A Furious Bombardment: WW 1 Battlefields Tour

Canada did not repatriate its close to 61 thousand dead service men and women during WW1. Throngs of Canadians did not line highways as they do today, paying their respects as hearse after hearse carries bodies home to cities and small towns across the country. The overwhelming number of dead made repatriation virtually impossible.

Initially the dead of the First World War were buried on or near the battlefields where they fell, often in mass graves, marked with simple wooden crosses.

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In May of 1917 the Imperial War Graves Commission was established to design and construct cemeteries and memorials. The war dead are now commemorated on white headstones, uniformly and equally, irrespective of military or civil rank, race or creed. Red roses, not poppies, decorate the graves.

In the summer of 2019, my husband and I, together with, my husband’s cousins Elaine and Max Shane , took a coach tour from England to visit the Western Front Battlefields in France and Belgium. Knowing so little of WW I battles, this tour was an eyeopener for me. But any tour to the battlefields inevitably meant visits to cemeteries.

The tour stopped at the largest cemeteries and memorials such as Tyne Cot Cemetery, the Ploegstreert Memorial, Newfoundland Park and even a German cemetery at Langemark. It was the small cemeteries, however, that captured my attention. Hundreds can be found in towns and villages and along the roads and highways we travelled. Some gravestones appear to be right in the backyards of the homes of the living.

My son’s great uncle, Lloyd William Tarrant, is buried in the small cemetery of Bedford House in Belgium, 2.5 km south of Ypres on the road to Armentieres. It was not a scheduled stop but the tour guide kindly pointed it out to me.

Lloyd died at Mount Sorrell sometime between June 2nd and June 3rd, 1916. (see Boy Soldier of The Great War at http://www.genealogyeemsemble.com) The mount was the only high ground retained by the Allies from the fighting of the previous year. It was of strategic importance and a key target for the Germans. On the morning of June 2nd, a furious bombardment was unleashed against the Canadian Third Division defending Mount Sorrell and simultaneously four huge mines were exploded under the mount.

Trenches and their defenders vanished.  Only 76 of the 702 men of the 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles, Lloyd’s regiment, survived. It was not before several more battles over a two weeks period with a total of 8 thousand casualties that, on the 13th of June, the Allies regained their lost positions.

It is assumed that, as the bodies of those slain at Mount Sorrel were found and identified, they were buried nearby, their graves marked with the ubiquitous wooden crosses.  Many bodies, or pieces of bodies, likely shared a common grave.

In 1923, Lloyd’s mother received a letter telling her that her son’s body had been reburied at Bedford House Cemetery.

Bedford House was the name given by the army to Chateau Rosendal, a country house in a small wooded park with moats, that was confiscated to use as a clearing station for men wounded at the front. Those who died at the station before they could be moved on to hospitals for further treatment were buried there. More bodies were added, particularly between 1916 and 1918. Enclosure #4 where Lloyd is buried is the largest of six enclosures. Three thousand bodies were brought in from other burial grounds and from the battlefields of the Yves Salient, battlefields like Mount Sorrell.

Almost two thirds of the graves at Bedford House are unidentified. Lloyd’s family is one of the lucky ones in that they know where his body lies. The saddest words on a gravestone are A Soldier of the Great War Known only to God.

 

Notes:

Remembrance Day drawing by Evelyn Tarrant (age 9),  great great niece of Private Lloyd William Tarrant

Service file of Lloyd William Tarrant

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