Aldershot Military Cemetery Part One

Aldershot – ‘The Home of the British Army’.  At the start of 1855, with the Crimean War still more than a year from its conclusion, the Army began constructing its first bespoke, as we might say today, training camp in Aldershot, here in Hampshire.  And, as is the nature of things, an army camp requires a cemetery, the first burial being made here in August 1856. 

I am not about to embark on a history of the British Army in Aldershot, because you can find all that stuff quite easily elsewhere.  Suffice to say that nearly a hundred and seventy years later the town is still referred to as Aldershot Garrison or Aldershot Military Town, and is still the home of the British Army.

I’ve meant to visit this place for many moons now, but finally I got here, and once again, as so often on my travels – kiss of death for the next one – the rain of the past few days stopped, and the sun shone.

Duncan the Younger, whom some of you will have met in the occasional previous post – all 18th Century maritime enquiries to him as always, by the way – was one of my companions on the day.  The other two – both ex-servicemen – you will meet in future posts.

Most of the graves in this first section of the cemetery – actually Plot Z, so I suppose this is the last section of the cemetery – are post-Second World War, those pictured above men who died in the late 1950s & early 1960s.  Front row, left to right, a colonel, a second lieutenant and a captain, with a squadron sergeant major behind,…

…and here, on the right, a R.E.M.E. major who died in 1965, and on the left, a rank you’ll not see elsewhere, I suspect; Major (Director of Music) J. F. Dean M.B.E., Royal Army Service Corps, who died in 1962 aged 53.  I’ll tell you something here that I suspect very few people know.  On 9th July 1957, when I was practising the art of the infant gurgle – ‘he’s so cute’ – and most likely burping a lot, Major Dean was conducting the Band of the Royal Army Service Corps on that afternoon’s ‘Music While You Work’ on the BBC Light Programme.  Which was followed – of course it was – by ‘Mrs. Dale’s Diary’.  Two months later Elvis would release ‘Jailhouse Rock’, and nothing would ever be the same again.

I digress.  The current number of burials in the cemetery is estimated at around 20,000.  Records show that by 1885, when around 4,000 burials had been made, almost half were children, of both soldiers and the many support personnel employed at the camp.  And the trend continued, these two memorials from the 1880s & 1890s.

On the left, the wife of a captain of the Sherwood Foresters who died in 1954, just behind, a major of the 17th/21st Lancers who died in 1971, and on the right,…

…the first of three holders of the Victoria Cross buried in this cemetery.  William Davidson Bissett was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders in December 1916.  You can read his citation below.

Bissett, on the right, having made his dash.  Maing, for your information, is a French commune around thirty miles due east of Arras, and twenty miles south west of Mons in Belgium.  Bissett was awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French, served in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps & Royal Pioneer Corps during the Second World War, and eventually retired in 1945 as an honourary major.  He died, aged 77, in 1971.

The grave of Brigadier General O’Donnell Colley Grattan O.B.E., D.S.O., The King’s (Liverpool Regiment), who died on 5th March 1929 aged 74.  And his wife.  Grattan had served on the North West Frontier in the late 1870s, in South Africa – including at the Siege of Ladysmith – at the turn of the century, and was called up again during the Great War which he ended commanding a Prisoner of War camp.  Behind, on the left, the Worsfold family memorial is yet another that includes an infant.

More officers, a colonel on the left, another behind in the second row, alongside three majors, and in the centre foreground, all on his own, little Andrew, who died in 1968 aged just two.  Days, that is.

Aldershot Military Cemetery plan.  We are currently in Plot Z (the blue dot on the left) up near the chapel, and the pink-shaded areas show you the eight plots that include Great War burials, of which there are just under 700 in total.  Although they are not the only burials that we shall be visiting, as future posts will reveal.  This particular map, a paper copy of which accompanied me on my visit, is an example of the basic research I do before my travels, showing plots with Great War burials and which nationalities are buried where.  Hence it’s a bit rough, but then again, you weren’t meant to see it.

In July 1879 the Cambridge Military Hospital was opened in Aldershot,…

…providing a steady stream of tenants for the cemetery, particularly during two world wars.  The hospital would close in 1996.

View from the end of Plot Z looking towards the cemetery proper,…

…Plot W directly ahead of us, the graves beyond the trees our destination next post, the brown cross towards the left of the picture being the second of the Victoria Cross holders buried here.  Before that, however, our route takes us along the pathway to the left (we’ll return, much later, via the pathway on the right),…

…to the north of which there are various scattered graves,…

…although to the south of the pathway, the graves are more regimented.

This area of the cemetery to the north of the path is unmarked on the map, so whether there are far more graves here than the handful of headstones suggest I have no idea,…

…but it makes checking the individual headstones an easy task, and up at the top of the slope,…

…these two proved worth the effort.

‘To the memory of Louisa, widow of Capt Daniell H.E.I.C.S*. Foundress of the Aldershot Soldiers Mission Hall who died at Malvern 16th Sept. 1871 aged 62 years. Erected by officers of the Army to the best interests of which she devoted many years of her life.’  The full title was actually the Aldershot Mission Hall and Soldiers’ Home and Institute, but in time it became simply known as ‘Miss Daniell’s Soldiers Home’ (MDSH).  Her ‘daughter and fellow-labourer’ Georgiana, who would take over on her death, and who died at the Mission Hall on 24th June 1894 aged 59, is also buried here.

*Honourable East India Company Service.  Captain Frederick Daniell died in India in 1837.

Louisa pictured during her Goth phase.  Although this building was demolished in 1958, a new Soldiers’ Home was constructed on the site, which is now the headquarters of SASRA (The Soldiers’ and Aviators’ Scripture Reading Association, no less), which, to this day, is responsible for the work of the current MDSH.

‘Kate Hanson. 1834-1913. For 26 years a worker and 19 years Hon. Lady Superintendent at Mrs. Daniell’s Soldiers Home.’

Back down to the pathway, and if we follow the slope on the far left,…

…we arrive at Plot R, which we saw through the trees earlier and which, according to my earlier map, contains seventy Great War burials, the second largest number in any of the plots, although a long way behind the numbers in Plot AF, as you may have spotted.  And so, as and when I publish Part Two, we shall pick up our tour here.  Betcha can’t wait.

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4 Responses to Aldershot Military Cemetery Part One

  1. Debbie Thomassen says:

    Another beautifully written, clear, enthralling piece. Thank you so much. Have you thought about pitching this to the BBC? The work you out in should be treasured and saved. Amazing.

    • Magicfingers says:

      You are most kind Debbie. I am pleased you enjoyed this post. Interestingly, my missus tells me I should pitch the whole thing to the Beeb too.

  2. Margaret Draycott says:

    A very interesting post M had no idea Aldershot cemetery was such a mixed bag of Private and CWG burials presumably only the CWG ones are cared for. Such a contrast to the cemeteries in France and Belgium.
    A local cemetery contains a few hundred CWG graves and they are quite randomly spaced.
    Agree about the BBC.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Hello M! Oh, it’s a fascinating place – you can see, just from this post, why I have wanted to visit over the years. The cemetery is run by the MoD, and the CWGC look after the world war graves – and some others, I suspect. There will be quite a few posts as we tour this place.

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