Brookwood Cemetery is vast. Not the military cemetery, which, at 37 acres, is big enough, but the civil cemetery, a small part of which you can see above.
Once upon a time, back in its early days in the mid-19th Century, the site was truly huge, covering some 2,000 acres, but, apparently, asset stripping in the 1950s reduced it to its current size of a mere 220 acres (Tyne Cot, by comparison, is a little under nine acres in size). Which may sound like they sold off Grandma’s grave, but I suspect was because the numbers of burials originally catered for greatly outnumbered the number of burials actually made, and much of the area intended for burials remained unused.
On the 150th anniversary of the London Necropolis Company in 1994 only around 230,000 burials had been made, far short of the five million for which the site had originally been intended. And while we are talking numbers, Nick (who?) spotted this particular grave which, on closer inspection, turned out to be that of, among others, the bloke responsible for the numbers, the managing director of the London Necropolis Company (actually the London Necropolis & National Mausoleum Company until 1927) from 1919, the company responsible for maintaining the cemetery.
And here, thanks to the information board, because I wouldn’t have realized, I don’t think, otherwise, we have the original railway embankment, the railway that would once have carried coffins from the London Necropolis Railway Station (next to Waterloo station in London) to their final resting place here in Surrey.
A quick look at this very neat Buddhist stupa, and then it’s on to the point of this post, and I suppose the sensible thing to do is to visit the Victoria Cross holders buried or commemorated here in chronological order,…
…beginning with the one Crimean War VC holder buried here, and the only back-dated one in the cemetery. When Queen Victoria officially constituted the Victoria Cross in 1856, it was backdated to 1854 to include men who had performed acts of valour in the Crimea. The first investiture ceremony took place in Hyde Park in London on 26th June 1857, when sixty two of the one hundred and eleven Crimean recipients received their awards.
One of the men invested that day was Private William Reynolds, Scots Fusilier Guards, one of the Colour party during the Battle of Alma in the Crimea on 20th September 1854.
His citation is inscribed on his headstone and reads ‘Scots Fusilier Guards No. 3368 Private William Reynolds. When the formation of the line was disordered at Alma, for having behaved in a conspicuous manner in rallying the men around the Colours.’ Two other men of the Colour party were also awarded the VC.
Reynolds would achieve the rank of corporal and die in 1869 aged 42, this fine memorial eventually placed on his grave in 2007 by the Scots Guards Association Club.
Ross Lowis Mangles was a member of the Bengal Civil Service during the Indian Mutiny, and one of only five civilians* ever to receive the Victoria Cross. His citation reads, ‘Mr Mangles volunteered and served with the Force, consisting of detachments of Her Majesty’s 10th and 37th Regiments, and some Native Troops, despatched to the relief of Arrah, in July 1857, under the Command of Captain Dunbar of the 10th Regiment. The Force fell into an ambuscade on the night of the 29th of July 1857, and during the retreat on the next morning, Mr Mangles, with signal gallantry and generous self-devotion, and notwithstanding that he himself had been previously wounded, carried for several miles out of action a wounded soldier of Her Majesty’s 37th Regiment, after binding up his wounds under a murderous fire, which killed or wounded almost the whole detachment; and he bore him in safety to the boats.’
*William McDonnell, one of the other four, and also Bengal Civil Service, was awarded his VC at the same time as Mangles.
Mangles would eventually retire from Indian service in 1883, returning to England where he would die, aged 77, in February 1905.
Tucked away in a fenced corner of the cemetery is what is known as the Corps of Commissionaires plot, and frankly, I had no idea what that meant when I started this post. Founded by Captain Sir Edward Walter in 1859 to offer employment – yes, as commissionaires – to ex-servicemen on their return from the Crimean War,…
…this small burial ground was set aside for the Corps soon after their formation. Still in existence, the Corps changed its name to ‘Corps Security’ in 2008. Anyway, beyond the obelisk,…
…there are two CWGC headstones,…
…both of which are of VC holders, one of which somewhat messes up our chronological look around,…
…because the headstone on the left is that of Drum Major (Serjeant) William Kenny, Gordon Highlanders, the first Great War VC we shall encounter in this cemetery, the insets top left showing, from left, Kenny as a young drummer (probably in South Africa), as a corporal in April 1915, and proudly displaying his VC. However, we’ll return to him shortly, because, pictured bottom right, Private James Hollowell, 78th Regiment of Foot (later the Seaforth Highlanders), does continue our chronological tour,…
…being another man to receive the VC for his actions during the Indian Mutiny, in his case during the Siege of Lucknow. His citation reads, ’78th Regiment, Private James Hollowell. A party, on the 26th of September, 1857, was shut up and besieged in a house in the city of Lucknow, by the rebel sepoys. Private James Hollowell, one of the party, behaved throughout the day, in the most admirable manner; he directed, encouraged, and led the others, exposing himself fearlessly, and by his talent in persuading and cheering, prevailed on nine dispirited men to make a successful defence, in a burning house, with the enemy, firing through four windows. (Extract from Divisional Orders of Major-General Sir James Outram, GCB, dated 14th October 1857).’ Retiring as a lance corporal, he joined the Corps of Commissionaires and would die in April 1876 aged 52 or 53. Originally buried in this plot in an unmarked grave, this headstone was finally erected in 2000.
William Kenny, who had served as a young soldier in South Africa, was awarded his VC in the early months of the Great War, ‘For conspicuous bravery on 23rd October , near Ypres, in rescuing wounded men on five occasions under very heavy fire in the most fearless manner, and for twice previously saving machine guns by carrying them out of action. On numerous occasions Drummer Kenny conveyed urgent messages under very dangerous circumstances over fire-swept ground.’ Discharged from the army in 1919, Kenny spent many years as a commissionaire, acting as a uniformed doorman at various establishments in the West End of London and on the south coast. He died in 1936 at the age of 55, and although his exact burial site is unknown within this plot, this headstone thus being a special memorial, he is buried close by.
Autumnal sunlight filters through the trees as my companion on one of my two late 2023 trips, and long-time BigNote supporter – ladies & gentlemen, boys & girls, I give you, in person, Mr. Nick Kilner – finds himself flanked by VCs. Doesn’t happen every day.
The obelisk remembers Captain Walter, pictured, although he is not buried here.
Surgeon Major Edmund Baron Hartley served as the principal medical officer of the Cape Colonial Forces and was awarded the VC for his bravery at Moirosi’s Mountain, Basutoland (now Lesotho) in June 1879 during the First Boer War.
His citation reads, ‘On 5 June 1879 in South Africa, Surgeon Major Hartley attended the wounded under fire at the unsuccessful attack at Morosi’s Mountain. From an exposed position, on open ground, he carried in his arms a wounded corporal of the Cape Mounted Riflemen. The surgeon major then returned under severe enemy fire in order to dress the wounds of the other men of the storming party.’ Promoted to surgeon colonel, he served in the Second Boer War at the turn of the century, following which he was created a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG), and would die in March 1919 here in Surrey aged 71.
On the left, one of 192 Great War or Second World War CWGC headstones to be found in the cemetery.
All are scattered throughout this enormous place,…
…and as we stop to pay our respects at a few of them,…
…it’s worth noting the size of these plots, much bigger than in your average churchyard or cemetery, and one of the selling points in the early days of the cemetery. Or so it was hoped.
At which point we shall return to the VC holders,…
…because the next man on our list is Major Matthew Fontaine Maury Meiklejohn, Gordon Highlanders, who had seen action with the Chitral Relief Force in 1895 and the Tirah Expedition in 1897 before he was awarded a Victoria Cross during the early weeks of the Second Boer War.
His citation reads, ‘At the Battle of Elandslaagte, on the 21st October, 1899, after the main Boer position had been captured, some of the men of the Gordon Highlanders, when about to advance, were exposed to a heavy cross-fire and, having lost their leaders, commenced to waver. Seeing this, Captain Meiklejohn rushed to the front and called on the Gordons to follow him. By his conspicuous bravery and fearless example, he rallied the men and led them against the enemy’s position where he fell, desperately wounded in four places.’
His right arm subsequently amputated, Meiklejohn served as a staff officer, reaching the rank of major, until, on 4th July 1913, during an inspection in Hyde Park, his horse was startled and bolted towards a group of children. Meiklejohn swerved his horse towards the railings lining Rotten Row, which runs close to the southern boundary of the park, to avoid them, and, knocked out as he was thrown to the ground, never regained consciousness.
He was 42, his death reported in The Times as an ‘act of heroic self-sacrifice’.
This next memorial remembers Sergeant Horace Robert Martineau, Protectorate Regiment (N.W. Cape Colony), who was awarded his VC for his actions near Mafeking on 26th December 1899 during the Second Boer War.
I say ‘remembers’ because, although this is the family grave, he is the first of two VC holders here with names inscribed on memorials who are not actually buried here.
His VC citation areas, ‘On 26th December, 1899, during the fight at Game Tree, near Mafeking, when the order to retire had been given, Sergeant Martineau stopped and picked up Corporal Le Camp, who had been struck down about 10 yards from the Boer trenches, and half dragged, half carried, him towards a bush about 150 yards from the trenches. In doing this Sergeant Martineau was wounded in the side, but paid no attention to it, and proceeded to stanch and bandage the wounds of his comrade, whom he, afterwards, assisted to retire. The firing while they were retiring was very heavy and Sergeant Martineau was again wounded. When shot the second time he was absolutely exhausted from supporting his comrade and sank down unable to proceed farther. He received three wounds, one of which necessitated the amputation of his arm near the shoulder.’
Unsurprisingly, Martineau played no further part in the war in South Africa. Surprisingly, on the outbreak of the Great War, and as he was by then living in New Zealand, he received a commission with the New Zealand Otago Regiment’s Transport Service, seeing service in Egypt & the Dardanelles, where he contracted a fever from which he eventually died on 7th April 1916, aged 41.
Horace Martineau is buried in Anderson’s Bay Cemetery in Duneden, New Zealand, but his name can also be found here on the side of the family headstone (on the left, my shot from 2023, on the right an earlier photo, so that you can actually see what it says).
Next on our list,…
…this is the grave of Lieutenant Edgar Thomas Inkson, R.A.M.C., who found himself at many of the major battles of the Second Boer War, and was not only mentioned in despatches three times, received the Queen’s Medal with five clasps* & the King’s Medal with two clasps, but was also awarded the Victoria Cross at the Battle of Colenso when, ‘on the 24th February 1900, Lieutenant Inkson carried 2nd Lieutenant Devenish (who was severely wounded and unable to walk) for three or four hundred yards, under a very heavy fire, to a place of safety. The ground over which Lieutenant Inkson had to move was much exposed, there being no cover available.’ He would serve during the Great War, receiving a D.S.O. in 1917, would retire in 1926 as a surgeon major general, and died in 1947 at the age of 62.
*the inset photo shows Inkson with his VC and the Queen’s Medal with all those clasps.
Lieutenant Wallace Duffield Wright was attached to the Northern Nigeria Regiment during what was called the Kano-Sokoto Expedition in early 1903 when he was awarded his Victoria Cross. This was real Boy’s Own stuff, ‘Conquer the Caliphate’, and all that, and, according to his citation, ‘On 24th February 1903, Lieutenant Wright with only one officer and forty-four men took up a position in the path of the advancing enemy, and sustained the determined charges of 1,000 horse and 2,000 foot for two hours, and when the enemy, after heavy losses, fell back in good order, Lieutenant Wright continued to follow them till they were in full retreat. The personal example of this officer, as well as his skilful leadership, contributed largely to the brilliant success of this affair. He in no way infringed his orders by his daring initiative, as, though warned of the possibility of meeting large bodies of the enemy, he had purposely been left a free hand.’
He was later awarded a DSO in 1918, and, like Inkson, retired as a major general. He died, aged 77, in 1953.
The first man awarded a VC during the Great War whose name appears on a headstone here is also the second man not actually buried here, his name appearing on the family memorial, as you can see above (due thanks at the end of the post for the use of the photos above & below).
Second Lieutenant Rupert Price Hallowes, The Duke of Cambridge’s Own (Middlesex Regiment), was awarded the Victoria Cross, ‘For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty during the fighting at Hooge between 25th September and 1st October 1915. Second Lieutenant Hallowes displayed throughout these days the greatest bravery and untiring energy, and set a magnificent example to his men during four heavy and prolonged bombardments. On more than one occasion he climbed up on the parapet, utterly regardless of danger, in order to put fresh heart into his men. He made daring reconnaissances of the German positions in our lines. When the supply of bombs was running short he went back under very heavy shell fire and brought up a fresh supply. Even after he was mortally wounded he continued to cheer those around him and to inspire them with fresh courage’. He died on 30th September 1915 aged 34 and is buried in Bedford House Cemetery south of Ieper (Ypres).
The Reverend William Robert Fountaine Addison, only ordained in 1913, was curate of a Wiltshire church on the outbreak of war in 1914, at which time he volunteered for the Army Chaplain’s Department and found himself a Chaplain of the Forces, 4th Class.
He also found himself in Mesopotamia where, on 9th April 1916, ‘He carried a wounded man to the cover of a trench, and assisted several others to the same cover, after binding up their wounds under heavy rifle and machine gun fire. In addition to these unaided efforts, by his splendid example and utter disregard of personal danger, he encouraged the stretcher-bearers to go forward under heavy fire and collect the wounded.’
He was awarded a Victoria Cross for his bravery,…
…later became Senior Chaplain to the Forces from 1934 to 1938 and again during the Second World War,…
…and died in 1962 aged 78. I spy another companion – I’m a bit like Dr. Who really, but without the Tardis or sonic screwdriver – in the background, but she’s shy.
The recently added ‘There’s a VC holder right here!’ signs certainly make exploration easier for the intrepid VC hunter,…
…our next man the subject of a book, currently, at the time of this post’s publication, available at Naval & Military for literally a couple of quid, entitled ‘The Bravest Man in the British Army’.
From which you will perhaps gather that you are not getting a history of his exploits here; suffice to say that he won a whole host of medals in South Africa and during the Great War (along with being mentioned in despatches six times) before, on 20th November 1917 at Marcoing, France, he added a Victoria Cross to the list. Lieutenant Colonel John Sherwood-Kelly, Norfolk Regiment, was commanding 1st Bn. The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers at the time of his award,…
…his citation reading, ‘For most conspicuous bravery and fearless leading when a party of men of another unit detailed to cover the passage of the canal by his battalion were held up on the near side of the canal by heavy rifle fire directed on the bridge. Lt.-Col. Sherwood-Kelly at once ordered covering fire, personally led the leading company of his battalion across the canal and, after crossing, reconnoitred under heavy rifle and machine gun fire the high ground held by the enemy. The left flank of his battalion advancing to the assault of this objective was held up by a thick belt of wire, whereupon he crossed to that flank, and with a Lewis gun team, forced his way under heavy fire through obstacles, got the gun into position on the far side, and covered the advance of his battalion through the wire, thereby enabling them to capture the position. Later, he personally led a charge against some pits from which a heavy fire was being directed on his men, captured the pits, together with five machine guns and forty-six prisoners, and killed a large number of the enemy. The great gallantry displayed by this officer throughout the day inspired the greatest confidence in his men, and it was mainly due to his example and devotion to duty that his battalion was enabled to capture and hold their objective.’
And yet his military career ended in near ignominy; while commanding the 2nd Hampshire Regiment in North Russia in 1919 he was critical of the whole idea of British troops’ involvement, and foolishly wrote to a colleague outlining his views. All of which lead to a court-martial and a severe reprimand, following which Sherwood-Kelly resigned his commission. He would die in London in 1931, following a bout of malaria caught while big-game hunting in Africa, aged 51.
Somewhere off St. Gabriel’s Avenue, lying in an unmarked grave, at his own request,…
…is the body of Major General Daniel Marcus William Beak, VC, DSO, MC & Bar.
Beak had joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve in 1915, fought on Gallipoli the same year, and had achieved the rank of commander when the action after which he was awarded his Victoria Cross took place. Between 21st & 25th August, and on 4th September 1918, at Logeast Wood on the Somme, Beak, according to his citation, ‘led his men and captured four enemy positions under heavy fire. Four days later. although dazed by a shell fragment, and in the absence of the brigade commander he reorganised the whole brigade under heavy gunfire and led his men to their objective. When the attack was held up, he accompanied by only one runner succeeded in breaking up a nest of machine guns taking ten prisoners. His initiative and confidence with which he inspired all ranks contributed very materially to the success of these operations.’ Rising to the rank of major general in the Second World War, he fell foul of Montgomery in 1943 and would retire in 1945. He died on 3rd May 1967 aged 75.
Chronologically, the final Victoria Cross holder buried here is Captain Cyril Hubert Frisby, Coldstream Guards, who only joined up (was he conscripted, I wonder?) in October 1916 as a private in the Hampshires, before swiftly gaining a commission in the Coldstream Guards.
By now a captain, he would be awarded a VC after the actions of 27th September 1918 near Graincourt, France, at the start of the Battle of the Canal du Nord. His citation reads, ‘Captain Frisby was in command of a company detailed to capture a canal crossing, but when the canal was reached the leading platoon came under annihilating fire from a strong enemy post under the bridge on the far side of the canal. Captain Frisby with a lance-corporal* and two others, climbed down into the canal under intense fire and succeeded in capturing the post with two machine guns and 12 men. Then having consolidated his objective he gave timely support to a company which had lost all its officers and sergeants, organising the defences, and beating off a heavy counter-attack.’
*Lance Corporal Thomas Norman Jackson, who was also awarded a VC.
Later one of the hundred VC holders who formed the guard of honour when the body of the Unknown Warrior arrived at Westminster Abbey on 11th November 1920, he would die in 1961 aged 75.
There are other graves here that most certainly deserve our attention, and thank heavens that someone had left a wreath which caused me stop and look at this one, because buried here is a man who, in his time, was as well known as any of his peers, and far better known than any of the men we have just visited. This is the grave of Field-Marshal Sir William Robertson Bart., GCB, KCVO, DSO, the only man, as far as I know, to have enlisted in the army (in 1877), as a private, and retired (in 1920), as a field marshall.
He was also, for two years during the Great War, Chief of the Imperial General Staff. The field commanders who directed the course of the war, Haig in Europe, Murray & Allenby in Palestine, Maude & Marshall in Mesopotamia, Monro in India, and Smuts in South Africa, were all responsible to Robertson during that time, although you will have to look elsewhere if you wish to find out more about him.
There is one more Victoria Cross holder who was once associated with Brookwood, but who is now no longer. Serjeant Samuel George Pearse, Royal Fusiliers, had served with the A.I.F. (Australian Imperial Force) from late 1915 on Gallipoli – he was wounded in 1916, awarded a military medal in 1917, and wounded once more in 1918 – until his discharge in July 1919, after which he joined the British Army, along with around 150 other Australians, all intent on a trip to Russia with the North Russia Relief Force.
Soon promoted to sergeant, and still only 22, Pearse was awarded his VC,’ For most conspicuous bravery, devotion to duty and self-sacrifice during the operation against the enemy battery position north of Emtsa, North Russia on the 29th August 1919. Sergeant Pearse cut his way through enemy barbed-wire under very heavy machine-gun and rifle fire and cleared a way for the troops to enter an enemy battery position. Seeing that a blockhouse was harassing our advance and causing us casualties, he charged the blockhouse single-handed, killing the occupants with bombs. This gallant non-commissioned officer met his death a minute later and it was due to him that the position was carried with so few casualties. His magnificent bravery and utter disregard for personal danger won for him the admiration of all troops.’ With the demolition of the memorial in 2015, Pearse’s association with Brookwood would end. Big thanks to Steve at Memorials to Valour for use of the above photo and for the earlier ones of the Hallowes’ family grave.
And if you think we have now finished with Brookwood Cemetery, think again……