The Somme – Guillemont Road Cemetery

The rather grand entrance to Guillemont Road Cemetery on the Somme.

This is the final Somme post for the moment, as we have now, I think, exhausted all the photos I have taken on the Somme over the past four years, so until I next visit, this is it, folks.  It’s Flanders from now on, but then again, I am more at home in Flanders than on the Somme, and I know my way around those wet and muddy fields much, much, better, too.

Before we go in, despite the French information board not being in the best of condition,…

…there is an English one that can be read perfectly well if you enlarge the photo.

The cemetery is a mile east of Bernafay Wood Cemetery and three quarters of a mile due south of Delville Wood Cemetery,…

…which is directly behind the large green-roofed building in the centre background of this picture, with Delville Wood beyond, the church at Longueval to the left of the wood.  These headstones along the northern boundary are all Special Memorials to men buried in the cemetery whose graves have subsequently been lost.

Looking almost due south, back towards the cemetery entrance, from in front of the special memorials.  Returning half way towards the entrance and turning to our right,…

…my original intention had been to head straight for the Cross, on the western boundary of the cemetery,…

…Trones Wood beyond,…

…but the smart move – the headstone inscriptions will be facing us – is to begin from the eastern end of the cemetery and work our way west towards the Cross, so without further ado,…

…we find ourselves at the Stone of Remembrance,…

…this time with the spire of Guillemont church on the horizon to the east.  Time for the cemetery plan, thanks to our friends at the CWGC.

Before we head west, however,…

…if we turn to our left, now looking south, and compare this view with the slightly grubby trench map (below) dated 5th September 1916, two days after the village fell, with the cemetery marked in orange (as it is on the following maps), you can see that a trench once crossed the cemetery between the camera and the main group in the above photo.

And here we are standing on the site of that very trench looking east, the view the attacking British would have had as they advanced towards Guillemont.

Back in the centre of the cemetery looking west down its whole length; in front of us, on the left, nearest the camera, Plot XI, and on the right Plot XII,…

…and panning to our right, Plot XII Row N in the foreground, and Plot XIII on the right.

Plot XII Row N once again, from a decidedly different angle, with Plot XIII again beyond, Delville Wood on the horizon to the left. The white grain tower is actually on the site of the old Guillemont station; I noticed, while checking on Google maps, that the small copse on the right of the tower did not even exist when Google last sent their camera cars round here.

Looking south west from the cemetery’s north east corner towards Trones Wood in the background, Plot XV now nearest the camera.

Unknown Company Serjeant Major of the Royal Welch Fusiliers.

Unknown Royal Sussex Regiment Captain at the start of Plot XV Row L,…

…and continuing along the row, more unidentified burials,…

…as are these in the next row, Row N.  1,523 of the 2,263 burials here are, close to 70%, according to the CWGC, are unidentified.

At the base of this headstone in Plot XV Row D,…

…I noticed this laminated sheet remembering Private James Friend, an up-and-coming rugby player for Bristol, one of seventy five men who died during the capture of Guillemont village on 3rd September who are buried in this cemetery.

According to the Concentration of Graves Burial Return Form, the map reference given for where his body was recovered after the war,…

…is within the green square, showing that he actually died some way south of the village, perhaps a victim of German machine guns that are marked not so far away in the German front line.  The lower half of these stitched maps actually covers the precise area where the British and French lines met, and as such was the scene of much cooperation between the two.  On 1st July, as the Allied offensive began, the British 30th Division and the French 39th Division attacked together, and on 8th July, when the British attacked Trones Wood (just visible on the far left of the upper map), and Maltz Horn Farm (centre left), the French attacked Hardecourt (bottom), both British & French once again going over the top at the same time.

Plot XIII Row N, the identified burials in the front row casualties from mid-September 1916.

On 14th July 1916, two weeks into the Battle of the Somme, the British finally captured Trones Wood, centre far left on the above map (and if you remember my recent comments on the use of old maps like these in books, well, this map is quite a good one, and a website is not a book).  One thousand yards to the east, across open farmland, the heavily fortified village of Guillemont would be their next objective.  Until Guillemont was taken the British and French could not advance in unison, and only the fall of Guillemont could pave the way for the attack on Ginchy, crucial if the forthcoming attacks further north on Flers and Courcelette were to go ahead on schedule.

An attack by the Royal Scots Fusiliers on 30th July had succeeded not only in reaching Guillemont village but briefly capturing parts of it, before being overwhelmed by superior German forces, and on 8th August men of the 55th (West Lancashire) Division once more reached the village but again were forced back with heavy losses.

Plot XII.  Two identified men can be seen in Row F, nearest the camera, none in Row E behind, and so on down the rows.

Map dated 3rd September 1916, the day the Germans finally withdrew from Delville Wood (centre of map), and the day the final attack on Guillemont began.  The objective was actually Leuze Wood, another 1,500 yards east of Guillemont, the capture of which would give the British control of the ridge overlooking Combles (see previous map).  The capture of Waterlot Farm to the north west of Guillemont, and Arrow Head Copse, once on the other side of the road across from where the cemetery is now sited, allowed an attack on the village to be made from the north, west and south west.  Trenches had been dug close to the German front lines, and empty German trenches in No Man’s Land turned, presumably including the one that we know once crossed the cemetery, vastly reducing the distance the attacking troops would need to cross.

Although German resistance to the south proved problematic – of the 2,400 men of the Connaught Rangers, Leinsters & Royal Munster Fusiliers of 16th (Irish) Division involved in the attack, almost half would become casualties, alongside over 100 French infantrymen attacking alongside them – to the north the German defenses were overwhelmed, and despite the maze of trenches and strongpoints built into the nearly totally destroyed Guillemont village, the attacking troops succeeded in capturing it and pushing on to the Ginchy road to the east of the village, although at heavy cost.

Elsewhere, the attacks on Ginchy itself were met with fierce German resistance and little further progress could be made, but over the next three days the southern objective of Leuze Wood was reached, after which the focus turned once more towards Ginchy, and thus outside the scope of this post.

Map dated 8th September, showing Cornish Alley, marked but unnamed on some of the previous maps, but now a British communication trench, snaking across the field towards the front lines, the German trench that once crossed the cemetery now appropriated by the British.

Plot I is somewhat confusing for the casual visitor.  For some reason it begins with Rows Y (foreground) and Z (behind), which I suspect are all post-war burials,…

…followed by Row A, and what appear to be original, war-time burials, Row B behind and so on.  The CWGC tell us that there were only 121 burials here at the war’s end, and the cemetery plan shows these to be, undoubtedly, here in Plot I.   The majority of the rest of the graves in the other Plots are men killed between 12th July and late September 1916 whose bodies were recovered from the surrounding battlefields after the war to be reinterred here.  The most famous burial in the cemetery can be found in Plot I, but I was unaware, or had forgotten, at the time of my visit, that Raymond Asquith, son of the Prime Minister of the time, Herbert Asquith, is buried here, and although buried in Row B, his grave is unfortunately out of shot to the left in this picture.

I was certainly unaware, when I photographed the grave of Second Lieutenant William Alexander Stanhope Forbes, Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, in Plot I Row A, that I had come across him before.  Son of the artist Stanhope Alexander Forbes, founding member of the late 19th Century and highly influential Newlyn school of painters, he was killed leading his platoon in a charge at Guillemont on 3rd September, the day the village fell, aged 23.  His father composed the inscription on his headstone, ‘He saw beyond the filth of battle, and thought death a fair price to pay to belong to the company of these fellows’.  His father also subsequently sculpted a memorial to his son which can be found in the local parish church at Sancreed in Cornwall, which is where, on checking, I discovered I had met him previously.  Not only is the memorial worth taking a look at, but next to it is William Stanhope’s original wooden cross that once stood over his grave here at Guillemont; click here to take a peek.

Looking north west across the final three rows of Plot I,…

…and the same rows of headstones as in the previous shot, this time from the cemetery’s south west corner, looking north.  The final row of Plot I, nearest the camera, is Row L; notwithstanding discovering Rows Y & Z earlier, rows M to X do not exist.

Panning to our right,…

…now looking due east towards the cemetery entrance.

Casualties from 3rd September in the final row of Plot II.

Cross of Sacrifice, Delville Wood behind.

Cross of Sacrifice, Trones Wood behind.

Looking south towards the Cross, the headstones of Plot VII nearest the camera.

A single unknown German soldier in Plot V Row M,…

…and one of only nine Royal Engineers buried here, Sapper Armour was killed in action on 26th August 1916 and is buried in Plot V Row O.

At the base of this headstone of an unknown Royal Scots Fusilier,…

…another poignant message recounting the Royal Scots attempt to capture the village on 30th July,…

…and maybe, by some chance of fate, this is the actual grave of Lance Corporal Kendall.  We shall never know.

Panoramic view from the cemetery’s north western corner,…

…before it’s time return to the cemetery entrance,…

…and the safe hands of Driver Dave.

So that’s that.  As a reminder of what this patch of the Somme looked like nearly one hundred and three years ago,…

…the inset here shows a British padre conducting a burial service somewhere in these very fields after Guillemont village had fallen, September 1916.

The Montauban-Longueval-Guillemont triangle, with three sites that we have previously visited marked – the Liverpool & Manchester Pals Memorial in Montauban in red, Bernafay Wood British Cemetery in dark blue, and Delville Wood Cemetery in green, along with Guillemont Road Cemetery in its usual orangey colour.  The light blue circle marks the location of Guillemont station, mentioned earlier, and the top inset photograph shows a goods train caught in a siding during the first bombardments, and destined to provide a photo opportunity for passing cameras for a good few months – there are a number of different photos of these wagons in various stages of disrepair before they were eventually obliterated; the lower inset shows a bunker in Trones Wood, with the railway from Guillemont that cuts through the centre of the wood (see map) in the foreground of the picture.

Me, I’m off for some r ‘n’ r for ten days.  Catch you all later.

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4 Responses to The Somme – Guillemont Road Cemetery

  1. Val says:

    Thanks for doing an amazing job and giving these men the respect they deserve and giving a chance for people who are not able to travel an opportunity to be able see everything through your eyes .

  2. Nick Kilner says:

    Another wonderful post, and a fine way to wind up the Somme series (for now at least). Very nice research on Pte James Friend. Always really interesting to get a little more history on individual soldiers like that.
    I have to say I develop a bit of a twitch whenever I see special memorials now, something for which I blame you entirely! Lol. I also can’t help wondering if some of those 200 Royal Scots Fusiliers are buried in a mass grave somewhere on the edge of the village.
    Have a great holiday my friend

    • Magicfingers says:

      Checking in from sunny Cornwall! Cheers Nick. Yes, I enjoyed checking out James Friend – I reckon those machine guns got him.
      The special memorial twitch is a recently diagnosed problem which has the potential to become epidemic in the months to come – it’ll be in the Lancet before long, you wait.

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