Flers & Area
This page covers sites located to the east of the 1916 Somme battlefields, principally in and around Flers, Le Sars, Guedencourt and Warlencourt.
Flers lies to the south of the main D929 that runs across the 1916 Somme battlefields, best reached by leaving the main road at Le Sars and taking the D11. Following this small road, a cross-roads is reached. This was known during the war as 'Factory Corner'. This position was taken by the New Zealand Division on the 25th of September 1916. Flers lies down the road to the right; however continuing straight on (now the D74, but during the war known as 'Cheese Road') towards Guedencourt brings you to a small lane leading off to the right. A little way along this is the AIF Burial Ground. The track (which runs on into Flers) was known as Grass Lane, and this name is sometimes also added to the title of the cemetery here. This cemetery was started in late 1916 by Australians who were based in caves nearby, and these early graves from then through until early 1917 now make up Rows A and B in Plot 1 to the front left.
The original small number of graves were greatly added to after the Armistice when graves were brought here initially from near by but then from a wider area. This character is refelected in the very large proportion of unidentified graves: there are nearly 3,500 Commonwealth graves but only 1383 are identified, meaning that two thirds are unidentified. This make it one of the largest cemeteries in the Somme region, but it is perhaps less visited than some of the other large cemeteries in the area, being a little out of the way. However, it is a very interesting cemetery and well worth spending some time on.
In their book Somme Battlefields, Martin and Mary Middlebrook give some interesting detail on this cemetery, including the fact that the original right wall of the cemetery was demolished to further extend the cemetery at some point, probably the late 1920s. Ten additional plots were added; squeezed in on the left and right hand sides of the original cemetery and at the back. The base of the original wall can still be clearly seen, showing that the cemetery was once rectangular in shape, but the addition of Plots 15 and 16 (with the Stone of Remembrance located between these) on the right hand side means the cemetery is now an irregular shape. In fact, this cemetery was discussed at the 84th meeting of the IWGC, in January 1926, when Sir Fabian Ware reported that re-design was necessary as so many graves had been concentrated here and hence more land had been needed. The Commission approved plans submitted to them for the cemetery, and so the changes can be dated to probably 1926/27.
There are stone seats set on the right hand side of the cemetery, and there are also quite a number of French graves here, located together towards the rear in Plot 6.
A Victoria Cross winner is buried in this cemetery: Serjeant Harold Jackson serving with 'C' Company of the 7th East Yorkshires won the award on the 22nd of March 1918 near Hermies during the German Spring offensive of that year. His citation, in part reads 'Sjt. Jackson volunteered and went out through the hostile barrage and brought back valuable information regarding the enemy's movements. Later, when the enemy had established themselves in our line, this N.C.O. rushed at them, and single-handed, bombed them out into the open. Shortly afterwards, again single-handed, he stalked an enemy macine-gun, threw Mills bombs at the detachement, and put the gun out of action. On a subsequent occasion when all his officers had become casualties, this very gallant N.C.O. led his company in the attack, and, when ordered to retire, he withdrew the company successfully under heavy fire. He then went out repeatedly under heavy fire and carried in wounded.' Harold Jackson survived on that occasion, but was killed near Thiepval on the 24th of August 1918.
Another man now buried here is Lieutenant-Colonel Lord Feversham (Charles William Reginald Duncombe), who died on the 15th of September 1916, commanding the 21st Kings Royal Rifle Corps (also known as the Yeomans Rifles). His body was only located several weeks later when his battalion (with the future Prime Minister Antony Eden then acting adjutant) was based at Factory Corner and located it on the 10th of October 1916. Feversham's body was buried in a field to the south of the cemetery, and the grave was made more permanent by his family after the end of the First World War. After the end of the Second World War however, his body was moved the short distance to here. The grave beside his contains the remains of an unknown Royal Fusilier, found over 50 years later near Guedecourt and reburied here in April 2003.
Returning to Factory Corner, the D197 leads south into the village of Flers itself. Flers was some five miles back from the German front line at the start of the Somme battles in 1916, and it was not until September the 15th that the village was taken. This was in what was subsequently known as the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, which involved the first succesful use of tanks on the battlefield. The tanks started out from just north of Delville Wood, and it was tank D.16 which entered the village itself at around 8.20 a.m., with the infantry following behind it. These were men from 122nd Brigade, the first men into the village being from the 12th East Surreys. Three more tanks took on the east side of the village, and by 10 a.m. the battle for the village was over. The use of tanks here was very successful, although they were used at other points along the line on the same day with less success, such as at High Wood.
The third objective on that day, and the farthest point reached, was a line which ran just to the north of Flers, known as Bulls Road. Today, the name is still used at Bulls Road Cemetery, which is reached by heading east from the village and then up a rough track. This track was known as the Fosse Way; Bulls Road itself ran off away from the entrance of the cemetery (and a track still does) east in the direction of Lesboeufs. Several of the men from 122nd Brigade who attacked the village on the 15th of September 1916 are buried here. The cemetery is set on two levels; the upper level contains Plot 1, just over a hundred and fifty original wartime burials, many of Australian soldiers, buried between the 19th of September 1916 and March 1917. One of these was Second Lieutenant George Hough, who had been commissioned from the ranks. Before the war he had been a teacher in Western Australia, and was 25 when he was killed in action on the 6th of December 1916. After men were killed, the Army sent their personal effects back to their next of kin. In Hough's case, this consisted of just his identity disk. Hough was actually born in Bolton, England, and another Australian soldier buried here, Serjeant William Percival Beales, came from London originally. Beales served at Gallipolli, and had been previously wounded at least twice and had also suffered from trench fever before he was killed in action on the 3rd of January 1917. He was 32, and had previous military experience with the navy before the war.
There are also special memorials to men known or believed to be buried here to the left by Plot 1. The lower level is Plot 2. Seventeen of these graves (in row A) are also original wartime burials, dating from 1918; the remaining graves were concentrated here after the Armistice.
In the centre of the village is the 41st Division Memorial, familiar to many as the picture on the front cover of Before Endeavours Fade by Rose Coombes. The memorial is located in a street named the Place des Britainiques, and the main road beside it was where tank D.16 came on the 15th of September 1916. The memorial was unveiled in May 1932.
On the front of the memorial is inscribed 'To the Glorious Memory of those who fell - 41st British Division 1916-1918'. The units comprising the Division are listed below; the 41st Division was a New Army Division and had only arrived in France some four months before their attack at Flers. There are no inscriptions on the sides or back of the memorial plinth, just the sculptors name (Albert Tofts) and a date on the base of tghe statue itself. An older picture can be compared with todays view. Little has changed, although the concrete base, small columns and chains were obviously added later.
The 41st Division Memorial perhaps between the wars. Photo: J Souillard
Not far from Flers, reached by returning to Factory Corner, turning right on the D74 past the AIF Burial ground and then left in Guedencourt on the D74E is Guedencourt Newfoundland Memorial park. This is located on the right side of the road in a small wooded area. The village of Guedencourt was taken on the 26th of September 1916. The monument here is a Caribou, as found at Beaumont Hamel and at a number of other sites of particular inportance to Newfoundland on the Western Front. A plaque on the front of the memorial reads "Newfoundland/Terre Neuve", and one on the rear "Guedencourt 1916". The 1st Newfoundlanders, part of 88th Brigade within the 29th Division, came into the line just north of Guedencourt on the 9th of October 1916. The brigade attacked at 14:05, following a 'creeping barrage' and initially the attack here went well. However, the flank of the Newfoundlers became exposed due to hold-ups experienced by another battalion, and they were in a difficult situation. They were in the line here until the 13th of October, and sustained 239 casualties in this short time.
Also within the small park is a trenchline in the grass. This is a very small site in comaprison with the much better known Newfoundland Memorial Park and trenches at Beaumont Hamel, but is a good stop on a battlefield tour, and far less likley to be crowded or busy. The trench here became the front line position of the British at the end of the 1916 Somme offensive, with Bapaume still three miles distant.
There are two main sites of interest near this village, which marks the extreme extrent of the British advances on the Somme in 1916. Travelling from Bapaume on the main D929 road towards Albert, Warlencourt British Cemetery is on the left side of the road.
The cemetery dates from late in 1919, and was made by concentrating graves from smaller cemeteries and also by the recovery of bodies from the battlefields around here. The regular layout of the graves shows this clearly. It is one of the larger cemeteries in the area, with over 3,500 buried or commemorated here. Over half of these are unidentified, most probably due to the time elapsed between their death and recovery of the bodies.
In addition to the unknown British soldiers buried here, there are also two French graves where again the identity of the soldiers buried is not known. Among the identified burials is that of Victoria Cross winner Serjeant Donald Forrester Brown, of the Otago Regiment of the New Zealand forces. He actually won his VC south-east of High Wood, on the 15th of September 1916 (see the High Wood page for more information on the battles there). Together with a comrade, he advanced very close to an enemy machine gun post that had inflicted severe casualties on the attackers, and four of the gun crew were killed and the gun captured. His company then continued advancing but was again held up by machine gun fire. Again Serjeant Brown and his comrade rushed the gun and killed the crew. The citation continues 'After this second position had been won, the company came under very heavy shell fire, and the utter contempt for danger and coolness under fire of this N.C.O. did much to keep up the spirit of his men. On a subsequent occasion in attack, Serjt. Brown showed most conspicuous gallantry. He attacked, single handed, a machine gun which was holding up the attack, killed the gun crew, and captured the gun. Later, whilst sniping the retreating enemy, this very gallant soldier was killed'. This later occasion was on the 1st of October 1916 near near Eaucourt L'Abbaye, very near here, when his battalion was attacking Circus trench. Brown was killed by a long-range bullet from a machine-gun.
These are the actions of an extraordinarily brave man, but the citation made me wonder about the unnamed 'comrade' who was associated with much of these events near High Wood. Help provided by various members of the Great War Forum strongly suggests this comrade was Serjeant Jesse Rodgers, who was awarded the Military Medal for his part on the 15th of September 1916, later commissioned as a Second Lieutenant and also later won the Military Cross. His citation for the latter award described him as 'a born leader'. He did not survive the war however, dying of wounds on the 30th of July 1917. He is buried in Trois-Arbres Cemetery near Armentieres.
There are special memorials to men known or believed to be buried here along the right hand side of the cemetery. On the left hand side are more special memorials, to men whose graves in Hexham Road Cemetery were destroyed in the war.
As always, a walk along the rows of graves brings details and information that add to the many names. For example, Private H C Davis of the 7th Londons inscription records that he was an 'Altar server of St. Marys parish church, Woolwich'. One of the special memorials is to an Australian believed to be buried somewhere in the cemetery, Private George James Ford Bartlett of the 27th Battalion of the AIF. He was 27 years old when he was killed in action on the 3rd of March 1917. He had had a couple of spells already in hospital (one with measles) and also had been punished for being absent from a parade in October 1916. He was probably buried originally in one of the smaller cemeteries which were later concentrated here, as in November 1917 the Director of Graves reported that he had been buried 'just east-north-east of Warlencourt'. However, the location his body was moved to must somehow have been lost, hence the special memorial rather than a headstone over his grave. This special memorial was originally in the form of a wooden cross, in what was then known as 'Memorial Plot Row O' in the cemetery. It is not clear if the cross was in the same location that the stone is today, but in 1922 Bartlett's mother received a letter informing her of the special memorial cross which also bore the names of other soldiers from the 27th battalion whose grave locations had been lost due to the 'failure of the Graves Services to identify the actual graves of these soldiers'.
The civilian cemetery can be seen at a distance across the road. Continuing in the direction of Albert, you soon reach the position of the front lines on the 20th of November, representing the furthest gains made by the British advances in 1916. The picture below is taken looking in the direction of Bapaume, an early objective for the 1916 offensives, but still another two and a half miles from here.
One of the most famous locations on the 1916 Somme battlefields was the Butte de Warlencourt, an ancient mound dating from Roman times. Continuing from Warlencourt British Cemetery along the D929 towards Albert, the Butte is located to the left of the road and up a hill. The position of the Butte is often not at all obvious from below when the trees foliage is thick and obscures it from view. The Butte is also smaller today than it was before the First World War. Tunnels were made in the mound, and due to it's excellent observation potential it was fiercely defended by the German, surrounded by barbed wire and strengthened with machine guns. There are signs outside which remind you of the status of this site; the bodies of soldiers who fell will still remain here. The Butte was held by the Germans and not taken by the British during the 1916 Somme Offensives, although on the 5th of November soldiers from the 50th Division did reach it briefly. The British only gained it when the Germans abandoned this position in their 1917 retreat to the Hindenburg Line. However, the Germans took it again when they advanced again in spring 1918. The 21st Division took the Butte again on the 25th of August 1918.
Once inside the site, a path with concrete steps set into it leads up to the top. A plaque attached to a tree remembers men of the Post Office Rifles (the 8th London Regiment) who fought and died here in October 1916. From the summit there are excellent views, although again this can be limited by the foliage present. A cross made up of stones is inset into the ground. Several battalions of the Durham Light Infantry, as well as their parent brigade (the 151st) erected battlefield memorial crosses here, but these were taken back to Durham in 1926. The Butte is now owned by the Western Front Association, who purchased it in the late 1980s, and there is a memorial plaque ertected by them on the top.
Butte de Warlencourt shortly after the War. Photo from the Michelin Guide to the Somme Battlefields
From the Butte de Warlencourt, the D929 continues uphill into the village of Le Sars. The village was attacked on the 1st of October 1916 but not held, and then taken six days later by the 23rd Division. There is relatively little to see in this village of Great War vintage, although one interesting German memorial is worth a visit.
The main Albert road through Le Sars shortly after the War. Photo from the Michelin Guide to the Somme Battlefields
Located in the grounds of a farm, reached up a small track running to the left of the road travelling towards Albert is a memorial to the Reserve Infanterie Regiment 111, located right behind the building on the left of the track.
A photograph of this memorial appears in the Michelin Guide to the Somme published shortly after the war, and the text comments that there was a German cemetery here then. The memorial is in a very poor state, but is one of the few German memorials which is to be found on the Western Front (certainly on the Somme).
The Reserve Infanterie Regiment 111 Memorial shortly after the War. Photo from the Michelin Guide to the Somme Battlefields
It was near to Le Sars that another Victoria Cross was won: Second Lieutenant Henry Kelly was serving in the 10th Duke of Wellington's (West Riding) Regiment when on the 4th of October 1916 he very bravely led his company on despite heavy losses, and with only three survivors entered the German trenches and bombed the enemy. Two of those with him became casulaties, and when German reinforcements arrived Kelly had to leave. He carried first his wounded Company Sergeant Major back to the British lines, and then went out to bring other wounded men in. That this was a brave man is in no doubt; as well as the VC he also won the Military Cross and bar, and achieved the rank of Major. After the war, very sadly he was not so successful in civilian life, and in 1931 he appeared in the Manchester Bankruptcy Court, as his various businesses in the city had suffered from a number of problems including fires and his ill-health. However, he did live until 1960, and is buried in the Southern Cemetery in Manchester.
Sources & Acknowledgements
Australian National Archives
Commonwealth War Graves Commission website
Gerald Gliddon: Somme 1916
Great War Forum
Major & Mrs. Holt: Battlefield Guide to the Somme
Chris McCarthy: The Somme - the day by day account
Michelin Guide to the Somme Battlefields
Martin & Mary Middlebrook: Somme Battlefields
Paul Reed: Walking the Somme
The Times archives