A beautiful spring afternoon in Dantzig Alley British Cemetery.
I visited briefly in 2015,…
…late on this glorious April day,…
…a very long and tiring, glorious April day,…
…but with an evening in Amiens beckoning, and as these are not full tours of the Somme cemeteries (unlike our visits to those in Flanders), I was happy enough to have the opportunity to spend even a few minutes here.
Time only for a few token shots from this upper section of the cemetery (and a wonderful view beyond of the land the Germans were defending on 1st July 1916 at the start of the Battle of the Somme),…
…and a few moments reflection at this little plaque, inlaid in the cemetery wall near the entrance, to the memory of the Royal Welch Fusiliers killed on the Somme between 1916 and 1918, before we had to head for wives and hotel. Little did I know at the time that a return visit to Dantzig Alley would reward me with what I suspect will be the most emotive find I am ever likely to unearth on the battlefields.
A little over a year later, and here we are again,…
…this time on my first ever organised tour (with the Friends of Surrey Infantry Museum), one of our party wanting to visit the grave of a Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment) officer, Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Beaumont Burnaby D.S.O. And thank goodness he did, as you’ll find out later.
Plenty of time, on this occasion, to step down from the raised part of the southern end of the cemetery alongside the road,…
…and wander further afield. Ninety four identified men of the Queen’s, all of whom were killed on 1st July, are buried in this cemetery; it seems highly likely that the six unknown privates whose graves are pictured above lost their lives that day too. The South Staffordshire men in the row behind, attacking a little to the left of where the Queen’s, who were in support, would advance, also died that same morning.
Dantzig Alley was the name of a long German trench attacked, to the east of Mametz, by the 2nd Bn. The Queen’s, among others, on the morning of 1st July 1916, and is clearly marked on the 1916 trench map (above), as is Mametz village itself. If you take a quick look at Google Maps (or your map provider of choice), you’ll see that the trench follows exactly the line of the modern road, having been dug alongside it at the edge of the rapeseed field you can see in the previous two photographs. Dantzig Alley British Cemetery (marked in green on the map), or at least the raised section of it, is a battlefield burial ground (note the less structured appearance of the rows of headstones in the background of the previous photo), begun in the early days of July, and used until November, after which, for the moment, the tide of war turned east, and the cemetery ceased to be used. Eleven more identified graves were added during the battles of autumn 1918, but by the end of the war the cemetery still contained only 183 graves, all now in Plot I (the raised section).
North westerly view looking towards the Cross of Sacrifice from the centre of the cemetery. After the Armistice the cemetery was greatly enlarged as men, the majority killed in July 1916 and buried at the time on the battlefields around Mametz and in a number of smaller nearby cemeteries that were subsequently erased, were reinterred here. More than 2000 men now lie here, a quarter of whom are unidentified; 714 of the identified burials are men killed on 1st July. Before we go further, here’s the cemetery plan, courtesy, as always, of those nice people at the CWGC.
A row of officers, all from, or attached to, the 2oth Bn. Manchester Regiment, all killed in action to the west of Mametz on 1st July, and all originally buried elsewhere before being reburied here (see graves registration report form below) in Plot VI. The row includes their commanding officer, thirty five year old Lieutenant Colonel Harold Lewis (twice Mentioned in Despatches) at one end, and let’s not forget the unknown soldier at the other.
Looking north east; Fritz Trench which, along with Bright Alley and Bunny Alley (see trench map), comprised the Queen’s’ second objective for the day, after Mametz village and Dantzig Alley had been taken, ran diagonally across the fields not far beyond the cemetery. Despite heavy losses, by mid-evening of 1st July all of 7th Division’s objectives, including the capture of Mametz, had been achieved.
In every cemetery you’ll find a Boyd. Not exactly true, but the Boyd clan stretches far and wide, and it sometimes seems like it. These three men were victims of the fighting in late August and early September 1916.
Along the northern boundary, a second memorial, this time a stone seat, to the Royal Welch Fusiliers.
To the left of the seat…
…a Duhallow* Block remembers seventy British soldiers buried elsewhere in 1916, whose graves were subsequently lost.
*a reference to Duhallow A.D.S. Cemetery just a little to the north of Ieper (Ypres), where these blocks were first introduced, and where I shall show you around before long, I promise.
On either side of the block, memorial headstones remember every man by name…
…although, as 224 men in total were removed from the two cemeteries mentioned on the block,…
…a good number of the unidentified men buried here at Dantzig Alley must have originally been buried in both Vernon Street and Bottom Wood Cemeteries and then also moved here. By the way, the wood in the left background above is Fricourt Wood, Mametz Wood is beyond the tree in the previous photograph, and the much smaller Bottom Wood can be seen beyond the Duhallow Block two photos previously.
Duncan peers over the boundary wall. I’d mentioned to him earlier that it was worth doing on occasions. You never know what you might find.
Standing in the northern corner of the cemetery, more special memorial headstones beneath the boundary wall to the right, I took a couple of shots…
…panning across from right to left. At which point I too decided to take a quick peek over the wall into the field and see if, by chance, anything of interest lay there. For a few minutes, at any rate, the photography stopped. You never know what you might find.
This is the grave of Private Cecil Carrick Wotton, killed in action on 23rd November 1916, five days after the official end to the Battle of the Somme.
This is Private Cecil Carrick Wotton in a photograph taken at Broadmeadows army camp in Victoria, Australia, prior to his embarkation for Europe. He was 21 when the photo was taken, and nearly 23 when he was killed.
And this is the little metal name tag that was once nailed to the wooden cross that stood at the end his grave after his body had been reinterred here. You never know what you might find.
So here are the facts. I looked over the boundary wall for maybe ten or twenty feet. The circumference of the cemetery is about 750 feet. I spotted a small piece of metal bent completely in two in the field about a foot away from the cemetery wall, picked it up, carefully straightened it, and as I read it for a second time, I was still convinced it must be something from a piece of farm machinery. Or at least that was what my mind was telling me, as, bearing in mind the content of this website and by extension the interests of its readership, I simply refused to believe what I had found!
Cecil Wotton, like the Manchesters we saw earlier, was originally buried elsewhere, in his case in a German cemetery at Montauban, and now lies buried here in Plot IX Row P3 (front row, third from camera).
Amazing. Read on.
Cecil, a gas fitter from Townsville, Queensland, was just twenty on the outbreak of the First World War. You might be interested to know, if you didn’t already, that the first shot of the war was fired on 5th August 1914 from a coastal defence gun at Port Phillip, in the state of Victoria, across the bows of the German ship SS Pfalz which was attempting to flee the harbour. The Pfalz returned to port, and its crew were interned. Cecil Wotton, meanwhile, was about to embark from Cairns in Queensland for the short trip to Thursday Island, at the very northern tip of the Australian continent, which is a curious thing for a gas fitter to do. It seems that he also belonged to the 2nd Infantry Kennedy Regiment, headquartered in Townsville, one of a number of regiments raised throughout the country following the adoption of the Volunteer Defence Act in the late 1880s, an equivalent, I guess, to the territorials in Britain, and as such, within days of the outbreak of war, on 8th August, he was off to perform garrison duty on Thursday Island. His movements over the next month or so are outlined in the document below:
Following his discharge on 18th September 1914, Cecil returned to Townsville, where, in December 1914, having just turned 21, he volunteered for Army service, his attestation papers showing he was posted to the 25th Battalion, 7th Infantry Brigade, with the service number of 276.
On 29th June 1915 Cecil embarked for overseas from Brisbane but, having been a naughty boy at some point (the above document contains a clue), was returned to Australia as ‘medically unfit’ in September 1915. One wonders whether this embarrassing incident saved him, for the moment, from something far worse at Gallipoli.
Fit once more, and with a new service number of 2505, on 14th March 1916 Cecil re-embarked, this time from Melbourne, as one of the 4th Reinforcements of the 29th Battalion, arriving in Egypt for further training on 15th April. The casualty forms (above & below) give details of his movements from then on.
He was killed, a long way from home, somewhere within a few miles of where he now lies, on 23rd November 1916, and buried in the German cemetery at Montauban. We shall never know how he died, whether by shellfire or by bullet; all his papers say is ‘Killed in Action. In the Field’.
You might be interested to know a little about the unit Cecil was with when he met his death. The 5th Australian Divisional Train, part of the Army Service Corps to which he was transferred to in early November 1916, was a transport and supply organisation whose function was to convey, using horse-drawn vehicles (the word ‘train’ being something of a misnomer), forage and rations from the point at which rail or motor transport could no longer be used, to the brigade refilling posts, from where they could be distributed to wherever required. The divisional train, which consisted of about 20 officers and 400 other ranks, was also responsible for the crucial task of transporting soldiers’ blankets and kit and the general baggage of the entire division when it was on the move, using something like 180 vehicles and some 400 horses to achieve the feat; there were no mules in a divisional train.
Confirmation that he was originally buried in a German cemetery at Montauban. And if you look back at the earlier photograph of the row in which he is buried, you will notice that, two graves away, and nearest the camera, is the grave of Private Robert James Tranent, killed on 24th November 1916, and originally also buried in the German cemetery at Montauban.
Burial return form, dated 17th June 1919, and confirming that Cecil had been moved to Dantzig Alley by then…
…and the graves registration report form, which states ‘All Crosses Erected’, giving us a pretty good idea of the approximate date of the metal name tag; it would seem reasonable to assume that it was in place some time prior to 25th January 1921, the date on this document.
Copy of the front page of Cecil’s attestation papers, this time with ‘Deceased’ stamped at the top left.
‘Where the Australians Rest’.
Oh, to see the photograph of the grave mentioned here. Interesting that he was entitled to the 1914/15 Star, presumably for the few days spent on Thursday Island; I am no medal expert, so if anyone feels like confirming this, I’d be grateful.
This letter from Cecil’s father Henry to the officer in charge of base records was sent in April 1918, some sixteen months after his son’s death.
A cursory investigation suggests that Henry’s other sons survived the war.
Safe and sound.
And finally, an old postcard showing Dantzig Alley British Cemetery in the early 1920s (borrowed from my friends at ww1cemeteries.com . I hope they don’t mind.).
Quite a story, don’t you think? And as Avril Williams, who owns and runs the famous (and fabulous) tea rooms at Ocean Villas (Auchonvillers), said to me the following day, “Well, I absolutely believe you were meant to find it”.
And who am I to argue?