Jump to content
Great War Forum

Remembered Today:

Sign in to follow this  
Peter Woodger

A.I.F. Cemetery Grass Lane Flers

Recommended Posts

Peter Woodger

Hi

Earlier in the week we were discussing a 1914 burial in AIF. I thought some may be interested in a short history of the cemetery

At the end of the war, beside a small track near the village of Flers, there was a wartime cemetery of 32 burials. Sir Herbert Baker was given the task of designing a clearance and concentration cemetery for approximately 2000 burials which would incorporate the original 32. Symmetry was the order of the day so the plots were laid out either side of the central pathway. There were 3 plots each side, numbered 1 to 6, and all six plots had 12 rows. Each row consisted of 3 Groups of 10 (Commonwealth) or 8 French. The exceptions were rows L and M of Plots 5 and 6 where the group adjacent to the central path was left out in order to make room for the Cross of Sacrifice and the first groups of rows A and B in Plot 2 which with the matching space at the end of the 2 original Rows made space for the War Stone.

During the clearance 416 French burials were made. (The French Cross is wider than the British Stone so the French were in groups of 8 in the same 20 feet space that would bury 10 Commonwealth soldiers.) Many of the French burials were unidentified and when the French removed these to Mass graves in French cemeteries they also exhumed some of the identified and made a consolidated block of 144 French in Plot 6 Rows A to F.

These 6 plots were made during the initial clearance of 1919 but at the end of that it was realised that there were many more bodies to buried and the design was expanded. Symmetry was kept to and the additional plots 7, 9, 11 and 13 were added up the left-hand side and 8, 10, 12 and 14 up the right-hand side. A lot of the beauty of Baker’s design was lost as the extra plots were added. It was anticipated that more French bodies would be found so the Rows A to F of plot 12, adjacent to the French Rows in Plot 6 were put aside to bury them.

By the time that the Army went home in September 1921 all these extra plots were filled with the exception of the French rows where only 2 of the 6 rows were filled. The only indication of the date of the burials in the new plots is a letter to the next of kin telling them that the body of their kin has been reburied in AIF. These letters cannot be used for precise dating as there is a difference in the time lag between reburial and notification.

Once IWGC took over the exhumations and reburials, post September 1921, a new individual form was used and these can be found in service records giving a date for the exhumation. Strictly the date is for the report of the exhumation but we are only facing a delay of days.

In 1925 further space was required for bodies still being found on the Somme and more ground was acquired at Grass Lane. Symmetry was now lost. The left-hand side of the cemetery is up to 2 metres below the adjacent field and the right-hand side was almost a metre above the adjacent field. It was not feasible to add to the left but plots 15 and 16 were added on the right. The space for these plots drops half a metre below the older part of the cemetery along the line of the old boundary. The shape of the new area is an unusual truncated triangle. This may be due to the land adjacent falling away too sharply.

At this time it was decided to move the position of the War Stone to a position on the other central axis of baker’s first design which places it between plots 15 and 16 in the new space.

Burials in plots 15 and 16 have a date range of 1925 to 1927 with at least 1 burial of 1928 in Plot 16 Row O.

This was not the end of burials here because there was now empty space in Plot 12 Rows A, C, E and F because there had only been 16 French bodies found. I have not been able to date any of these burials as yet but they were made before the register was issued in 1929.

Even now burials were not complete. The 1929 register notes that Lt Col C W R Duncombe Earl of Feversham was buried 1000 yards up the road. The plan in that register shows that Plot 3 Row L had only 8 graves in the last group. It now has 10 and the Lt Col is in number 29 With an Unknown in 30.

All of the above is speculation based on what I would call diligent research. If anyone has evidence which supports or explodes the above I would be delighted to hear.

Peter

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
cockney tone

Peter,

thank you for posting such an interesting account. I was at this CWGC in late September this year so I hope you don't mind me adding a photo of the site!

Regards,

Scottie.

and a closer view!

post-6848-1256378800.jpg

post-6848-1256378994.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Peter Woodger

Scottie

Nice Photos, I see that the coping stones on the front wall are in place, they were not in early Sept.

Peter

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
cockney tone

And just one more!

post-6848-1256379744.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
cockney tone

Peter,

there were a couple of CWGC people working at the site but everything looked complete, it was my first visit to this CWGC and I found it an interesting area. I have just purchased the Pen & Sword book for Flers (cheap in the sale!) and i plan to return in the Spring to have a good walk around the area.

During my visit I had the honour to meet an Aussie couple visiting a relatives grave which added a real human touch to my visit. They were the first members of his family to ever visit!

Thanks again for posting the account.

Regards and best wishes,

Scottie

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
bruce

Dear Peter

I was there earlier in the year, and wondered why there was the rather strange layout.

Now I know why!

Thanks for your research and the detail.

Bruce

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
cockney tone

Bruce,

I too had wondered why the Stone was 'pushed' to one side! Now i know! thanks peter.

Regards,

Scottie.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
bruce

In the summer, visiting a number of cemeteries for headstone pics, Ayesha and I stopped off at one out of the way. There was a locally-registered car there, and four people in the cemetery. I parked, and went to the box to check the location of the headstone we wanted.

We were pounced upon by the four people looking bemused in the cemetery, who also turned out to be Australians. Since I had gone straight to the box for the Register, they took me to be some sort of expert. They explained that they had a grave ref. for their grandfather, had come from Down Under, and were the first ever to visit him, but that they couldn't find him. Could I help?

They showed me the reference. II.B.35. They had been there an hour but just couldn't find plot eleven.

We were standing in front of plot two, so I was able to take then straight to B.35, adding that it was not eleven, but Roman numerals. As luck would have it, in the road outside Fromelles, we had picked up an Australian poppy, so handed that to them to incorporate in their photos.

I received two hearty handshakes, and two rib-crushing hugs from the ladies (they build them strong down there!), and then lots of tears.

It was a delight to be able to assist them in their search from so far away, and it reminded me that not everyone is quite so au fait with cemeteries as some of us, and so I am grateful for any information I can get on their creation, layout, etc.

Bruce

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
cockney tone

Well done Bruce.

We got chatting to the couple whom we met and my mate gave them a shrapnel ball he had just found outside the Cemetery, not quite a poppy but a tangible reminder of the sheer horror that went on there!

Although we had never met these people before there was a common bond, each time I visit this cemetery in the future I will visit this grave and retain the link!

Regards,

Scottie.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Peter Bennett

This is a very beautiful cemetery and the recent photos show how well it looks. Below are some I took in April when it was undergoing extensive renovation.

post-7183-1256496423.jpg

post-7183-1256496517.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Paul Reed

This is the unknown in 3-L, not long after the burial. He's next to Feversham who the mayor of Flers told me was moved to the cemetery in the 1950s.

3634715839_fdd5a0518f.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
cockney tone

Paul,

Just out of interest do you know where was the unknown was found please?

Regards,

Scottie.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Peter Woodger

Paul

Can you recall the year in which the Unknown was reburied?

Peter

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Tims

Peter

In principle what you say makes sense but I am uncomfortable with your suggestion that the War Stone was moved. Do you have any evidence for this? The gaps in rows A and B of Blocks I and II are, I would suggest, a response to the semicircular entrance walls. I would have thought that it would have been far too cramped to have put the Stone in the same space, so close to the entrance. As built the War Stone sits on quite an elaborate raised platform and I would have thought that this is entirely consistent with it having been built as part of the original building work.

As ever, though, I am more than happy to reconsider if you have evidence to the contrary.

War Stones offset to one side are not unknown and I think that there is more significance in their location than in the siting of the Crosses, at least in the cemeteries designed by Lutyens.

Tim

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Paul Reed

Scottie - I believe it was close to Guedecourt, which would probably make him 8th or 9th Bn RF, killed on 7th October 1916.

Peter - it was March 2003.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
cockney tone

Paul,

thank you for this info, will seek him out on my next visit.

Regards,

Scottie.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Peter Woodger

Tims

The site of the Stone is the main “speculation”. The platform upon which it sits is far too large for the gap in the rows near the entrance but if the stone was placed only on the standard plinth then the space is enough.

My argument to myself ran as follows. Baker would have sited the stone when he designed the original 6 plot cemetery. His design would not have left the space into which plots 8, 10, and 12 were built so the position of the stone would have moved to the right even if his original design was to the right. There is a wall built along the left edge of plots 15 and 16 because the land dropped 2 feet or so. The stone would not have looked right being 2 feet below the main cemetery so the ground was raised and the elaborate platform was needed to support the weight of the stone on reconstituted ground.

The norm is for the cross and stone to be on the vertical or horizontal axis and not always the same axis but we must remember that the designers were on a strict budget and to economise on land used the stone on the right would have been let into a space in plot 4 where the graves numbered 21 to 30 would have been left out of Rows E to J and a mirrored gap would have been left in plot 3 for a seat or feature.

If that had been the original design we ought to see a later date for the burials in the graves I suggest as planned to be left out but the date difference could be too small to stand out.

I have to ask myself if it was designed to be where the gate is why did he move it? There is a drop between grass lane and the cemetery level which is why the gate is inset which supports the theory that the stone was not meant to be there.

As you may gather I have no evidence but contend that the stone’s design spot moved as the cemetery expanded but I am not sure from whence.

Peter

Paul

Thank you for the date

Peter

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Tims

I am sorry, Peter, but I think that you are wrong.

It is important to appreciate that the cemeteries were designed as pieces of architecture in their own right. The current position of the War Stone, raised above the gravestones to the side of the cemetery, is entirely consistent with it being part of the original design. Yes, the architects were working to a budget but, as will be apparent, it was not a mean one and it was not a case of paring costs to the bone. It is perfectly feasible that the current boundary of the cemetery was the original one and that the cemetery was deliberately designed with expansion space to accommodate later burials. I accept that the right hand boundary is a little strange but very few cemeteries are perfect rectangles. I am sure that we are all aware of plenty of cemeteries that contain open space that could, quite feasibly, be used for additional burials if necessary.

If we run with your hypothesis, you are suggesting the following chain of events. Firstly, as originally built, there was no proper entrance to the cemetery and the War Stone was on its customary three step base. To all intents and purposes, therefore, this was Baker’s completed design. Secondly, at some later point, it was decided that more graves were necessary and additional land was acquired. However, rather than use the additional land purely for graves, it was decided that it should accommodate the War Stone as well even though, by moving it from the entrance, it did not free up any land for graves. It was also decided that it should be given a more elaborate treatment by raising it on a platform.

The only motive, I would suggest, that supports your hypothesis is that the changes took place for architectural reasons. It implies that Baker was unhappy with his original design and that the expansion of the cemetery gave him the chance to make amends by improving both the entrance and the setting of the War Stone. This implies of course that Baker, as a skilled architect, had made a mistake that was so big that his client agreed to fund the cost of a change. I’m sorry, but this does not make sense.

The only slight query in my mind is the fact that the levels of Plots XV and XVI are below the rest of the cemetery. However, it is difficult to reach any conclusion on this without knowing the original ground levels of the cemetery. My own view is that there was a general desire to raise the War Stone above the level of the cemetery, which was achieved by moving soil from these two plots. It may be that there was never any intention to use these plots but they came into use owing to the number of bodies found.

It’s a long explanation, I’m afraid, and while your theory is an interesting one, I struggle to see it as a logical one in the overall context of the way that this and other cemeteries were designed. If you look at the layout of Pernes British Cemetery you will see something that does not look too dissimilar from the way that AIF was originally built.

Tim

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Peter Woodger

Tim

This is a very interesting discussion.

When I say that the designers were under a strict budget I was effectively quoting from “The unending vigil” where on page 70 it says “… a direct consequence of the strict discipline with regard to costs imposed upon the architects”

I am particularly attracted to cemeteries with apparent space for expansion as I find that they are usually the opposite and show where French graves were removed subsequent to completion. On the Somme this space is rarely reused.

When we talk of the stone being moved we are of course meaning that it was moved on paper not physically.

I append a modified copy of the plan where I have taken out the graves that were added later.

I find in designs of Concentration cemeteries there is always a basic symmetry but the modified plan is best described as lopsided as well as being so over generous with land that the French would not have agreed.

Please let us continue the discussion but I will be away from my computer for a few days.

Peter

post-14342-1256710518.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Peter Woodger

Tims

I was convinced by your statement that “moving the stone from the entrance would not free any space for burials” so I reverted to my suggestion in post 17 that the original site for the stone was in the space occupied by Plot 4 Rows E to J Graves 21 to 30 with the mirrored space in Plot 3 for a feature.

I have examined the identified burials now in those spaces and have found the records for 2 in each space which show that their next of kin were informed of their reburials in May 1920 which is the same date as for the burials in Plots 7 to 14. This to me says that when the burials in Plots 7 to 14 were made the space for the Stone and the feature were moved to Plot 10 Rows E to J and Plot 9 Rows E to J. What to me proves this and helps with the next step is that the NOK of the man buried in 4 G 21 were told in May 1920 that he was buried in 10 G 1 and then told in 1925 that there had been some renumbering in the cemetery and he was now in 4 G 21 but the NOK was assured that the body had not been moved. The significance of this is that in 1925 Plots 15 and 16 were started, the Stone’s site was again moved to its present location with the spaces in Plots 9 and 10 being filled with the renumbering allowing a logical number system within Plots 3, 4, 9 and 10.

I am reluctant to search for other service records as I have not yet photographed the graves in this cemetery and if any are listed in error due to a transcription error it can be most confusing.

Peter

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Tims

Peter

Thanks for your further information and I am becoming intrigued by your thoughts now that I appreciate that you are not suggesting that the War Stone itself was moved, which was my initial understanding.

We have to remember the context in which the cemeteries were being designed, which was by a team of full time architects (Architects in France - AIF) working for the IWGC and based in France under the guidance of, initially, three and then four Principal Architects (PA), of whom Baker was one. The AIF would draw up the plan in conjunction with the PA and then circulate it with an Approval Form to the IWGC's professional team (lawyer, quantity surveyor, landscape consultant, artistic advisor, Fabian Ware etc). Unfortunately very few of these forms remain but I have studied the fifty or so for the cemeteries designed by Lutyens as part of my research for "Lutyens and the Great War" and they give a general idea of the way that the PA and AIF worked together.

You may be aware that the general format of the cemeteries was not finalised until after the three "experimental" cemeteries at Forceville, Le Treport and Louvencourt were completed in 1920. Clearly it was not possible to design all of the remaining cemeteries at once so, unless Flers was in the very first wave, then I think that it is unrealistic to suppose that Baker had worked out a full plan for the cemetery in time for the burials in 1920. Not impossible, but unlikely.

Am I correct in thinking that you have incontrovertible proof that the graves in Block IV, Rows E - H 21 - 30 were filled later than the other graves in the same block, and ditto with the same rows in Block III?

If you have then, what this is suggesting to me is that the burial party, perhaps with some guidance from one of the AIFs, made a rudimentary plan for the cemetery that left four gaps for "architecture" - the ones at either end (where the entrance and the Cross are now situated) and the two at the midpoints in Blocks III and IV - and this was the situation that faced Baker. I still do not believe though that the gap in Block IV was big enough for the War Stone, which always tends to have a generous, rather than a cramped, setting.

I would suspect too that the boundary that we now see is the original one. If the cemetery was rectangular at the outset I would have thought that they would seek to acquire another rectangular piece rather than a triangle. I will admit, though, that this is not a strong argument, as one can always counter that they should have squared it off at the start. My hunch would be that it was an awkward shaped site and that it didn't matter until they started adding the extra graves (and I note that you have not mentioned Plots XIII and XIV, which really seem to be cramming as many graves as possible into the site).

So, in summary, I think that the gaps could have been left as well meaning gestures for architectural reasons that were not necessary once Baker and the AIF started to look at the site plan in detail. However, to prove this we must have absolute evidence that the graves in both areas in question were not made until after the other graves in Plots I - VI. I think that they planned the cemetery on the basis of Plots I - VI and then the other graves were added later, perhaps by design but perhaps because there was no space readily available elsewhere.

It would be interesting to know whether any other cemeteries had similar characteristics because, if so, it sheds a new light upon the way that the cemeteries were designed.

Hope that this all makes sense.

Tim

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Peter Woodger

Tims

I have a copy of your book and would like to say well done!

My field of interest is the history of the cemeteries of the Somme area and lately I have spent a great deal of time studying the Concentration cemeteries and the concentration process.

I have not consulted original records as at this stage I feel I do not know what I do not know and prefer to form a hypothesis and then work to either prove or disprove it. This means that when I make a statement it should be prefixed by a phrase such as “In my opinion” or “I believe”. I do however try to avoid making statements before I have reasonable evidence to support it.

My research method is to first look at the plan of the cemetery as it is today. Many concentration cemeteries were small wartime cemeteries greatly added to post war. To the extent that the original burials allow, the layout of a 1919 concentration cemetery is symmetrical. The features of the Cross and the Stone are located on the central axis of the plan either in the vertical or horizontal direction. If one or both of the Cross and Stone are incorporated into the grave space then there is a corresponding gap left to keep the symmetry.

The burials were made in trenches of 20 feet long in which 10 bodies were buried. I term this the rule of 10. The Row was made up of a number of these groups of 10 and the spaces between Rows was a nominal 10 feet but seems to have a tolerance of + or – 2 feet. When further concentrations were made after the initial 1919 exercise the rule of 10 was used if the additions were to follow the form of the 1919 burials but burials were often made in long rows of close spaced graves. When the later burials follow the pattern of the 1919 burials the way of recognising them is to note the loss of symmetry.

I had always thought that the PA was involved in the cemetery design right from the beginning. It may not have been the PA, it could be the AIF, but the symmetry and the spaces left on vertical or horizontal axis were not left by chance. If we take Grass lane as an example the absolute minimum given to the burial officer would have been to say 6 plots, each of 12 rows each row being 3 groups of 10. The gap at the entrance and its mirror for the cross would also have been stated. I believe that that layout was given by the PA because if you look at the Architecture at the top of the cemetery it matches the original 6 plots not the added in 1920 space. To my mind there is no way that Baker would have made that end design if he was aware that more plots were to be added at the sides and most certainly he would have been appalled by the position of plots 13 and 14. I believe that Lutyens’s design for the back of Serre 2 was also made before the plots on the extreme flanks, or even the pairs of plots were made. If you know the date of the design I can supply the date of the burials in the plots.

I can give 2 more examples where the loss of symmetry indicates later additional burials. In each case one edge of the cemetery is against a road but the opposite edge is to an open field and could be expanded. If we look at Ovillers and ignore the plot numbers but look at the original concentration as an 8 plot cemetery each plot of 10 rows each of 40 graves then the cemetery ended at Row T of what are plots 10 to 17. Rows U to Z of these plots was added later and burial records of men buried there show this. The spaces at the sides on the original horizontal centre line have been left unused. If we now look at Adanac we again see an 8 plot cemetery but the Stone, the feature and the mirrored gaps are no longer on the Horizontal centre because rows K, L and M have been added to plots 7 and 8.

Returning to Grass Lane. In the 80 graves that are in what I think were originally spaces only 12 are identified and I have traced the records of 4 of them. The NoK of the man in Plot 4 Row G Grave 21 was informed on 15/05/1920 that he was buried in Plot 10 Row G grave 1. On 04/02/1925 they were informed that his official grave was registered as Plot 4 Row G Grave 21 and told “whilst the place of his burial remains unchanged the former registered grave number has been changed to conform with the uniform numbering of the cemetery”

On 21/06/1920 The NoK of the man buried in Plot 9 Row H Grave 1 was told that he had been buried in Grass Lane but did not mention a site. On 06/02/1925, note the similarity to the date above, they were told that his grave was now registered as being Plot 9 Row H grave 1 implying that it was previously different.

I am not sure that this proves anything but it makes me suspicious enough to note that there is a lot more work to do here.

I am not convinced that the shape of the total site is the original. If I consider other Somme Concentration cemeteries they do not have large vacant spaces which this one would have had without the extra burials. If the ground here had been flat I think that the added ground would have retained the shape and even the symmetry. I will have a good look over the right-hand wall when next I visit and would expect to see the ground fall away. I know that the ground outside the left side is well above the cemetery level particularly at the back.

Peter

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Tims

Peter

As ever, you have caused me to go back to look at my own records to see what I can discover in the light of your comments. I think that you have hit upon something, albeit not quite what you probably intended. Your reference to other cemeteries set me thinking and, if you look at the ones that you mentioned, you will see "cut outs" (as per your thoughts on the AIF) at the midpoints of the four sides. This leads me to suggest that there might have been a policy for the burial party to leave "areas of opportunity" for the architects who would come along later. As far as Serre 2 is concerned, I have a copy of the original IWGC Approval Form (dated 27 Sept 1928), on which the AIF (Noel Rew) states "It now contains 3,500 (graves) and is being steadily filled. The land has been obtained and a concentration layout made for between 7,000 and 8,000 burials" which indicates that expansion was part of the original concept.

I would be interested to know if you have looked at any other cemeteries that Lutyens designed, as this might lead us to some further clues.

I suspect that our our conversation may be boring other Forum members so it might be an idea to continue by e mail? I will eve members ot post comments as they think fit!

Tim

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Chalkhill Blue
I suspect that our our conversation may be boring other Forum members so it might be an idea to continue by e mail? I will eve members ot post comments as they think fit!

Tim

Certainly not boring me! Please keep it on forum!

Bryan

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
rmslt56
Peter

As ever, you have caused me to go back to look at my own records to see what I can discover in the light of your comments. I think that you have hit upon something, albeit not quite what you probably intended. Your reference to other cemeteries set me thinking and, if you look at the ones that you mentioned, you will see "cut outs" (as per your thoughts on the AIF) at the midpoints of the four sides. This leads me to suggest that there might have been a policy for the burial party to leave "areas of opportunity" for the architects who would come along later. As far as Serre 2 is concerned, I have a copy of the original IWGC Approval Form (dated 27 Sept 1928), on which the AIF (Noel Rew) states "It now contains 3,500 (graves) and is being steadily filled. The land has been obtained and a concentration layout made for between 7,000 and 8,000 burials" which indicates that expansion was part of the original concept.

I would be interested to know if you have looked at any other cemeteries that Lutyens designed, as this might lead us to some further clues.

No posting by Peter Woodger could be decribed as boring,Pleas continue the thread.

Doug

I suspect that our our conversation may be boring other Forum members so it might be an idea to continue by e mail? I will eve members ot post comments as they think fit!

Tim

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Sign in to follow this  

×
×
  • Create New...