Pilgrimage to the Graves of the Fallen in France and Flanders
In August 1921 it was announced that arrangements had been made by the Salvation Army to conduct relatives of fallen soldiers to their graves in France and Belgium and Adjutant Bristow, the local officer, was the contact for any persons in the Rugby district who desired to avail themselves of this offer. Assisted passages could be granted in necessitous cases.
Each week specially chosen Salvation Army officers conducted groups of relatives of the fallen from their home towns in various parts of the country across the Channel to the war cemeteries and back again.
For example early in August 1921 two parties totalling considerably over a 100, one party from Wales and another from Ireland, made the journey under Salvation Army guidance.
Officers who were in charge of the Salvation Army hostels at central points in France and Flanders told many touching stories concerning bereaved relatives who were accommodated during their pilgrimage.
A small party left Rugby on Wednesday the 19th October 1921 for the purpose of visiting the graves in France and Flanders of a husband, son, or brother who lost their lives in the late war. The Salvation Army had been doing a great deal of work all over the country in arranging these visits, and in Rugby this had been done by Adjutant Bristow. A fairly large number of people had come forward and asked to be taken out under the auspices of the Army but owing to the fact that their passports were not completed, the number to go on the visit was reduced to 17, the others having to wait until the next spring and go with the next contingent. Eight of those who were included in the party for 19th October went by an earlier train, these being Mrs. Anderson, 39 Pinfold Street, New Bilton; Mrs. Burton, 35 Avenue Road, New Bilton; Mrs. Elson, 39 Pinfold Street, New Bilton; Mrs. Hunt, 99 Victoria Street, New Bilton; Mrs. Lindley, Pennington Street, Rugby; Mrs. Saward, 9 Adam Street, Rugby; Mrs. Simpson, 67 Victoria Avenue, New Bilton; Mrs. Wakelin, Warwick Street, Rugby. The remaining nine left in the afternoon. These were; Mrs. Bartlett, 13 Queen Street, Rugby; Mr. and Mrs. Collins, 26 Abbey Street, Rugby; Mr. and Mrs. Hughes, 13 Paradise Street, Rugby; Mrs. Inwood, 12 Lodge Road, Rugby; Mrs. Lewis, 13 King Edward Road, Rugby; Mrs. Moore, 32 Arnold Street, Rugby and Mrs. Purton, 121 Oxford Street, Rugby. Adjutant Bristow went with this group.
The Rugby group was to be joined by parties from Northampton, Rushden, Kettering, Bedford and Coventry, making in all a total of 67. They travelled up to London in charge of Colonel Rogers of Northampton.
According to the programme, they were to stay in London on Wednesday night, cross to France on the Thursday and then proceed to the battlefields on Friday. It was arranged that they should return on Sunday or Monday. Some of the party had wreaths and flowers to lay on the graves of those they mourned, whilst others had promised friends and neighbours to try also to see the graves of those they had lost in the war and were buried somewhere in the areas likely to be visited.
Their departure was witnessed by a small group of friends.
A tribute to the kindness received from the officers and the excellent organisation of the Salvation Army in conducting the visits to the graves of relatives was paid by both Mr. and Mrs. Hughes, of 13 Paradise Street, Rugby, when interviewed on their return from Belgium, where they had been to visit the grave of their son, who was killed in 1915.
On reaching London the group had been divided amongst other parties according to which part of the battlefields they wished to visit. Mr and Mrs. Hughes explained that after staying at a hostel in London on Wednesday night they crossed to Ostend via Dover on Thursday. There were 18 in the party to which they were attached, and they went on to Ypres, where they were accommodated at another Salvation Army hostel.
During Friday morning they had the opportunity of sight-seeing in the town, which Mr. Hughes said still showed signs of the devastation caused in the war, although the place was being re-built very rapidly.
Continuing, he said they were the only people to go to Rifle House Cemetery in Ploegsteert (“Plug Street”) Wood. They had no difficulty in finding the grave, although they had a long walk through the wood. There were a few “pill boxes” and open trenches near the place and there were only a few trees left. Most of those had the tops blown away. The grave was in beautiful condition and everything was tidy. There was a wooden cross over it with the name and all particulars on. In a few of the cemeteries near the one they visited round head stones were being used to replace the crosses. Everything was carried out in an excellent manner and they had no trouble of any kind, because the arrangements made by the Salvation Army were so complete. The hostels they stayed at were most comfortable and everything was done for their convenience.
Mrs. Hughes, who was present, said Adjutant Bristow had been most kind in arranging the visit, and the officers were kind everywhere they went. “I shall never forget it,” she continued. “It has been my one wish to see where my lad lay and now I am satisfied. We can never thank them enough. We took an everlasting wreath and placed it on the grave and the officer who conducted us there said a beautiful prayer. We also photographed the grave, and we shall be having some prints sent to us.”
Mrs. Bartlett of 13 Queen Street, Rugby, also said the Salvation Army officers were very good to them and the hostels were fine places and very comfortable. “Mrs. Moore of 32 Arnold Street Rugby and I,” she said “went through Newhaven to Dieppe and then to Rouen, where Mrs. Moore went to see her brother’s grave. I went to Le Havre to see the grave of my brother, Stoker Petty Officer J Maxted who was drowned when H,M.S. Eden was cut in two by a transport in the English Channel in 1916. The cemetery was beautiful, and lovely flowers were growing on his grave, over which there was a headstone. I returned to Rugby on Saturday, and am very glad I got the opportunity of seeing where my brother is buried.”
Mr and Mrs Hughes went to Rifle House Cemetery, Ploegsteert Wood, Warneton, Belgium to visit the grave of Lance Corporal No 2006 John William George Hughes 1/7th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment killed in action 18th June 1915 and also commemorated on the Rugby Memorial Gates.
This Territorial Battalion was located at Coventry on the 4th August 1914 and entrained at Witham in Essex on the 22nd March 1915 for Southampton embarking on the S.S. Copenhagen landing at Havre on the 23rd March as part of the Warwickshire Brigade, South Midland Division. The Brigade proceeded to Cassel and then billets at Winnezeele. On the 28th March the Battalion went by march and bus to Bailleul and by the 29th was established in the vicinity of Neuve Eglise digging trenches. On April 1st the Brigade marched 12 kilometres to Armentieres much closer to the front line and straight away all units including the Battalion were temporarily attached to the 4th Division’s Regular Army Infantry Brigades serving in the line to learn the rigours of trench warfare. For the next fortnight the Warwickshire men served a tour of apprenticeship learning how to patrol No Man’s Land, conduct wiring parties, set up listening posts close to the enemy trenches, hand over and relieve trenches, the danger posed by snipers and how to build comfortable and bomb proof dug-outs. The Battalion during this period were attached to the 2nd Battalion Durham Light Infantry to “learn the ropes.” When not in the trenches they were billeted in Bailleul.
On the 12th April the brigade took over a sector of the front south of Ypres on the north-east side of Ploegsteert village with the 5th and 7th Battalions of the Royal Warwickshire in trenches at Douve and Steenbecque, whilst the 6th and 8th battalions remained in readiness as brigade and divisional reserves. Four days later the battalions rotated their duties and set into motion the pattern of life at the front for the next few months, four days in the line and four days out either as a reserve or in a rest camp cleaning and training.
The trenches the 1/7th Battalion occupied were below the road in No Man’s Land from the ruins of Messines (in German hands) to the ruins of Wulverghem (in British hands), near to the Steenbeek, a tributary of the Douve River, the Steenbeck running from North to South along the Western edge of Messines Ridge with the German front line trenches at the bottom of the Ridge. From the British trenches the remains of brick houses in Messines were visible. The British artillery was behind Wulverghem.
The Battalion’s first fatal casualty was Private Jesse Duckett killed in action on the 29th April 1915. See the Second Appendix.
On the 13th May 1915 the South Midland Division became the 48th (South Midland) Division with the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th Battalions of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment forming the 143rd (Warwickshire) Infantry Brigade.
On the 2nd June 1915 a quiet day in the trenches was recorded in the Battalion Diary, the enemy not aggressive save for one burst of shelling. The Battalion remained in the trenches until the 5th June and was relieved by the 1/8th Royal Warwicks going to billets in the Petit Pont area, where they formed working parties and then on the 7th June the Battalion was split with some companies going to Ash House and others to bivouacs in Ploegsteert Wood forming working parties which continued until the 9th June when they relieved the 1/8th in the Steenbeck Trenches at Wulverghem. On the 10th June the Battalion was visited by the CO and battalion staff of the 1/5th Gloucester Regiment from the 145th Infantry Brigade prior to that battalion taking over the trenches from the Warwickshire Regiment, the enemy being described as aggressive and shelling in the vicinity of the trenches and local routes freely.
On the 11th June 1915 the 143rd Brigade was relieved by the 145th Brigade and went into Divisional Reserve for a “quiet and restful” period but carrying out drill, rifle practice and route marching. By that date the Battalion had lost another 13 men killed in action or dying from wounds, “harassing shell fire and snipers consistently whittled down the fighting strength of the Brigade.”
On the 15th June the Brigade returned to the front line trenches occupying trenches on the 48th Division’s right sector.
On the 16th June all four companies of the Battalion were in the Ploegsteert front line and supporting trenches, cleaning the trenches and making the troops acquainted thoroughly with routes etc.
This sector was South East of Wulverghem, the British front line being North and East of Ploegsteert Wood from approximately St. Yvon at the North East to Le Gheer to the South East. The enemy was reported quiet except for sniping. A company of the 7th Suffolk Regiment arrived in the trenches for instruction in trench warfare: additionally the Battalion commenced construction of new HQs huts.
On the 17th June work continued on the trenches, HQ huts and phone system. “A very hot day. Flies rapidly becoming a nuisance in spite of utmost vigilance in sanitary matters.”
18th June 1915. The Battalion Diary records “Cooler today, an East wind blowing. Enemy quiet save for sniping and rifle grenades. Casualties one. Lance Corporal Hughes killed. Buried in Ploogsteert Wood. Trenches visited by Brigadier General and Staff. 2 officers and 7 NCOs and men left on leave.”
At the end of June 1915 the Brigade left the Ploegsteert sector and marched over four days south to Lozinghem, a village about 10 miles West of Bethune.
In July 1915 the 48th Division joined the Third Army with the 143rd Brigade going south to relieve the French 2nd Brigade in trenches north and east of Hebuterne in the Somme sector.
The last fatal casualties in this sector were sustained on the 25th June 1915.
First Group to leave on the Train from Rugby
Mrs. Anderson. Casualty: see Entry for Mrs. Elson
Mother of both Alfred and John Elson, John served with the Northumberland Fusiliers and was wounded by a bullet in the arm on the 3rd April 1915, his second wound in the war but he survived.
Mrs. Burton. Casualty 718039 Private A J Burton 1/23rd (County of London Battalion) The London Regiment. Killed in Action 5th April 1918. Buried in Martinsart British Cemetery, Mesnil- Martinsart, Somme. Records 377 U.K.,8 N.Z., 1 Aust., 96 Unknown burials and 6 special memorials. Born Belton Worc., Son of Mr and Mrs C Burton South View Cottage, Bilton, Rugby. Enlisted Warwick, residence Old Bilton.
Mrs. Elson. Casualty 16413 Private Alfred William Elson 1st Battalion Hampshire Regiment Died of Wounds 6th April 1918 aged 28 years. Buried in Etaples Military Cemetery, Pas de Calais. Records 8,767 U.K., 1,122 Can.,461 Aust., 261 N.Z., 67 S.A., 28 B.W.I., 18 Newfld., 5 Ind., 1 U.S.A. 2 Belg., 47 Port., 1 Chin.,655 German burials and 11 special memorials
Mrs. Hunt. Casualty Uncertain
Mrs. Lindley. Casualty 20368 Private Joseph Lindley 15th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment. Died of Wounds 5th October 1917 aged 42 years. Buried in Outtersteene Communal Cemetery Extension, Bailleul, Nord. Records 894 U.K., 65 Aust., 4 Can., 2 N.Z., 2 S/A.,1 Ind., and 19 German burials.
Son of Henry and Sarah Lindley of Hampstead, London. Husband of Elizabeth Lindley 9 Pennington Street, Rugby.
Mrs. Saward. Casualty Uncertain
Mrs. Simpson. Casualty Uncertain
Mrs. Wakelin. Casualty 3290 Lance Corporal Charles Wakelin 1st Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment. Killed in Action 26th July 1917. Buried in Crump Trench British Cemetery, Fampoux, Pas de Calais. Records 182 U.K. burials.
Born New Bilton, Rugby. Son of Mrs. Sarah Wakelin, 23 Warwick Street, Rugby. Enlisted Rugby.
Second Group to leave on the Train from Rugby
Mrs. Bartlett. Casualty 294947 Petty Officer Stoker John Maxted Royal Navy died 17th June 1916 aged 37 years on H.M.T.D. “Eden”. Buried in Ste. Marie Cemetery, Le Havre. Cemetery on ridge overlooking the town, records 1,293 U.K., 131 Aust., 99 Can., 44 S.A., 7 N.Z., 28 B.W.I., 1 Egypt., 17 Ind.,
65 Chin., 3 allies & 243 German & Austrian burials. Son of George William Henry and Caroline Jane Maxted of Deal, Kent
Mr and Mrs Collins. Casualty Uncertain
Mr and Mrs Hughes. Casualty 2006 Lance Corporal John William George Hughes 1/7th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment killed in action 18th June 1915 aged 24 years. Buried in Rifle House Cemetery, Warneton.
Son of George and Betsy Maria Hughes of 13 Paradise Street, Rugby.
Mrs. Inwood. Casualty 29753 Private Cecil Stanley Inwood14th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment. Died of wounds 27th May 1917 aged 20 years. Buried in Duisans British Cemetery, Etrun, Pas de Calais. Records 2,872 U.K., 306 Can.12 Newfld., 7 Aust., 7 N.Z., 5 S.A.,2 Ind., 1 Chin., 81 German burials & 2 memorials. Son of Thomas James & H M Inwood of 12 Lodge Road, Rugby.
Mrs. Lewis. Casualty 368091 Private Lewis Lewis 7th (City of London) Battalion, London Regiment killed in action 8th August 1918 aged 18 years. Buried Heath Cemetery, Harbonnieres, Somme. Records 958 Aust., 839 U.K.,9 Can., 6 N.Z., 2 S.A.burials and 47 special memorials.
Mrs. Moore. Casualty Uncertain
Mrs. Purton. Casualty 10442 Lance Corporal George Harry Purton 2nd Battalion Oxford & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. Died of wounds 6th August 1916. Buried in Corbie Communal Cemetery Extension, Somme. Records 246 U.K., 4 Ind. and 15 German burials.Son of Mrs. and late Harry Purton of Boxmoor Hertfordshire.
First and subsequent Casualties in the 1/7th Royal Warwickshire Regiment serving in the Ploegsteert sector
2275 Private Jesse Duckett. Killed in Action 29th April 1915. Buried in La Plus Douve Farm Cemetery, Ploegsteert, West Flanders. Born St. Nicholas Nuneaton and enlisted Nuneaton.
1424 Sergeant George Stock. Killed in action 7th May 1915. Buried in La Plus Douve Farm Cemetery, Ploegsteert. Enlisted Warwick.
2406 Private John Adams. Killed in action 9th May 1915. Buried in La Plus Douve Farm Cemetery, Ploegsteert. Born Smethwick, Staffs. enlisted Coventry.
1943 Private Ernest Corbett. Killed in action 9th May 1915. Buried in La Plus Douve Farm Cemetery, Ploegsteert. Born Brentwood, Lichfield, Staffs. Enlisted Nuneaton, Warwicks. Residence Attleborough, Nuneaton.
751 Corporal Thomas Frederick Johnson. Killed in action 9th May 1915. Buried in La Plus Douve Farm Cemetery, Ploegsteert. Born Atherstone, Warwicks. Enlisted Rugby, Warwicks.
2587 Private John Brislen. Killed in action 10th May 1915. Buried in La Plus Douve Farm Cemetery, Ploegsteert. Born St. John’s Coventry. Enlisted Coventry.
1168 Sergeant Edward Brookes. Killed in action 11th May 1915. Buried in La Plus Douve Farm Cemetery, Ploegsteert. Born Willenhall,Staffs. Enlisted Coventry.
2039 Corporal John James Carroll. Died of Wounds 11th May 1915. Buried in Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension, Nord. Records 3,411 U.K., 296 Aust., 290 Can., 252 N.Z., 4 Ind., 3 B.W.I., 1 S.A., 1 Newfld., 1 Guernsey, 31 Chin., 1 Russ., 3 French, 111 German burials and 11 special memorials. Born Holy Trinity, Coventry. Enlisted Coventry.
2632 Private Walter Reuben Hobbs. Died of Wounds 15th May 1915. Buried Boulogne Eastern Cemetery, Pas de Calais. Records 4,696 U.K., 438 Can., 307 Aust., 74 N.Z., 38 B.W.I., 15 S.A., 4 Newfld., 2 Bermuda and 4 Egypt burials.
1343 Private William Harry Sidwell. Killed in Action 18th May 1915. Buried in La Plus Douve Farm Cemetery, Ploegsteert. Born St.Paul’s Warwick. Enlisted Warwick.
1932 Private Lewis Henry Hill. Killed in Action 28th May 1915. Buried in La Plus Douve Farm Cemetery, Ploegsteert. Born Newbold-on-Avon,Warwicks. Enlisted Rugby.
1402 Corporal Reginald Clowes. Died of Wounds 2nd June 1915. Buried in Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension, Nord. Born Christ Church, Crewe, Cheshire. Enlisted Rugby.
1868 Private William Tims. Killed in action 7th June 1915. Buried in La Plus Douve Farm Cemetery, Ploegsteert. Born Foleshill, Coventry. Enlisted Coventry. Residence Foleshill.
2199 Corporal William Harrison. Died of Wounds 10th June 1915. Buried in Le Treport Military Cemetery, Seine-Inf. Records 429 U.K., 15 Can., 1 Aust., burials and 4 special memorials.
2006 Lance Corporal John William George Hughes. Killed in Action 18th June 1915. Buried in Rifle House Cemetery, Warneton. Records 229 U.K., and 1Can. burials.
3237 Private Henry John Marchant. Killed in Action 19th June 1915. Buried in Rifle House Cemetery, Warneton. Enlisted Stratford-on-Avon, Warwicks. Residence Stratford-on-Avon.
2567 Private Willliam Simmons. Killed in Action 23rd June 1915. Buried in Rifle House Cemetery, Warneton. Born and enlisted Coventry.
3175 Private Leslie Hutchings. Killed in Action 25th June 1915. Buried in Rifle House Cemetery, Warneton. Enlisted Coventry.
3269 Private Albert Piggott. Killed in Action 25th June 1915. Buried in Rifle House Cemetery, Warneton. Enlisted Coventry.
La Plus Douve Farm Cemetery
The Cemetery is down a track which crosses the Douve River about 2 kilometres West of Mesen (Messines) off the N314. From this track it is clear how the Messines Ridge dominated the area. After crossing the bridge across the River the first Cemetery on the right is Ration Farm (La Plus Douve) Annexe, used from January 1915 to January 1918. Records 185 U.K., 12 Aust., 4 N.Z., 1 unknown and 1 German burial. Ration Farm Cemetery was started by the 2nd Battalion Manchester Regiment with the burial of 8862 Private Harold Bates killed in action on the 11th January 1915. The Cemetery was so named as battalion transport could approach at night with rations for the troops in the trenches.
La Plus Douve Farm Cemetery is past the Farm, itself rebuilt after the War, and on the right of the track from the main road. The Cemetery was started by units of the 48th (South Midland) Division in April 1915. The first burial was of 2021 Private Wilfred John Rainsford 1/8th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment killed in action on the 19th April 1915. The Farm was on a narrow gauge railway from Ypres and generally within British lines and was for a time used as Battalion Headquarters. Records 101 U.K., 88 Can., 86 Aust., 61 N.Z., and 9 German burials. The Canadian graves are from the Canadian 1st Division who held this sector after the fighting near St. Julien during the Second Battle of Ypres in April 1915.
Rifle House Cemetery
Rifle House Cemetery is one of three cemeteries actually located within Ploegsteert Wood itself, the others being Toronto Avenue Cemetery and Ploegsteert Wood Military Cemetery.
Travelling North from Ploegsteert Village on the N365 towards Ypres, after about 2 kilometres there is a minor road running along the Northern edge of Ploegsteert Wood. There are two Cemeteries outside the Wood, first on the road is Prowse Point Military Cemetery followed by Mud Corner British Cemetery which is down a track from the road and continuing on the track past the cemetery leads you into the Wood and the main ride through the wood known as Hunters Avenue. Toronto Avenue is the first cemetery at the head of Hunters Avenue, next is Ploegsteert Wood Military Cemetery and finally is Rifle House Cemetery in the middle of the wood itself. The Cemetery was started by the 1st Battalion of the Rifle Brigade, 4th Division, in November 1914. Records 229 U.K. and 1 Canadian burials. It takes its name from the log hut Headquarters which used to exist close by the cemetery.
On the 19th December 1914 the 1st Battalion the Rifle Brigade carried out an attack on German House, a strongly fortified building within the German trench system to the East of the Wood. The Battalion sustained casualties, 3 officers killed and 3 wounded, 23 other ranks killed and 42 wounded. Of the officers killed, Captain the Honourable Francis Reginald Denis Prittie, the 2nd in command of the Battalion, Captain the Honourable Richard George Grenville Morgan-Grenville a Company Commander and 2nd Lieutenant Archibald Steuart Lindsey Daniell are buried in this Cemetery as are Rifleman Robert Barnett, aged 15 years, one of the youngest casualties of the war and Rifleman Ernest Herman Cohn, aged 19 years, both of whose headstones bear the Star of David.
Immediately after the war ended in November 1918, work on the permanent cemeteries began and in the following years pilgrimages, individual and collective, also commenced. Organisers included the British Legion, founded in 1921, working with the Imperial War Graves Commission and travel agents such as Thomas Cook arranging cheap trips to the battlefields and the Salvation Army. The first guide books were produced including “The Immortal Salient. An Historical Record and Complete Guide for Pilgrims to Ypres” by Lieut.-Gen Sir William Pulteney and Beatrix Brice which includes a visit to Rifle House Cemetery in Route IX from Ypres to Armentieres.