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Remembered Today:

Burial of French dead at Serre


Peter Woodger

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Hi

The British took over the Somme sector from the French in August 1915. The sector had been quiet since the initial German advance was stopped with the exception of the area in front of Serre where, in early June 1915, the French had pushed back a German salient and established the front line at the edge of the copses. In these June 1915 attacks the French lost 2000 men killed, more than the total number the British lost in the 1st July and 13th November 1916 attacks against Serre.

The copses would have been destroyed by June 1915 so that the Germans would have overlooked the area where the French dead lay so that clearance of the dead and the later British dead could not occur until the German withdrawal in early 1917.

V Corps cleared the battlefield in the spring of 1917. Although John Copse 1 & 2 have been concentrated to Euston Road the majority of the V Corps cemeteries still exist. Within these cemeteries there are 2 named Frenchmen and a small number of vacancies where unknown French burials have been removed. What happened to the multitude of French bodies in spring 1917?

It is inconceivable that the French bodies were left unattended so that the alternatives are that the French cemetery alongside Serre Road 1 was started in spring 1917 or that V Corps made small French cemeteries that were concentrated post War. If a cemetery full of French dead was made near to Luke Copse it may explain why the full name is Luke Copse British Cemetery.

Any ideas?

Peter

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The French "Cimetiere de Serre-Hebuterne" cemetery was officially "created" in 1919 and originated with the discovery of 150 or so French corpses found by the British graves registration units who buried them here (furthest away from the road). Other bodies found in the area were brought here in the following years and filled up the plots to the road. It was handed over to the French in 1923 when it contained the graves of 817 Frenchmen (it now has circa 834).

Whether or not the British created smaller French cemeteries in the area in 1917 and then simply "rediscovered" them after they were (possibly) lost again in the 1918 fighting*, I don't know, but I'd find it a little odd to start one afresh in 1919 if there was one already known about and in existance. Then again, maybe (as you suggest), this was one of those created in 1917 and ,maybe, it was simply a "tidying up" job in 1919?... ... All records I can find of this cemetery state that its first creation was in 1919 though.

dave.

*

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I have been led to believe that the IWGC looked after it until shortly before WW II - not that that helps, particularly!

i've got two seperate years for this handover - 1923 and 1933. The 1923 year is what's quoted by the Ministere des Anciens Combattants et Victimes de Guerre and 1933 comes from a couple of British (secondary) sources. I'd presume that one is a simple transcription error but ,which one, I don't know.

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Hi

Thank you both for responding.

When the British took over the front from the French they also took over cemeteries with French burials. Post War the bodies buried by the French were, with the exception of Louvencourt, exhumed and buried in French cemeteries. Unknown Frenchmen were also exhumed from British cemeteries.

I thought that there was something strange with only 150 bodies found during the 1919 clearance and then the total burials reaching 817 by 1923 or even 1933 but if Serre-Hebuterne was a destination of say the 285 bodies exhumed from nearby Sucrerie and others then relating the figures to battlefield clearance does not work.

When V Corps cleared the battlefield in 1917 they buried about 978 British and 2 French in the immediate area. I know that the footprints of the French and British battles do not totally overlap but it seems like something is missing. If a French cemetery near Luke Copse had been started was it too far off the road to be a site for a French National?

Any thoughts welcome.

Peter

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. If a French cemetery near Luke Copse had been started was it too far off the road to be a site for a French National?

Definately not. Some French national cemeteries are just as far if not further off the more main roads than that location. First one that jumps into my head as being in a similar "type" of location to Luke copse (because I know it can be a real bitch to get to in rough weather) is "les Bois des Ouvrages" at Clery-sur-Somme. I've got another in my head - possibly Maroeuil - that is similar also. Others, elsewhere on the old Western front are even more off the beaten track being found in woods, on steep hillsides, etc etc. (and i wouldn't like to try to get to the one at Floing in anything bigger than a car!)

Dave

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