Tag Archives: memorials

British War Medal 1914-18 to Pte Morris Sheffield Pals

Buried Amongst Kings

If you go to Westminster Abbey you can walk on the graves of many famous figures from history, but there is one grave you can’t walk on, which is strange, because nobody actually knows who is buried there.

I had thought of writing a piece on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior for today, but I just had this sent and it does it better than me, so here is the link. There are more details here.

What it doesn’t seem to mention is that the interment took place in the presence of approximately 100 women who had lost their husband and all their sons in the war. This wasn’t all the women who had lost their husband and all their sons in the war, just the ones who accepted the invitation.

The railway carriage that brought the coffin to Westminster Abbey is preserved and was also used to bring home the bodies of Captain Fryatt and Nurse Edith Cavell. I mentioned them in a post a while ago.

The reason people needed a focus for their grief was due to the unusual nature of the war, where the same few miles of ground were fought over time and time again. Even if a soldier was buried properly, and there are many tales of bravery associated with soldiers giving their comrades a decent burial, it was quite likely that the site would be churned up by shelling, or that the paperwork reporting the site would be lost, or that the poor quality dog-tags of the time would not be up to the task of identifying the body a tear or two later.

That is why there are 315,000 names on memorials in France and Belgium commemorating men with no known grave. Many of them do have graves, but they are marked as Known Unto God. There are 212,000 headstones that use those words, chosen by Kipling and used on the headstone of his son John. That leaves 103,000 bodies unaccounted for, and they are currently still being recovered at the rate of approximately 40 a year in France.

Even now there is still a chance of identification – particularly if you are famous. Researchers eventually identified John Kipling’s grave was identified. The Queen Mother laid her bridal wreath on the tomb when she married in 1923, establishing a tradition for all royal brides to do the same. Her brother Fergus was killed in 1915 and the site of his grave was lost. In 2012 a grave marker was erected in a cemetery – it bears his name and the inscription “Buried near this spot”, as they have been able to identify the cemetery but not the actual grave.

This article gives you some idea of the efforts still going on today.

I always misquote the inscription, and to be honest the misquote fits better as a title – here is the full quote.

They buried him among the kings because he
Had done good toward God and toward
His house

Poppy

The Narrow Cells

Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree’s shade,
         Where heaves the turf in many a mould’ring heap,
Each in his narrow cell for ever laid,
         The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep.
Elegy in a Country Churchyard – Thomas Gray

I was at Crowland Abbey earlier last week (as you may have noticed) and took a few shots of gravestones with interesting names. We didn’t have a lot of time so I didn’t do a lot of searching, just took a few pictures of stones with names I thought I could look up in the census results.

The first one was a stone that was laid flat at the end of the south aisle (the one with no roof) to form a pavement. It seems a poor way to treat a memorial but I suppose if you believe that only the skull and thighbones are needed for resurrection the grave marker is irrelevant.

It looks like it’s the stone of Sarah, wife of William Hewson. William is listed in the 1861 Census for Crowland, a widowed 71 year old farmer and cattle dealer. If only the moss had grown more. Unfortunately I can’t narrow it down more than that, or find any mention of Sarah.

A few yards further on, just outside the walls, is a stone to  William Blood and his wife Mary Ann. William was a farmer, who ended up with 143 acres. and eventually left property valued at “under £100” in 1877. Mary went to live with her daughter and Robert, the eldest son, became a general dealer, married two women called Mary (one after the other) and died in 1914.

Conspiracy theorists might deplore the state collecting all this information, but it does make family history easier (unless people marry identically named wives).

A few yards away is a stone to Drusilla, wife of Augustus Blood, who died in 1876. She had a difficult, and short, life. In the 1841 census she is months old and the daughter of an Ironmonger but in 1851 she is living with her grandmother and mother (both widows). By 1861 she is living with an an aunt and uncle and listed as a dressmaker. Finally, in the 1871 census she has a daughter and is married to Augustus Blood, an unemployed butcher.

By 1881 Augustu was working as a butcher in Oundle, Northamptonshire. He had 4 daughters between the ages of 5 and 10 (no wonder poor Drusilla died young). His brother Henry was working with him (though he also has a housekeeper). In 1891 he is living in Whittlesey, Cambs, with a new wife Ann, and three young children between 4 and 8, all born in Oundle. Ann died in 1901 and left effects worth £42 8s 9d to Eleanor Frost, spinster.

By 1911 (the last census to be released) Augustus was living near  Salford, Lancashire and working as a Chapel Keeper. At the age of 68 he was living with his 44 year old wife (having remarried in 1904), two stepchildren and his brother Henry, who was a self-employed confectionary hawker. He died in 1915 and left £32  4s 9d.

 

It’s amazing what stories you can find in a churchyard.

Keeping busy

 

Sorry about the lack of activity over the last few days, we’ve been a bit busy.

For instance, while I was talking to a visitor on Thursday afternoon, the peacock came to call.

On Friday morning we visited Abbots Bromley, home of the Horn Dance. There was no dance, but there was a prize-winning butcher. I bought a pork pie and a Moroccan lamb pie. They both had lovely crispy crusts and plenty of densely packed meat. As usual, I didn’t think to take a photo until they were gone. At the risk of being a bit of a Philistine, I did find them a touch dry, as I like a bit of jelly in my pie and prize-winning pies tend to be a bit too meaty for me.  It’s probably a good thing I don’t do a food blog as I’d probably be frowned at for remarks like that.

After that we went to the National Arboretum. It’s the second time we’ve been and it was somehow less impressive than the first time, even though they have done a lot of work. I think this is because it’s now more cluttered and because a lot of the memorials now seem to be made from modern materials. We have to visit at least once more, so we will have to see.

We saw a Little Egret amongst the Canada geese, which was nice, and there were loads of dragonflies and damsel flies on the pond that cost £35,000 to build. Yes £35,000. To put it in context our butterfly garden cost £32.50 plus a lot of volunteer time and donated plants. I’m thinking of building a wildlife pond next – just need to see if someone will give me £35,000 to do it!

And yes, we did see a few memorials too.

These are for the Cockleshell Heroes, 1914 Truce (with game of football) and the Women’s Land Army. There is also a replica trench to commemorate the Great War, though I’m not sure my grandfather would have recognised it.