping I could get some great views of the landscape around the town. Alas, it was closed for yet more renovations.


The original structure of the Cloth Hall was completed in 1304 (yes...that's 1304!) but it was entirely destroyed during the First World War. Efforts to reconstruct it only began in 1933 and it took 34 years for the rebuild to be completed.

Just for reference, here are a few pics of how it looked in October 1915 (Source: YPRES - THE TOLL OF WAR | The Royal Montreal Regiment)


Another pic, in better detail, of the damage (Source: All About Ypres)


From the Cloth Hall I headed to the Menin Gate on the east side of Ypres. Originally intended to commemorate the names of British and Commonwealth soldiers who had no known grave, it soon became apparent that it wasn't big enough for the job...as will be shown later. An idea of scale can be gained from the car that's hiding behind the grassy potted plant in the foreground:


Even though it failed in its original role to commemorate ALL missing soldiers, it still has an incredible 54,000+ names on it's walls. Here's one area full of names:


And this is what an entire interior wall looks like:


Note that there are archways on both sides that lead to stairs up to the top of the city ramparts. Every vertical surface from the archway up to the ramparts is filled with yet more inscribed names.
From the Menin Gate I headed east to visit Hooge Crater. There's an outstanding, privately-operated, museum here that's definitely worth a visit. It has a great collection of relics, replicas and depictions of fighting around the area. Just across from the museum is, you guessed it, another CWGC cemetery comprising almost 6,000 graves...but less than half are named individuals:



I took this image of the road leading west down to Ypres just to provide a sense of terrain. The Hooge Crater location is what constituted a ridgeline on the Western Front and was considered ideal defensive ground and hence of great tactical and operational significance....and so it proved. The position was held by the Germans, taken by the British in 1815, retaken by the Germans in 1916, back again by the Brits in 1917, back into German ownership in the spring of 1918 during Operation Michael, and then finally back under British control during the 100 Days Offensive that brought the War to an end. In every occasion when the position was taken, underground mines were deemed critical to the success of the assault.


Just further east from the Museum is a hotel and tea rooms built in the 1920s (the entire village of Hooge was obliterated during the Great War). The hotel clearly was marketing itself to visiting old British soldiers and their families...it even has a tea room!


In the grounds of the hotel are a number of excavated trench positions and a pond (sadly choked with green algae) that the owner formed by landscaping 3 German mine craters dating from their assault in 1916. The remains of 2 German concrete bunkers are still evident, as is the large pile of munitions and barbed wire recovered from nearby.


Note the submerged concrete bunker in this image:


The other German bunker is very much in evidence:


As do the piles of shell cases and other detritus, like the coil of barbed wire in the lower image:


Ok...last post to wrap up my Day #1 activities. After Hooge I went to the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 which was ok...they at least had a broader range of artifacts and interpretive areas than the Cloth Hall museum. Then I headed out to Tyne Cot, which is the largest CWGC cemetery in the world, with almost 12,000 burials, a full three-quarters of which are unidentified.

The scale of Tyne Cot beggars belief. I've been to Arlington which is HUGE...but seeing so many gravestones from just a single conflict, and bearing in mind this was the 4th CWGC cemetery I'd visited in the day, plus I'd seen signs to at least another dozen, really blew my mind. Here are a couple of pics which, sadly, just don't do the scale justice:



As if that wasn't enough, Tyne Cot has an additional Memorial to the Missing because, as noted earlier, Menin Gate wasn't big enough. Here's one of the panels of the memorial wall which contains about 225 names (ish...I didn't count them all):


And here's the actual Memorial Wall which runs in a semi-circle at the entrance to the cemetery, with each panel filled with names. More names are contained in the 2 circular rotundas accessed via the columned areas in the wall:


In total, there are almost 35,000 named missing men on these panels...but don't try to count them all because the pics above and below were taken from different positions just to try and capture as much of the wall as I could:


Tyne Cot Cemetery is actually sited on terrain that was fought over during the Great War. Three German bunkers are still on the site. Two are towards the lower end of the Cemetery and make a stark contrast to the clean, white headstones:


The third bunker is actually underneath the crucifix in the focal point of the site. A portion of the bunker wall is still exposed to view:


After Tyne Cot, I took a quick detour to Polygon Wood which, by the summer of 1917 was completely obliterated. Here are a couple of shots showing the general area "before" and "after" Third Ypres (Passchendaele) in August 1917...and, yes, those images do cover the same area!

Polygon Wood Race Track - 7 July 1917.jpg

Polygon Wood Race Track - 5 September 1917.jpg

Needless to say, accessing Polygon Wood involved traversing yet another cemetery, Buttes New British Cemetery:


And here's what Polygon Wood looks like today. Mother Nature is a resilient old dear and she bounced back with a vengeance in this area:


Needless to say there are still traces of the Great War even among all this vegetation. "Scott Post" is a former German bunker that was captured during Third Ypres in September 1917. After the war it was used as a containment shield to limit the flying debris from surplus munitions that were blown up. Despite being repeatedly filled with explosives that were then detonated, the only substantial damage was the rear wall being pushed out slightly:



Last stop was to Pond Farm which was the scene of early fighting during Third Ypres. The 55th (West Lancashire) Division operated in that area and I have a number of relatives who served as part of that formation during that battle....so it was a "must see" item for me. One of my cousins was awarded the Military Medal for his efforts recovering the wounded in the period 31 July-4 August 1917 during the opening stage of Third Ypres (a.k.a. Passchendaele).

The family who own the farm took it on from the family who operated it before and after the Great War. The son of the current owners (his name is Steyn) got interested in the First World War as a child and has amassed quite a collection of items, most of which they found on their land.

Every spring, like other farmers in the area, they reap the "Iron Harvest" as their ploughs turn up shells, bullets and other war materiel. They keep a cage in their front yard of shells they find so the local bomb disposal team can neutralize them. Any particularly cool items are kept for a small museum that Steyn maintains as a labour of love:


Steyn and his father have created a replica British tank which they show around the continent. Although it has modern mechanicals (it even meets European emissions laws!), it provides a worthwhile demonstration of these lumber behemoths that were a revolutionary military development when they first appeared on the battlefield:


One thing that came across to me is the resilience of the local civilians who rebuilt after the War. We often focus on the military actions, the battles, the acts of bravery, and the combat casualties. However, the local Belgian and French people were no less courageous. They returned to their land that had been completely destroyed and rebuilt their lives. In the case of Pond Farm, the owner built a small brick home, just a single room, and his family of 7 children lived there for 7 years while he tried to re-start his livelihood.

I asked Steyn how you go about ploughing fields when you know you're going to find unexploded weapons. He said "You turn the music up, and just do it." His father has had 4 munitions explode while he's been ploughing the fields of their farm over the past 30-40 years.

In amongst all the weaponry and patent destruction of war, perhaps the most striking thing I saw at Pond Farm was this solitary oak tree. Steyn's mother told me that it was the only tree in the area to survive the Great War. Like the people who live there, it's a resilient part of the landscape:

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Nice pictures, Buffnut. The amazing thing is that there are still some of those mines lost and unexploded somewhere under the ground. If you have seen the Caterpillar crater, you know what that can do. Have you been to hill 60 as well?
Nice pictures, Buffnut. The amazing thing is that there are still some of those mines lost and unexploded somewhere under the ground. If you have seen the Caterpillar crater, you know what that can do. Have you been to hill 60 as well?

I know what you mean. I drove past a few mines that were still buried but unexploded when I went to Prowse Point on Day 2. Definitely would NOT want to be anywhere near one of those if it decided to go off.

I didn't make it to Hill 60. As you can see from all the sites I visited, my time was rather compressed. I'm trying to see as much as I can that's really relevant to my family history...although I am catching a few other places in the midst of it all.

I'm just really glad the weather has been so kind. We all know how wet it can be here, even in the summer (see Passchendaele for references!). It's been glorious so far. It looks like tomorrow will be nice but Sunday and Monday will be bad. I'll just have to make the most of it.
I worked for about a year in the region off and on. Mainly in Dunkerque and Aulnoye (close to Mons), but also in Armentieres which has a major supplier of industrial nuts and bolts as well as a Mademoiselle. One night I got lost trying to get back to my hotel in Maubeuge, everywhere my headlights pointed off the road was white with crosses from cemeteries, as if the land was covered in snow. I have visited WW1 and WW2 cemeteries in daylight which is a sombre experience, but I will never forget that drive, that night.
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Apologies for the delay in updating the thread. Internet in the hotel in Amiens sucked, so I lost an entire post I'd almost finished and then couldn't get back online. However, that was the worst of the entire trip so I can't complain.

Day 2 was a real family history-centric day focused on a single member of my family. Please forgive the following background but it might help explain why I took this trip.

When I first got interested in family history (my sons will tell you that interest has evolved with marked obsessive qualities...in case you couldn't tell), I raided the--rather limited--family photo collection and went through them with my Mum to put names to faces. She drew blanks on these 3 military personnel.

Three Brothers.jpg

These really piqued my interest, not least because the chap on the left is clearly an officer (well-cut uniform and Sam Brown belt)...and my family are common as muck. As far as I was aware, I was the first member of the family to earn a commission. The left-hand image suggested I was wrong. I was also interested in the chap in the middle because, well, I'm ex-RAF so I was intrigued to know I had a family member serve in the Royal Flying Corps.

I was fortunate to discover that the 1918 and 1919 Absent Voter Lists for my home town had survived and been transcribed. Looking for surnames that matched my family tree, I found that a William Gamble had 2 sons serving, one in the RFC (Jim Gamble) and the other in the Royal Navy (Ernest Gamble). It looked like I had a match. I then noted the address. William and his family lived literally across the street from my Great-Grandparents, John Lee and Mary Gamble. Mary was William's sister. And when I say "across the street", John and Mary Lee were at number 50, William and Louisa Gamble and their family were at number 49 - both my Grandma and my Mum were born in number 50. As a young child, my Mum was often sent across the street to show Auntie Louisa a new dress, or a new pair of shoes etc..

So I had 2 of the 3 servicemen identified. The officer was still a puzzle until another relative sent me a photo of William's and Louisa's gravestone which mentioned a "Beloved Son, 2Lt George Gamble, Died 24 September 1917." A little more digging and I discovered that George served in the Rifle Brigade, which matched the cap badge of the photo on the left. In short, the photos were of 3 brothers who were first cousins of my Grandma and lived across the street from her.

I'll cover some of Jim Gamble's activities later. Day 2 of my odyssey was focused on George. He enlisted as a volunteer in the Regular Army in early September 1914. By the time he landed in France in January 1915, he'd already been promoted to Acting Corporal. He spent the first 10 months of operational service with the 4th Battalion, the Rifle Brigade, in France. In November his unit was sent to Salonika in Greece and he stayed there for another 18 months, being promoted to Sergeant in that time. In the spring of 1917, he was selected for commissioning and returned to Blighty for officer training. He was commissioned on 27 June 1917 and went back to France to join the 2nd Battalion, the Rifle Brigade on 12 August. Thus the photo of him, which was taken in his home town, was taken at some point between those dates.

George joined his new unit on 24 August. It had just been relieved from time in the front-line trenches and was conducting company-level training to get combat replacements, including George, up to speed. They didn't have long to work up. On 11 September they moved to the Brigade Support position and 8 days later they took over the front lines from the 2nd Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regt. George was in D Company which, along with C Company, was initially in the reserve position, with A and B Companies in the front lines. On 23 September, C and D replaced A and B in the front lines.

Per the War Diary of the 2nd Berks Regt, they were defending the west bank of the River Lys in front of a hamlet called La Basse-Ville. That Diary provides map references and, thanks to a cool online app called TMapper (tmapper.com) I was able to pinpoint the start and end of the Rifle Brigade's position. Here it is on a contemporary map, side-by-side with a modern GoogleEarth image of the location. Note that the course of the River has been straightened since 1917 to make it easier for larger barges to navigate the waterway:

2nd Rifle Brigade Positions - September 1917.jpg

On the night of 23 September, the German forces (probably those in the red trenches east of the River) undertook a trench raid. According to a letter in George's service record, he heard the Germans cutting the wire in front of a neighbouring position and went to warn the other officer, 2Lt Claud Bruce Matheson, of the impending danger. Claud had been with the unit less than 48 hours! The Germans threw grenades into the British position, killing Matheson and two sergeants instantly and wounding George. He was evacuated to 26 Field Ambulance at Pont d'Achelles where he succumbed to his wounds on 24 September. He was buried at the nearby cemetery.

The site of Yank Post was near a sugar refinery that was destroyed in the Great War. Today, the entire area is a large truck loading/offloading facility, so I couldn't actually get to the exact spot where the 2nd RB line started in the north...but I could get pretty close because there's a cycle path along the river. Here's a shot looking generally southwest from the vicinity of Yank Post:


At the other end of the line (Halt Post) I drove onto a farm and, luckily, bumped into the young farmer and his wife. At first he claimed not to speak English. However, when I explained, in my badly broken French, why I was there, and showed him some pictures, he said, in almost perfect English, "By all means, walk around...just don't touch the electric fences for the cattle!" When I showed him the above map locations, he pointed out an access road that led to a modern dock that was virtually in the exact location I was seeking. So off I went and took this pic looking across to Deulemont where the German forces were situated:


Much of my research was informed by a wonderful book on the first liberation of La Basse-Ville in July 1917 by New Zealand units that was written as a labour of love by a Belgian lady. She graciously met me at a memorial and helped point out various locations so I could orient the modern village to the old WW1 maps. Here's a pic of her in front of a memorial she helped design and implement:


I also took some pics from the German positions looking back at George's defensive line. The factory chimney in the second image was built in 1922 and is the same chimney visible from the modern quay at the Halt Post location shown earlier in the post. The third image helps explain why the German positions were so far back from the river...you don't want to be digging trenches in a flood plain, plus you have open fields of fire if your enemy tries to attack your position:




George's evacuation route back to the Field Ambulance isn't very clear but it must have been long and, if he was at all conscious, incredibly painful. The most direct route is 9 km long via the road that leads from La Basse-Ville along the south end of Ploegsteet Wood (know ubiquitously to the Tommies as "Plugstreet") but that route was considered too dangerous. The 26th Field Ambulance, which was responsible for casualty evacuation listed combinations of stretcher bearers for 600 yards in the trenches, then wheeled stretchers on roads, tramways through Plugstreet Wood, and eventually motor ambulances. It must have taken a long time to get him to the 25th Field Ambulance...and certainly more than 9 km.

Here's a pic of the location where the 25th FIeld Ambulance was located, probably covering all of the brown area plus the greenhouse visible to the right. It's just a farmer's field but it's about 150 yards or so from the cemetery. While it's not much to look at, it's special to me because that's where George died sometime on 24 September:


George was buried in Pont d'Achelles Cemetery. Luckily his grave location persisted despite the location being overrun 2 more times during the Great War, firstly by the Germans during their Operation Michael offensive in March 1918 and then by the Allies later that summer as they pushed Germany back in the 100 Days Offensive that ultimately won the War.


There are interesting quirks in pretty much any CWGC cemetery, like these 2 graves, one British and one German, both killed on the same day and lying next to each other:


That's more than enough for one post. Next time I'll show you Claud Matheson and the two sergeants who were killed when George was mortally wounded...but that's for tomorrow. In the meantime, here's an artsy pic of Pont d'Achelles Cemetery, followed by one of a butterfly making use of a headstone to warm up:



More inane ramblings to follow soon.
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One quick update that ties back to my Pond Farm visit on Day 1. I mentioned that one of my relatives was awarded the Military Medal for services during Third Ypres. It might help to see the family connection.

The photo below shows Jim Gerrard who was awarded the MM for services recovering wounded soldiers in the period 31 July to 4 August 1917. It shows Jim in his Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) uniform with his new bride, Eva Gamble, who was the younger sister of the 3 brothers discussed at the beginning of post #12:

Eva Gamble and James Gerrard (Original).jpg

The original image was taken at Blackpool which is where Jim, along with many RAMC soldiers, was trained. I suspect it dates from February 1916, which is when the pair married just before Jim headed off to France with the 1/3rd West Lancashire Field Ambulance (WLFA), a Territorial unit. The "1/3rd" designation indicates how the British Army expanded in 1914 and onwards. Each regiment had a number of battalions. In the case of the RAMC Field Ambulances, there were the 1st, 2nd and 3 WLFAs. Rather than creating the 4th, 5th, 6th etc, the Army expanded each WLFA with different readiness levels of troops, thus 1/3rd WLFA was the first echelon (combat ready) of the 3rd WLFA. Typically, the third echelon (3/3rd WLFA) was solely used for training to provide personnel for the front-line units...but that wasn't always the case.

If one were to describe a stereotypical courageous soldier, I don't think an image of Jim would come to mind. He's rather skinny and not at all muscular...and yet he earned the enlisted equivalent of the Military Cross, which is no shabby achievement. Here's his Medal Index Card for the MM (note that award of gallantry medals typically occurred a few months after the event for which they were awarded:


The following text is drawn from a book on MM awards and outlines the rationale for the award:



And here's Jim's name (second from last) on this list of MM awardees of the 55th (West Lancs) Division:


The following excerpts are taken from the War Diary of the 1/3rd WLFA, written by Capt GIlbert Rogers. They give some sense of the conditions under which Jim and his mates had to operate (I find the bolded text particularly telling):

On Wednesday morning and till Saturday, with the amount of rain and its concomitant mud, the work of the R.A.M.C. became of such a nature to be beyond adequate description. Collecting casualties from the Right Brigade front meant traversing a distance of 3,000 yards on the roughest of rough ground, most of it an intricate jumble of shell holes full of mud and water. The ground between was at least over the ankles in mud, mostly over the knees and frequently up to the waist. The mud was of a sticky, gluey nature, and sometimes it took 5 hours to travel the 3,000 yards back with the casualty.

Unfortunately, the major portion of the ground was exposed with no protection and subject to severe enemy shelling. As a consequence, it was impossible to create Relay Posts of bearers to lighten the carrying, on account of the very real risk of furnishing too many casualties among the bearers while waiting at these Relay Posts.

In spite of these difficulties, the bearers steadily performed the journey on the right, not once, but sometimes three times in 24 hours, starting out at earliest dawn and ending only with the darkness, by that time being utterly exhausted. The same process was going on on the left but there, the distance was not so far, and therefore, the work was not quite so exhausting.

One fact was made obvious almost at once, and that was that the Bearers of the three Field Ambulances were very far from being sufficient for removing casualties. On this occasion they were aided by the original party of Infantry already referred to and also by a batch of 150 Infantry for a few hours of one day, but that the casualties of the Division were completely cleared, meant indescribably exhausting work for the R.A.M.C. bearers which could not possibly have been continued beyond the final day (4th​ August) when they were without exception unfit for any further immediate work.

During a carry down of a casualty, one frequently saw a couple of the stretcher bearers slip in a shell hole or deep patch of mud up to the shoulders, the other four bearers would then support the stretcher while the two bogged ones would extricate themselves so as to continue carrying. This I saw under severe shell fire. Not once did I see a casualty be allowed to fall or slip off the stretcher.

The work of the R.A.M.C. bearers was not finished yet. The casualties would be all examined in the mine shaft (WEILTJE) and then re-dressed if necessary and made as comfortable as possible, being injected with anti-tetanic serum. Bearers would then be called upon to carry the re-dressed cases along the entrance tunnel and down the road to the point where the ambulance cars could get to, and then load up the cases for transfer to the Main Dressing Station or Casualty Clearing Station.

These 2 photos, the second being a famous image of stretcher bearers (not from Jim's unit) at Third Ypres, give a visual indication of conditions:



Note that Capt Gilbert's account identifies six stretcher bearers in a team, as borne out by the above image (actually 7 in the image). Normal establishment was 4 bearers in a team but 2 additional bodies were needed at Third Ypres because of the conditions. The mud is definitely above the knees for a couple of the chaps at the back of the stretcher.

Finally, I came across this rather wonderful poem "To Stretcher Bearers" by Geoffrey Anketell Studdert Kennedy who was a Padre in the British Army. It's taken from a collection of poems he published after the Great War entitled "More Rough Rhymes of a Padre". As a Padre, Kennedy was intimately involved with the casualties. He jotted down things he heard stretcher bearers saying as they brought the casualties in from the field, and then strung the phrases together. I like the way he captured the working-class accents of these men. To me, it's a moving testament to the words of support the stretcher bearers offered to the men they were recovering and treating...and to the battlefield threats they traversed:

To Stretcher Bearers

Easy does it — bit o' trench 'ere,
Mind that blinkin' bit o' wire,
There's a shell 'ole on your left there,
Lift 'im up a little 'igher.
Stick it, lad, ye'll soon be there now,
Want to rest 'ere for a while?
Let 'im dahn then — gently — gently,
There ye are, lad. That's the style.
Want a drink, mate? 'Ere's my bottle,
Lift 'is 'ead up for 'im, Jack,
Put my tunic underneath 'im,
'Ow's that, chummy? That's the tack!
Guess we'd better make a start now,
Ready for another spell?
Best be goin', we won't 'urt ye,
But 'e might just start to shell.
Are ye right, mate? Off we goes then.
That's well over on the right,
Gawd Almighty, that's a near 'un!
'Old your end up good and tight,
Never mind, lad, you're for Blighty,
Mind this rotten bit o' board.
We'll soon 'ave ye tucked in bed, lad,
'Opes ye gets to my old ward.
No more war for you, my 'earty,
This'll get ye well away,
Twelve good months in dear old Blighty,
Twelve good months if you're a day,
M.O.'s got a bit o' something
What'll stop that blarsted pain.
'Ere's a rotten bit o' ground, mate,
Lift up 'igher — up again,
Wish 'e'd stop 'is blarsted shellin'
Makes it rotten for the lad.
When a feller's been and got it,
It affec's 'im twice as bad.
'Ow's it goin' now then, sonny?
'Ere's that narrow bit o' trench,
Careful, mate, there's some dead Jerries,
Lawd Almighty, what a stench!
'Ere we are now, stretcher-case, boys,
Bring him aht a cup o' tea!
Inasmuch as ye have done it
Ye have done it unto Me.
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Ok...on with the Day 2 stuff. After visiting George at Pont d'Achelles, I decided to pay my respects to the other victims of the German trench raid, who were all buried at Prowse Point Cemetery which lies on the northern side of Ploegsteert Wood. It's somewhat ironic that Prowse Point was the location where 2nd RB gathered immediately prior to relieving the 2nd Berkshires. The site is named after Major (later Brigadier) Charles Bertie Prowse who demonstrated heroism during a stand by the 1st Hampshires and 1st Somerset Light Infantry in October 1914. The cemetery is at the top of a hill, with very pleasant views downhill, southward, towards Ploegsteert Wood.


Here's Claud Matheson's grave, with Sgt Davies and L/Sgt Bunn following. I also found a grave of a Rifleman who also died on 23 September 1917 so I've included him because there were other casualties on that date:





Claud Bruce Matheson was the son of a Scottish church minister. He had a very different upbringing to George's more humble abode. Educated at Glenalmond and Keble College, Oxford, he became Assistant Master at Llandovery College prior to the war, where he trained the local Officer Training Corps unit. He was commissioned on the same day as George but only disembarked in France on 7 September 1917. The 2nd RB War Diary notes that he, together with 3 other Subalterns, joined the Battalion on 21 September so, at the time of the attack on the night of 23 September, he really had been with the unit scarcely more than 48 hours. That's not a lot of time to get acclimatized to the environment or even to the platoon he'd be leading. Here's a pic of him I found online:

Claud Bruce Matheson Portrait.jpg

George's service file contains a letter written by Claud's mother to the War Ministry asking to be put in touch with George's parents:



The letter reads:

The Parsonage, Strathairn Oct. 11. 1917

Dear Sir,

I hope I shall not be troubling you too much if I ask you you
[sic] could very kindly let me know the home address of Lieut. Gamble who was killed in France on 24 Sept. – or, rather, died of wounds received the night before. My son was killed at the same time and from one account we have been told that Lieut. Gamble came to tell our son that he heard the Germans cutting the wires, and in so doing he encountered the bomb that killed them both – my son instantly. I should like to be able to thank Lieut. Gamble's people for what he did, veritably laying down his life for his friend, though they may not even have known each other. Trusting you will pardon me for troubling you.

Yours very sincerely,
Susan E. Matheson

It's almost certain that George and Claud didn't know each other very well given how little time Claud had been with the Battalion. I also wonder how Mrs. Matheson might have reacted to learn that "Lieut. Gamble's people" were a coalminer and his wife living in a 2-up/2-down end-of-terrace house with a family of 12 living in it. Here's a pic of the house...just 'cos:


The two sergeants were Sergeant Sydney John Davies (Service Number B/200600) and Lance Sergeant Frederick Bunn (Service Number B/2569). Prior to the war, Frederick Bunn lived in Wymondham, Norfolk, with his wife, Mabel. He was just 23 at the time of his death. Sydney Davies, 28, lived in Hoxton, London, and was unmarried: his next of kin were a sister, Mary E. Palmer, and parents Joseph and Mary E. Davies of 38 Witton Square, Islington, London.

I can't help but think that Davies and Bunn were the respective platoon sergeants to Claud and George, and that the group met to outline the threat that was emerging. Although KIA, these men didn't die in some great battle. They were simply casualties of the daily grind of trench warfare where a stray shell, a moment of carelessness, or a trench raid could take a soldier's life at almost any time. Given the stresses and strains, it's not surprising that units were rotated away from the front line positions every few weeks.
Ok...enough personal indulgencies. Immediately next to Prowse Point Military Cemetery is the 1914 Christmas Day Truce memorial. Supposedly, one of the documented football matches that happened in no-mans' land took place at this spot. The memorial shows a football sitting atop a broken artillery shell. The display includes a pair of reconstructed trenches, ostensibly in the positions occupied by British and German troops, although I have my doubts. They look too close together...they're easily within hand grenade throwing range. You can see Ploegsteert Wood in the background.


The inscription stone is signed by Michel Platini who was the UEFA President when the memorial was created:


And here's a pic from below the memorial looking back up at it, with the replica trenches to the left and right. You can see how close together they are:


Just next to where the above photo was taken there's an old Great War concrete bunker that is still being used to store tools etc:


I've mentioned Ploegsteert Wood a few times in this post so, just for reference, this is what it looked like in the summer of 1917:


That about wraps things up for Day 2. As I left Warneton, I came across this WW2-vintage gun emplacement pointing west to defend against any advance across the Lys river from Belgium. Clearly it was part of the French pre-war defences in the area, not that it did much good.



Surprisingly, the bunker is still occupied, although I don't think the current resident is particularly threatening....probably just awoke from her mid-afternoon nap and revving up for the early evening snooze:

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