A surprisingly warm October sun bathed the graveyard in its orange light. Between rows of white headstones a crowd was gathered to watch the burial of fifteen British soldiers whose bodies had been missing for almost exactly a hundred years.
Filming from the press area I had a privileged view as the last of the fifteen coffins was lowered into the ground by the men of the 4/Yorkshire regiment. A lone bugler played the last post and the mens descendants laid wreaths for them.
The men were all from the 2/Yorks and Lancs and were killed during the fluid and confused fighting of the 18th October 1914. This was before the western front became a long series of trenches and rival units still had space to manoeuvre and try to and outflank one another.
(Below is the preview film that the team and I made for BBC breakfast news)
The British III Corps was tasked with participating in anglo-French offensive along the Lys valley. After moving up from Fleurbaix and Bois-Grenier, the 2/Y&L was ordered to carry
out a ‘reconnaissance in force’ southwards towards Radinghem.
The war diary of the 2/Y&L (National Archives WO95/1610 – which is reproduced in the October edition of the Commonwealth war graves newsletter ) tells the story:
“18 October 1914. 8 AM. Battalion paraded and marched to Touquet [a hamlet half a mile
south of Bois-Grenier] and there received verbal orders from the Brigadier-General. Battalion to make a reconnaissance in force in conjunction with the Buffs… French cavalry to act
dismounted on our right and companies to be extended on a line running SW from Bridoux,
1 mile SE of Touquet. ‘A’ and ‘C’ Companies extended accordingly – ‘A’ on the left with its left resting on the main road. ‘B’ Company in support to ‘C’ Company…. Having reached the line Hau de Bas with little resistance, [the battalion] received verbal orders… to advance and take the village of Radinghem and having done this push on and take high ground on the approach to Chateau de Flandres.”
[By early afternoon,] Village [Radinghem] taken without difficulty by ‘A’ Company. Line held
up for short time by shelling of French and our guns. Centre of line on reaching high ground
East of Radinghem came under heavy shell fire from southerly direction, but continued the
advance with the remainder of the line across the Radinghem – Fromelles Road. Right of line
coming under heavy cross fire of machine guns and shrapnel in the open, was forced to
return back to the road. At the same time the remaining companies, having got into the
woods of Chateau de Flandres tried three times to advance but were each time driven back
by cross fire of machine guns, situated at southern boundary of the wood, and shrapnel and
fire. They eventually took up positions on the Radinghem – Fromelles Road, in
conjunction with the Buffs.
(5.10 PM) General line of above road taken up and entrenched with rear line of defence of 1
Company (this company was formed of men who had been rallied by Major Clemson to form
a 2nd defensive line) in our right rear. Occasional shrapnel fire from enemy, but machine
gun fire and rifle fire had ceased.
(6 PM) Order received to hold on to the ground gained. Remainder of night occupied in
entrenching and reforming companies. During the night, French cavalry who were in
position on our right withdrew.
The Battalion lost thirty-four men killed in that action,, thirty two of men remaining undiscovered and unburied (two men were identified and are buried in Bois-Grenier
But in 2009 excavations for a soak-away pit behind a property at the cross roads at Beaucamps Ligny , less than a quarter of a mile north of the site of the former Chateau de Flandres, lead to the discovery of multiple human remains.
The Commonwealth war graves committee then quickly got to work, and after years of comparing DNA with the ancestors of those missing managed to discover the identity of fourteen of the fifteen bodies. A staggering achievement. (The information below is courtesy of their October newsletter)
Pte. Herbert Ernest Allcock, 6774
Born in Leeds in 1882 and married Ethel Bloomfield in 1911. The couple had two
young daughters. Winifred and Ellen in April 1914. The family lived at
Greenhow Avenue, Burley, Leeds. Ethel never remarried and she died at the age of 91 in 1975.
Pte. John Brameld, 7208
A Sheffield lad, the eldest of a family of five children. He followed the family
trade as a grinder in the cutlery industry before signing up with the York and Lancasters on 7 January 1903. On enlisting, it was noted he had “several scars” on the left side of his face and “some bad teeth”. He served three years with the Colours, including seventeen months with the 1st battalion of the regiment in India. Following his transfer to the Reserve, John settled back into civilian life and resumed his old trade as a table blade grinder. He married Rachel Forster in 1908 and the couple had two children. Although more than eight years had elapsed since his regular service, John – along with other reservists in the same situation – mobilised immediately upon the declaration of war. He was 30 years old when he was killed.
Pte. William Butterworth, 8175
William was born in Wakefield in 1878, his father was from Barnsley and
his mother from Dundee. He was the eldest of eleven children who survived into adulthood.
He enlisted into the York and Lancasters on 13 December 1904, aged 23, declaring
he had already had service of some two years in the army. His enlistment papers tell
us he was 5 feet 2¾ inches tall and weighed just over 9 stones. Extending his service
from the initial three years to seven, he served in India for virtually all of his pre-war service. He married Margaret Clegg little more than six months before the war and the couple had a baby daughter, Beatrice, who he never had the chance to meet. (As a recent Father stories like this still manage to choke me up- Chris)
Cpl. Francis Carr Dyson, 9159
Francis was from Wakefield, the second eldest in a family of six children. Enlisting with the York and Lancasters in 1908 for a term of seven years with the Colours, he was a regular serving in Limerick when war broke out. Francis had already been appointed Lance Corporal by the time of the 1911 census but very little else is known of him as his service papers didn’t survived.
Pte. Walter Ellis, 8272
Walter was a coach builder from Doncaster. He enlisted on 20 July 1905 at the age of 22 years for a period of seven years with the Colours, subsequently extended to nine. The service records show a benefit of joining the army – after just six months he had gained 1½ stones, up from the less than 8½ stones he weighed when he signed up. Walter had issues with discipline and was sentenced to 21 days imprisonment in February 1911 by a District Court Martial for contempt of court and further punishment by a subsequent court martial that resulted in the loss of pay and pension entitlement for 112 days. Walter was transferred to the Reserve on 20 July 1914 but enjoyed little more than two weeks of civilian life before he was mobilised at the outbreak of the war.
Pte. John Willie Jarvis, 7164
John, from Rotherham, was a miner before enlisting in the York and
Lancasters on 18 November 1902. Having previously served in the military during the Boer War and having been awarded the Queen’s South Africa medal with Cape Colony Bar, he evidently decided that the army life was not for him. John deserted on 21 February 1903 but re-materialised on 9 July. He avoided a trial by forfeiting pay and pension entitlements.
He was then transferred to the 1st Battalion and shipped to India. Upon completion of three years with the Colours (excluding the period of the desertion) he was transferred to the Reserve on 9 July 1906 and resumed his pre-enlistment occupation as a miner.
Pte. Leonard Arthur Morley, 8678
Leonard was born at Boxhill, Surrey in 1892 into a family with ten children. On enlisting at Stratford his stated employment was a labourer. He was a tall lad and managed to pass himself off as being 18. Leonard is the youngest of the men to have been identified. He was 22 years old when he was killed.
Pte. Ernest Oxer, 8502
Ernest was born at Swinton near Rotherham in 1886 into a mining family. He enlisted with the York and Lancasters in October 1906. He served with the 1st Battalion, including a stint in India, before he was transferred to the Reserve in 1913, after seven years with the Colours.
He settled back into civilian life and married Ada Hakin in the spring of 1914. The couple had a baby boy who was born on 16 November (another man who never had the chance to see his child) He was named Ernest in honour of his father.
Pte. John Richmond, 7969
John was born in 1886 in Nottingham and enlisted in October 1904 at the age
of 18. He served three years with the Colours, including a spell of nearly two years in India, and was transferred to the Reserve on 28 October 1907. His service record indicates his conduct as having been “very good”. John married Mary Elston in December 1909 but the couple had no children.
Pte. William Alfred Singyard, 7318
William was born in Newcastle and initially worked as a tanner before
enlisting in May 1903, having just turned 19 years of age. His original
enlistment was for a term of three years but this was extended by a further five years. His conduct sheet indicates his character as having been “very good”. He was transferred to the Reserve in May 1911 and eventually found a job with the North Eastern Railways as a goods porter, a position that he held until his mobilisation in August 1914. Recalled on the outbreak of war, he had to leave his wife Margaret, who he had married in 1913, and infant daughter, Elizabeth, at their home in Shieldfield.
L/Cpl. William Henry Warr, 6822
he was born at Lyme Regis in 1887, the eldest son of a family of
fifteen children, twelve of whom survived infancy. He enlisted as a boy soldier at the age of 15 in 1902. William was tiny, he was just 4′ 9″ tall, and weighed in at less than 5½ stones. He declared his “trade” as a musician and was appointed as a Drummer in November 1902. William served the full term of his 12 years engagement with the Colours in the UK and extended the same to a full 21 year term in February 1914 whilst stationed in Limerick. Just before the extension of his term, William had been appointed as Lance Corporal with pay. William is one of only two of the identified men in the group who was not a recalled reservist.
It was the 22nd October 2014 when the men were finally reburied at Y-farm cemetery, a small picturesque spot close to the village of Bois Grenier.
It was a touching service that reminded me how important it is that we never forget our war dead. And that no matter how many years after the conflict their bodies are discovered we make every effort to give them the dignified send off that they deserve.
(below is our film of the service)