High Wood – London Cemetery & Extension

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First view of High Wood, our objective the large cemetery you can just see through the windscreen reflection on the far right.  This was the first time I had set eyes on the wood and, knowing what happened here, it was spine-chilling just to see the place…

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…let alone find myself walking alongside it…

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…and peering into it.

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In the distance on the left you can see a brick building with, from this angle, a tall dark hedge in front of it…

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…and here it is again, just inside the cemetery entrance.

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London Cemetery was begun between 18th & 21st September 1916 when forty seven men of 47th (London) Division, the division that had captured the wood a few days earlier on 15th September, were buried together here in a large shell hole, and immediately on entering the cemetery, these headstones and a stone block (below) mark the approximate spot.

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The block remembers seventy eight men buried somewhere in this part of the cemetery, although exactly where is unknown.

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Note that the inscription refers to commemorative headstones in Rows B, C & D only.  Row A, part of which is visible directly behind the stone, is the only row in this plot where actual burials are known to have been made.

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This is the remainder of Row A, and you will notice that a number of these headstones have two names inscribed on them, and also that every inscription bears the same date; 15th September 1916, the final day of the fight for High Wood.  You’ll have to take my word for it, but one of the two names inscribed on the headstone four from the far end of the row is that of Captain David Henderson of the Middlesex Regiment, son of the leader, at the time, of the Labour Party, the Rt. Hon. Arthur Henderson.

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Although more burials were added later in the war, mainly men found nearby who had been killed on 15th September, at the time of the Armistice only 101 men had been buried here.

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Looking down the length of what is in effect the cemetery extension, from in front of the Stone of Remembrance,…

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…and panning to left…

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…and right from the same spot.  As you can see, this is now a big cemetery; if you wish to peruse the cemetery plan, then click here.

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In fact it is one of the larger cemeteries on the Somme, nearly 3,900 casualties of the First World War now lying here,…

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…more than 3,100 of whom are unidentified.  Note the radio mast at Pozières on the horizon to the far right, a useful landmark wherever you find yourself on the Somme battlefields.

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It’s worth bearing in mind, as we make our way south west towards the Cross of Sacrifice,…

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…that the views beyond the cemetery are very much the same views that the German defenders of the wood would have had in the summer of 1916.

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The village of Bazentin is just visible with Bazentin le Petit Wood, the largest wood on the horizon, beyond.  In front of the village, the mound on which Bazentin windmill once stood, and where terrible fighting took place on 14th July 1916 as the British found themselves within sight of High Wood on the first day of the Battle of Bazentin Ridge, can just be seen.

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Cross of Sacrifice.

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The graves immediately beyond the Cross are all Second World War burials.  In 1946 the cemetery was once again opened for the reburial of casualties initially interred in temporary burial grounds including military and communal cemeteries, churchyards and individual graves.  165 World War II burials can now be found in, unluckily for them, Plot 13 .

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Looking north east from among the World War II graves,…

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…this is the view the attacking British would have had as they advanced towards the wood.

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As we begin our journey back towards the cemetery entrance this view looks down the length of the cemetery from in front of the Cross of Sacrifice…

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…and again panning left…

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…and right from the same position.

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Sadly, there are rows and rows of unidentified men, such as those above and below, in this cemetery.

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Smile please lads!  Now you see ’em…

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…and now you don’t.

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On leaving the cemetery I would love to have been able to show you inside the wood, but that’s off limits, I’m afraid,…

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…so a few more shots taken from the road will have to suffice.

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Before we move on (but not very far),…

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…during both my visits to High Wood I passed this cemetery up on the ridge (above & below),…

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…on both occasions having absolutely no idea of its identity.  I know now.  This is Caterpillar Valley Cemetery just outside Longueval, and it is one of the largest cemeteries on the Somme.  Only begun in August 1918, there were just 25 graves were here at the war’s end.  Now 5569 men are buried or commemorated here, of which only 1773 are identified, the majority men killed during the Battle of the Somme, or during the fighting in August and September 1918.

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You can just see a structure on the far side of the cemetery in the picture above; this is the Caterpillar Valley (New Zealand) Memorial, and more than 1200 names of men who were killed during the Battle of the Somme and who have no known grave are inscribed on it.  In 2004 it was from this cemetery that the remains of an unknown soldier were taken home to New Zealand and laid to rest at the National War Memorial in Wellington.

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Next post we shall look into the tragedy of High Wood in a little more detail.

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