The Somme – A Return to Pozières British Cemetery

Last year I paid a second, brief, visit to Pozières British Cemetery, where 2,760 British, Australian & Canadian Great War casualties are buried, surrounded by walls on which the names of a further 14,000 British & South Africans who have no known grave are inscribed.

If you remember from our last visit (which contains all the basic cemetery information and fifty or so accompanying photographs), we are just a little south of the village of Pozières here, on the Albert-Bapaume road,…

…the cemetery marked in orange on this map, right on the front lines as they were a couple of weeks into the Battle of the Somme on 17th July 1916, a date which fits in very nicely with the beginnings of this burial ground.

Plot II, the first nine rows on our right as we enter (Plot IV beyond), contains all the burials that were made here during the last two and a half years of the war (along with a few post-war reinterments).

The remaining three plots (Plot I nearest the camera in this shot, Plot III in the background) were all made post-war as the local battlefields were cleared and men originally buried in smaller cemeteries or individual graves were reburied here.  Here’s the cemetery plan for your perusal, and bear in mind, when you take a look, that at the end of the war…

…the cemetery looked like this before the post-war concentrations were brought in and the Portland Stone headstones erected,…

…after which this photograph shows the same wooden crosses as in the previous picture, now awaiting collection (and hopefully repatriation, if that’s the right word, rather than destruction).

The earliest burials in Plot II are nine men killed in July 1916, three of whom are men definitely brought here after the war as they have Concentration of Graves forms associated with them, and their dates of death bear this out; two died on 1st July and one on 12th July, so they could not possibly have been buried here at the time of their death.  Of the six other July 1916 casualties in the plot, one died on the 15th, two on the 18th, and then three Australians on the 25th, 26th & 27th, and as none have Concentration of Graves forms, I would suggest that the origins of the cemetery can be traced back to these men,…

…one of whom is pictured above.  Corporal Trevor David Lovell Anderson, 8th Bn. A.I.F,  was killed in action on 27th July 1916 aged 24, and is buried in Plot II Row F.  And after this there were no more burials made here until September 1916, when the British & Canadians began burying their dead next to the six graves (perhaps more – six whose identities were known) already here, the Canadians adding 42 identified men by year’s end, the British 55, and another 22 between January & April 1917.  The Australians would return in 1917, adding around ninety identified men in March & April, and a Company Sergeant Major of the Army Cyclist Corps was buried here in June 1917, and after that, apart from a single man from the Artist’s Rifles buried by the Germans (his Graves Registration Report Form confirms this) at the end of March 1918, the cemetery was only used again for the addition of twenty further British casualties in August 1918, and one in the first week of September, all the other burials in the cemetery being post-war reinterments.

It’s not surprising, therefore,…

…that almost exactly 50% of the burials here are unidentified, such as these men in Plot I Row F, including four unknown soldiers buried together beneath a single headstone in the centre.  On the left, Rifleman Reginald Lancelot Bush, Royal Irish Rifles, was killed in action on 8th July 1916 aged 22, and is one of 779 identified soldiers from the United Kingdom buried in the cemetery.

There are now 456 identified Australians buried here, alongside many whose names are unknown (Plot I Row H, above & below).

Plot III (above & below),…

…and an unknown Canadian artilleryman in Row F.

Plot III, Row M in the foreground.  On the far right is the grave of one of 151 identified Canadians buried here, and there are a couple of other Canadian burials further back, but this section of the cemetery is predominantly Australian.

Looking south west across the last rows of Plot IV in the northern corner of the cemetery.  Being a ten minute visit, there wasn’t time to explore in detail; indeed I had but one objective when we arrived, as you will see in a minute.

However these three Snowballs on one of the Durham Light Infantry panels (Panels 68-72) on the right of the previous shot, caught my eye, subsequent research revealing that John, aged 19, was killed on 25th March 1918, and that there are two Roberts, killed on 27th March 1918 & 21st March 1918 respectively.  Whether the three were related I do not know, but all were gone within a week of each other.

Westerly view across the headstones of Plot IV, Row D nearest camera, and the man I am looking for is somewhere in there.

Plot IV Row L 43, to be exact, where we find the grave of Sergeant Claud Charles Castleton V.C., 5th Company, Australian Machine Gun Corps.  I talked about Claud Castleton last Pozières post, but didn’t take a close-up of his grave (don’t ask).  Born in 1893 and raised in Suffolk, England, at the age of nineteen he set off on his intended ‘great adventure’ which would see him reach Australia in 1912, where he would work at various jobs before finding himself prospecting for gold in New Guinea in order to pay for his journey home to England.  News from Europe was grim, however, and on the outbreak of war he joined the Australian Force in New Guinea tasked with the defence of the area against German naval activity, before returning to Australia and enlisting in the A.I.F. in Sydney in March 1915.  Posted to 18th Bn, three months later he was aboard HMAT A40 Ceramic bound for Egypt, arriving on 24th July, and within the month the battalion embarked for Gallipoli, where they disembarked on 20th August and were initially placed in reserve.  On 21st August the assault on Hill 60 (the one on Gallipoli, not the one near Ypres) began, and 18th Bn. would receive their baptism of fire the following day, the troops going over the top with bombs and bayonets only, or in the case of 18th Bn., bayonets only, as they had yet to be issued with bombs!  A second major Australian assault on the hill on 27th August would also fail to dislodge the Turkish defenders, but by then 380 of the 750 men from 18th Bn. who had taken part in the attack were casualties, and half of them were dead.  Not so Claud Castleton, who survived the attack intact, but was subsequently evacuated from the Gallipoli suffering from dysentery.  He would return to the peninsula as a corporal in early December, but following the Allied evacuation in January 1916 he was once again hospitalised, this time with malaria.

In early March 1916 he was transferred to 5th Australian Machine Gun Company and promoted once more, embarking for France as a sergeant later in the month.  The Battle of the Somme would begin on 1st July, and the village of Pozières would fall on 23rd of the month, but the ridge to the north of the village was still controlled by the Germans who had the new British front line under constant observation and bombardment.  On the evening of 27th July the Australians readied themselves for action; unfortunately for them, the Germans on the ridge watched them doing so, and even before the attack began just after midnight had unleashed a devastating artillery bombardment on the Australian lines, machine guns spitting fire at the trench parapets all along the line.  The Australians were cut down as they clambered out of their trenches, or if they survived that, as they attempted to cross No Man’s Land.  Pinned down, unable to advance or withdraw, the Australians waited for the bombardment to ease, which it eventually did, just before dawn, allowing some troops to at last retreat, but leaving many wounded out in No Man’s Land.

In the evening Claud Castleton, once again a survivor, began his mission to save his comrades.  Crawling out into No Man’s Land, and still under intense machine gun fire, he retrieved the first wounded man, bringing him back to the Australian trenches before venturing out for a second time, and once again bringing in a wounded Australian.  His third venture would be his last; finding a third casualty, he was shot in the back whilst bringing the man back to the trenches and killed, and for these actions he would later be awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross.  Originally buried somewhere to the south of the Albert-Bapaume road, near to where he gave his life, his body was recovered after the war and reburied here.  His citation, published in the London Gazette on 26th September 1916, reads; “For most conspicuous bravery.  During an attack on the enemy’s trenches the infantry was temporarily driven back by the intense machine gun fire opened by the enemy.  Many wounded were left in “No Man’s Land” lying in shell holes. Serjeant Castleton went out twice in face of this intense fire and each time brought in a wounded man on his back.  He went out a third time and was bringing in another wounded man when he was himself hit in the back and killed instantly.  He set a splendid example of courage and self-sacrifice.”  And indeed he did.

The ninety nine panels that surround the cemetery contain the names of men who fought on the Somme battlefields between 21st March and 7th August 1918 who have no known grave.  These crosses and wreaths are at the base of Panels 83 & 84, names of men of the  Rifle Brigade inscribed thereupon.  And it is the Rifle Brigade, with 657 names, who have more names on these panels than any other, followed by the Durham Light Infantry, with 618.

Looking north west, Plot IV Row A in the foreground (above & below),…

…these the mass of headstones pictured in the second of the earlier black & white photos,…

…and then panning left, now looking north west, towards the Cross.

At which point I shall introduce this photograph of ten graves on the Somme that I stumbled upon whilst researching this post.  The digital reproduction of the original photograph that resides in the archives of the Melbourne Museum was more faded than this version that I doctored in an attempt to read the name on the cross nearest the camera.  I came up with W. G. Archer, and thought I’d check if I could find an Australian Archer buried in Pozières British Cemetery, and indeed there is one.  And he is tantalisingly close to W. G. Archer, his name being George William Archer.  G. W. Archer, instead of W. G. Archer.  Close, but not close enough,…

…and unfortunately confirmed by the Cemetery Index.  Ah well.

Except the GRRF gives him as Private W. G. Archer, which is exactly the name I am looking for,…

…and what’s more, further checking shows he was also W.G. on the original Burial Return Form.  When his initials were changed from W. G. to G. W. we don’t know, but as it turns out, I think I have found my man – I wonder if anyone who knows the photograph has checked before?  You might note that although there are ten crosses visible in the black & white photo (and perhaps more off-camera), only seven are listed on the above form as being recovered from that map reference when the battlefields were cleared.

Two more of the unknown British dead buried here…

…as we make our way back to Plot I, beyond which our coach awaits.  As a final thought, more than 75,000 men, not far off 20%, of the men who enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (Australia, like South Africa, never introduced conscription) throughout the Great War were, like Claud Castleton, born in the United Kingdom.

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12 Responses to The Somme – A Return to Pozières British Cemetery

  1. Daisy says:

    Great post Magicfingers, especially after such a short visit…

    Just to let you know, there was no W. G. Archer embarked from Australia for overseas service and the men listed as W. Archer, with various second initials, all returned to Australia.
    The Australian 13th Battalion was definitely in the trenches on 12/13 August 1916 and were attacking 300 yards south east of Mouquet Farm. This was their first battle… having ‘hopped over’ for their baptism of fire a couple of days before. I have a copy of the History of the 13th battalion but sadly it has no list of members and no roll of honour.
    Number 2780 is George William Archer, was initially thought missing on the 12th, then wounded and missing, and finally on the 13th, killed in action, and originally buried ‘in a small cemetery about 500 yards W.N.W. of Contalmaison and 3 and a half miles E.N.E. of Albert’. His final resting place being Plot 3, Row N., grave 7 in Pozieres British Cemetery. In his service records he is always referred to as George William or G. W….
    You would have to think whoever placed the cross made a mistake and the burial team didn’t check?
    I think you should tell CWGC and have them change the initials…

    Love your work…

    • Magicfingers says:

      Yeah, it really was a flying visit – one of our number wanted to visit a specific grave – but I knew what I was after, having been there before.
      Now, am a tad confused; you are saying that the original wooden cross with W.G. is wrong and he should be G.W., correct? Because if so, all is well, because I am sure his headstone says G.W., or it does according to the Headstone Inscription form. Or have I got that wrong?
      Love your sign-off…

      • Daisy says:

        Hey mate,
        If this is our man then W. G. Archer is definitely wrong! No such Australian soldier exists? It is G. W. Archer, George William… did you by chance photograph his headstone?

        • Magicfingers says:

          What do you reckon………, no.

          • Magicfingers says:

            In date order we have the following:
            Wooden Cross: W. G.
            Concentration Form: W. G.
            GRRF: W. G.
            Headstone Inscription Form: G. W.
            Cemetery Index: G. W.
            CWGC Database: G. W.
            A photo of his headstone is, very luckily, as there are only a few Pozieres burials there, on Find A Grave and it says G. W.
            So at some point before headstones were erected, the incorrect W. G. from his original wooden cross was changed to the correct G. W. And he has been so ever since. I thank you.

          • Daisy says:

            Hello Magicfingers,

            Yes, it’s definitely G. W. We both agree!

            Confirmed by War Graves Photographic Project although you cannot read the headstone on the photo on their website, have to ask the question by email….

            The headstone reads G W Archer.
            Kind regards
            Sandra Rogers
            The War Graves Photographic Project

            Keep up the good work…


  2. Morag Sutherland says:

    Fabulous post as always
    One of the Englishmen who fought with AIF on our war memorial in Brora in far north of Scotland.
    Born Yorkshire. Married in Edinburgh. Emigrated to Australia. Died near Ieper. Remembered on Menin Gate.and Clyne War Memorial. I sent you details on Sgt William Dalton last week by chance. ..have a good day

  3. Sid from Down Under says:

    yet another enthralling and amazingly researched post Sir

    Reference your closing paragraph I was surprised with your 20% … however I should not have bothered checking because you are correct

    The South West corner of Western Australia from whence I come ~ back in WW1 days was populated by more than 20 percent including my parents and grandparents (proudly one Celt) from where we called “England”. Rule Britannia!
    Apologies if/as necessary to various Commonwealth cousins and all our beloved Anglo-Celts ~ they say one third of old Western Australians have a connection to Ireland and one third to our Gold Fields in Kalgoorlie from where many fine soldiers enlisted and gave the Supreme Sacrifice

    • Magicfingers says:

      Thankee Sid. Oh, do please check whenever – I mean thanks for saying you shouldn’t have bothered, but checking does no harm, and keeps me honest!

      • Sid from Down Under says:

        I got carried away and should now qualify my one third this and that …… “connections” is the emphasis ~ not necessarily “born in”. People from Kalgoorlie were by and large tough rough and tumble gold miners but absolutely top quality men ~ loyal and the type one would want beside you in a fire fight. I know that from my later National Service days and stories told to me by WW2 service friends who fought the Japanese in the Indo-Pacific.

        Judging by my father and his volunteer mates they enlisted to fight a far off Great War “For King and Country” ~ back then allegiance to “The Mother Country” was very strong

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