The Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme
Memorials and Graves
Cemeteries and Memorials
|Thiepval Memorial||St Amand British Cemetery|
|Gommecourt British Cemetery No. 2||Couin British Cemetery|
|Hebuterne Military Cemetery||Warlincourt Halte British Cemetery|
|Gommecourt Wood New Cemetery||Rossignol Wood Cemetery|
|Foncquevillers Military Cemetery||Bienvillers Military Cemetery|
|Sailly au Bois Military Cemetery||Achiet le Petit German Cemetery|
here are three main memorials to the men of the 56th (1st London) Division and 46th (North Midland) Division who died in front of Gommecourt on 1st July 1916. The longest, and in some ways the saddest, list of names is inscribed on the panels of the great Memorial to the Missing of the Somme which sits on the heights above the River Ancre at Thiepval.
Panel after panel records the names of the men whose bodies were never found. Amongst them is my distant relative, Rfm Charles Tompson of the 1/9th London Regiment (Queen Victoria's Rifles). Gone but not forgotten.
Four other cemeteries hold the mortal remains of many of the men who died that day. In the middle of No Man's Land, in the centre of the Londoner's battlefield lies Gommecourt British Cemetery No. 2. This contains the graves of men whose bodies were collected from the battlefield after the Germans retired to the Hindenburg Line in the early spring of 1917. On the road out of Hebuterne towards Sailly au Bois, behind the farms on the right hand side of the road, lies Hebuterne Military Cemetery. This contains the bodies of men fatally wounded during the two month's preparation for the attack and the bodies of men brought to the Advanced Dressing Station on 1st July 1916 but whose lives could not be saved.
On the 46th Division's front Gommecourt Wood New Cemetery lies between the villages of Foncquevillers and Gommecourt and just to the south of the road that connects them. From the top of the stairs one gets a perfect view of the entire battlefield. Gommecourt Wood New Cemetery is a concentration cemetery, i.e. it contains the bodies of men moved from temporary cemeteries or discovered after the war (as is Gommecourt No. 2 cemetery). An appendix in 'A Lack of Offensive Spirit?' describes the creation of this cemetery and contains unique information provided by the Commonwealth War Graves Commisssion not previously seen.
To the rear (west) of Foncquevillers lies the Military Cemetery. Like Hebuterne Cemetery it was located next to the Advanced Dressing Station and it contains men from May and June, a mass grave for the dead of 1st July and several officers whose bodies were found in March 1917 when the Germans withdrew from Gommecourt to the Hindenburg Lines. Amongst them is the only recipient of the Victoria Cross awarded for the attack on Gommecourt: Capt John Green, VC of the 5th Sherwood Foresters.
Further back, in villages like St Amand, Souastre, Couin, Henu, Bienvillers, Warlincourt and the town of Doullens, are many more cemeteries which hold the bodies of the men who succumbed to their wounds on the long and tortuous route to the medical facilities in the rear.
The memorial, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, was built between 1928 and 1932 and unveiled by the Prince of Wales, in the presence of the President of France, on 31 July 1932. It records the names of 72,115 soldiers of Great Britain, Ireland and South Africa who died on the Somme before 20th March 1918 and who have no known grave.
The missing of the 56th Division can be found on the following panels of the Memorial:
The missing of the 46th Division can be found on the following panels of the Memorial:
The Thiepval Memorial can be found on the D73 off the main Bapaume to Albert road (D929). There is now a modern visitor centre with many features including a film about the Battle of the Somme.
Four cemeteries were created in No Man's Land on the 56th Division's front in the spring of 1917. Cemetery No. 2 originally contained 101 men of the 56th Division but, after the war, the graves of all four cemeteries were concentrated at Cemetery No. 2.
Gommecourt British Cemetery No.2 now contains 1,357 First World War burials and commemorations. 682 of the burials are unidentified but there are special memorials to 33 casualties known or believed to be buried among them. Apart from the casualties of the 1st July 1916 there are many burials from the spring of 1917 and from the spring and summer of 1918 when these fields were fought over again as the great German offensive flowed and then ebbed.
Gommecourt British Cemetery No.2 sits mid-way between the two front lines and is an excellent place from which to observe the battlefield. The sunken Hebuterne to Bucquoy road which leads to it is very much the same as in 1916 and gives a good example of what the Gommecourt-Puisieux road would have looked like at the time. From the rear wall of the cemetery, at the opposite end to the Great Cross of Sacrifice one looks over the fields across which the 169th Brigade attacked. In the distance lie Gommecourt Park and village.
From the northern wall one can see the area across which The Rangers attacked. Nameless Farm has long since ceased to exist but this German bulwark was located on the cemetery side of the Gommecourt-Puisieux road almost directly facing the cemetery wall.
Look to the east and one can see the higher ground across which the London Scottish attacked. The Farmer-Farmyward stronghold now lies in the midst of the fields of corn which usually cover the area in the summer. The dell of trees is located on Fable trench, the third German line.
Gommecourt is a village 19 kilometres south-west of Arras. The Cemetery lies just off the road between Gommecourt and Puisieux (D6). It can also be reached from Hebuterne by following the road to Bucquoy.
Hebuterne Military Cemetery was started by the Field Ambulances of the 48th (South Midland) Division which occupied Hebuterne prior to the arrival of the 56th Division.
The cemetery lies behind the farm house in which had been constructed the Advanced Dressing Station used by the London Field Ambulances in the early summer of 1916. More graves were added in 1918 when the area was fought over again.
Only 50 of the 750 men buried here are unknown and the London graves here are those of the fatally wounded men who did not survive long enough to be sent to the better medical facilities to the rear.
To reach the cemetery turn right up a farm track just as the Hebuterne to Sailly au Bois road leaves the village. Hebuterne is a village 15 kilometres north of Albert (Somme) and 20 kilometres south-west of Arras. Using the D919 from Arras to Amiens you will drive through the villages of Bucquoy, Puisieux then Serre Les Puisieux (approximately 20 kilometres south of Arras). On leaving Serre Les Puisieux, 3 kilometres further along the D919, turn right following the signs for Hebuterne.
Gommecourt Wood New Cemetery was created after the clearance of a dozen temporary cemeteries created after March 1917 when the Germans withdrew from Gommecourt to the Hindenburg Lines. The men there are predominantly from the 46th Division though there are some from the fighting in 1918 when the Germans again occupied the area.
The cemetery is located to the south of the Gommecourt to Foncquevillers Road and is on the southern edge of the area attacked by the 46th Division. You can see a complete panorama of the Division's front from the top of the steps next to the Cross of Sacrifice.
Two thirds of the men in the cemetery are unidentified but a full description of the clearance of the battlefield and the creation of Gommecourt Wood New Cemetery can be found in 'A Lack of Offensive Spirit?'
Foncquevillers is a village about 18 kilometres south-west of Arras on the D3. Gommecourt Wood New Cemetery is situated a little way south-east along the D6. A CWGC signpost indicating the road is situated at the junction near the post office in Foncquevillers and the Cemetery is on the right hand side of the road just before arriving at Gommecourt.
Foncquevillers Military Cemetery was started by the French Army when they occupied the area from late 1914 to the middle of 1915. It was then carried on by the Field Ambulances of the 48th (South Midland) Division until May when the 46th Division took over the sector.
It was then used by the Field Ambulances of the 46th, the 56th and then the 46th Division again until March 1917 when the front moved forward to the Hindenburg Lines. It was used again in 1918 when the German Spring Offensive again reached the Gommecourt area.
A mass grave from 1st July 1916 can be found in Plot I, Row L where there are up to three names per headstone. Several officers of the Sherwood Foresters were recovered and buried in the cemetery in March 1917, amongst them Capt. John Leslie Green VC RAMC, 1/5th Sherwood Foresters who was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions on 1st July 1916. His grave is in Plot III, row D, grave 5.
After the war, 74 bodies were brought in to be buried in the cemetery and 325 French military graves were removed to La Targette French National Cemetery, near Arras. Only 53 of the 684 men buried in the cemetery are unknown
Sailly au Bois Military Cemetery was started in May when the London Field Ambulances started a dressing station there.
The road from Sailly au Bois to Hebuterne was the main route for supplies and reliefs and many Field Artillery batteries were placed on either side of this road.
Sailly-au-Bois is a village between Arras and Amiens. The Military Cemetery is western of the village, on the south side of the road (D23) leading to Bayencourt and Souastre. Access to this road can be taken from the main road (N25) from Doullens to Arras leading to Gaudiempre and St Amand (D23).
St Amand British Cemetery was started in the spring of 1916 and in May the London Field Ambulances started a dressing station there to service the Heavy artillery.
The cemetery contains 221 identified graves mainly from 1916 and 1918.
St. Amand is a village in the southern part of the Department of the Pas-de-Calais, 17 kilometres east of Doullens. The British Cemetery is on the northern side of the village.
Couin British Cemetery was begun in May 1916 by the field ambulances of the 48th (South Midland) Division and then became the location of the 56th Division's Main Dressing Station (MDS). The original cemetery is on the south (right) side of the road out of Couin towards Souastre. On the other side of the road is the New British Cemetery, opened in January 1917. The MDS was the last staging post for the wounded of the 1st July before they were either sent to the Divisional Rest Station (lightly wounded) or onto the Casualty Clearing Stations at Warlincourt.
Couin British Cemetery contains 401 Commonwealth and three German graves.
Couin is a village 15 kilometres east of Doullens. Follow the main Doullens to Arras road, N25, as far as the crossroads with the D23. Follow the D23 to Souastre, then the D2 to Couin.
Started in May 1916, this cemetery served the 20th and 43rd Casualty Clearing Stations and now contains 1,266 Commonwealth burials of the First World War. There are also 29 German and two French war graves.
On the other side of the main Arras-Doullens Road runs the railway between the two towns and this was used for the evacuation of the wounded by ambulance train to the Base Hospitals and Channel Ports.
A few kilometres to the west of Warlincourt Halte British Cemetery is a French military airbase at La Bellevue, the home of No. 8 Squadron, RFC during the summer of 1916.
Warlincourt and Saulty are villages on either side of the main road (N25) between Arras (22 kilometres) and Doullens (13 kilometres). Warlincourt Halte British Cemetery is situated just off the north side of the road.
Rossignol Wood Cemetery is one of several small cemeteries that lie on the south side of the Gommecourt to Puisieux Road, i.e. behind the German lines in 1916. This cemetery was begun in the spring of 1917 after the German withdrawal. Unusually there are more German graves than British here and it was used by the 170th Infantry Regiment to bury its men killed on 1st July 1916. There are 41 Commonwealth graves and 70 German, 42 of them unknown. The German graves lie on the eastern side of the cemetery.
Rossignol Wood Cemetery lies approximately one kilometre north-east of Hebuterne, on the road between Gommecourt and Puisieux (D6).
Bienvillers Military Cemetery was begun in September 1915 by the 37th Division and was used by the 46th and 56th Divisions until March 1917. It was reopened in March 1918 and used through to September 1918.
The cemetery was completed in 1922-24 when a number of graves, mainly of 1916, were brought in from the battlefields of the Ancre. There are twenty-one plots on the slope running away from the road and of the 1,605 Commonwealth burials 425 are unidentified.
Bienvillers is a large village in the department of the Pas de Calais 18 kilometres south-west of Arras. The Military Cemetery is just beyond the village on the south road leading to Souastre (D2). A CWGC signpost indicating directions to the site is situated on the village square.
There are few German cemeteries in this part of France, the largest on the Somme 1st July front line being at Fricourt, south of the Albert-Bapaume Road. The cemetery at Achiet le Petit contains a number of German soldiers who died on their way back to the Field Hospitals at Vaulx-Vraucourt and Fremicourt.
Achiet-le-Petit is a village and commune about 19 kilometres south of Arras. Take the main road from Arras to Bapaume (N17) and at Ervillers turn right onto the D9 towards Achiet.
A complete Roll of Honour of the dead of the 56th (1st London) Division from May to 1st July 1916 (including died of wounds at a later date) can be found in 'Pro Patria Mori'.
A complete Roll of Honour of the dead of the 46th (North Midland) Division from May to 1st July 1916 (including died of wounds at a later date) can be found in 'A Lack of Offensive Spirit?'.
They are published courtesy of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission whose web site can be found here
Alan MacDonald's books about Gommecourt
'PRO PATRIA MORI'
'Pro Patria Mori', the account of the 56th Division's involvement at Gommecourt, was first published in 2006. A revised edition was published in August 2008
For more about the book please go HERE.
LACK OF OFFENSIVE SPIRIT?'
Gommecourt British Cemetery No. 2
looking west towards Gommecourt
The body of 2nd Lt George Stuart Arthur, aged 32, the son of Samuel & Louisa Arthur of 24, Heath Crescent, Halifax is thought to lie in one of the graves in Gommecourt British Cemetery No. 2.
2nd Lt Arthur led the small party of Queen's Westminsters to their objective of the Quadrilateral. He then covered their withdrawal under attack from German bombing parties. He was either killed at this time or later when the order came to abandon the German trenches in the evening of 1st July 1916.
"We Will Remember Them"
Hebuterne Military Cemetery
Many of the graves are grouped together by unit with the London Division's graves mainly to the left of the photograph. There are 56th Division burials here from May to July 1916.
The grave above marks the final resting place of three men, from three units, all of whom died on 1st July 1916.
1409 Spr. William Leuchars of the 416th (1/1st City of Edinburgh) Field Coy RE was aged 21 when he died. He was the son of Alexander & Georgina Leuchars of 24, Colville Place, Edinburgh. Spr Leuchars was killed trying to remove barricades blocking the Hebuterne to Bucquoy Road.
1834 L/Cpl Charles James Turner, aged 26, was the son of Mrs. R. Turner of 87, Royal Rd., Kennington Park, London. He was born in Lambeth, London. The 1/2nd Londons sacrificed themselves trying desperately to bring supplies to the London Rifle Brigade.
4198 Pte Alfred George Smith, aged 32, was the husband of Elizabeth Smith of 24, Hampden St., Harrow Rd., Paddington, London. The Kensingtons stood under appalling artillery fire in the British lines unable to help the London Scottish trapped in the German lines.
"We Will Remember Them"
This note was laid at the foot of the gravestone of 2 Lt. Henry Bastick Pilgrim, the son of Mrs Fanny Pilgrim of 277 Norwood Road, London SE24
Every death a personal tragedy.
"We Will Remember Them"
Gommecourt Wood New Cemetery
Foncquevillers Military Cemetery