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Mametz and the Bois Francais Area


The Cross of Sacrifice at Devonshire Cemetery

This village is located around three miles due east of Albert, and on the 1st of July 1916 was towards the southern part of front on which the British attacked. In this area, unlike further north, there was success on the first day when Mametz was captured and nearby Fricourt was taken on the 2nd of July. It was the 7th Division which attacked here and gained these early successes. As well as the village itself, this page also covers the Bois Francais and cemeteries near to that woodland. There is now a separate page on Fricourt.

Map of Fricourt and Mametz area
Map of Fricourt and Mametz area

The area is of interest because the war poets Robert Graves and Siegfried Sassoon served in this sector with the First Battalion of the Royal Welch Fusiliers in early 1916. They mention many of the place names around here in their memoirs.

Starting to the south of the village, on the D147 road between Fricourt and Bray-sur-Somme is Citadel Cemetery. The road layout near the cemetery has changed recently. By what used to be a small track leading to Citadel Cemetery and on towards the Bois Francais, a new roundabout has been constructed. From this, a new road (the D329) now leads off west towards Meaulte Aerodrome and Albert. There is also a large ditch structure near the roundabout. The turn to the left from the roundabout, towards Citadel Cemetery has a new tarmacced section for the first part.

Citadel Cemetery was named after a point marked as 'The Citadel' on trench-maps. There was a camp of the name here, and the cemetery originally started by the French, with the first British burials made in August 1915. Most burials were made by Field Ambulance units, and so most of the 378 buried here are identified. The majority died before the Somme battles of 1916.

Citadel Cemetery
Citadel Cemetery

To the front left of the cemetery are two graves standing by themsleves; one of an unidentified soldier and the other that of Private S Circuit of the 2nd Middlesex. These two graves alone form Plot 1. The other four plots are in the major part of the cemetery, to the right of the entrance: a grass slope with flowerbeds either side leads up to the Cross of Sacrifice and the rest of the Cemetery beyond. In the first grave in Plot 2 Row A, Brigadier-General Louis Phillpotts is buried. This officer was with 24th Division Royal Artillery, and is one of many such senior officers who were killed in the Great War. Beside him lies another Artillery officer, Captain H Crippen, MC, of the 56th Division Artillery, like Phillpotts killed on the 8th of September 1916.

A headstone in Plot 3 Row F is inscribed 'Believed to be Sapper H Curtis'. This is fairly unusual: when the identity of a body was uncertain, it was more usual to have an unidentified grave (inscribed 'A Soldier of the Great War Known Unto God'), with a special memorial 'headstone' elsewhere in the cemetery to commemorate the man. The two graves in Plot 5 Row G in the rear left corner of the cemetery are located right under a mature tree, and the left hand grave especially (that of Private Sparrow of the Machine Gun Corps) must be under the roots of this tree now.

Citadel Cemetery
Citadel Cemetery

One man buried here is Corporal 'Mick' R O'Brien of the Royal Welch Fusiliers. It was this man that Siegfreid Sassoon carried in from No Mans Land on the night of the 25th of May 1916, for which he was later awarded the Military Cross that he later threw in the River Mersey as part of his protest against the War. Corporal O'Brien had been a regular raiding partner with Sassoon before that night, but Sassoon was not one of the raiding party on the 25th of May. However, he waited anxiously for the raiders to come back into the British lines, and then, when some did not return, against orders went out after them. With help, he dragged O'Brien back in, although the man was already dead when they reached safety.

An officer from the 1st Irish Guards, Lieutenant Charles Tisdall, died on the 15th of September 1916 and is buried in Plot 2. He had won the Military Cross for actions on the 18th of May the same year near the Ypres Salient, when along with a Private Younge he repulsed a group of around 20 Germans who had attacked a bombing post. He was killed when the Irish Guards attacked north-west of Ginchy and was 23 when he died. The 1st Irish Guards suffered badly that day: the Second in Command of the battalion, Major T M D Bailie was also killed and is also buried here, whilst four other officers were killed or later died of wounds, and there were more than 330 causalties among the men. Afterwards, what was left of the battalion regrouped on the southern edge of Bernafay Wood, and then made their way back to camp here at the Citadel. Presumably they brought back some of their dead with them who were then buried in this cemetery next to the camp.

Grave of Lieutenant Charles TisdallGrave of  Corporal 'Mick' O'Brien
Graves of Lieutenant Charles Tisdall (left) and Corporal 'Mick' O'Brien

The track continues uphill from Citadel Cemetery across the sloping farmland and after a short while becomes unsurfaced and stony. A contour line here marked on trench maps was Point 110, and there are two cemeteries near this track which bear that name. The first reached travelling from Citadel Cemetery towards the Bois Francais is Point 110 New Military Cemetery, to the right of the track. The picture below shows both, seen from further down the track towards Citadel Cemetery.

Point 110 New and Old Military Cemeteries
Point 110 New and Old Military Cemeteries

The Cross of Scarifice stands directly in the entrance to this small cemetery, which was begun by the 403rd French Infantry Regiment in May 1915. The bodies of the 26 Frenchmen buried here were removed after the war, as were two German graves. The cemetery today contains just 64 Commonwealth burials, all made between February and July 1916. All are identified.

Point 110 New Military Cemetery
Point 110 New Military Cemetery

In his autobiography Goodbye to All That Robert Graves describes the deaths of three officers; David Thomas, David Pritchard and Mervyn Richardson. Thier graves are here, next to each other in the second row back on the left. Their deaths, on the 18th and 19th of March 1916, apparently followed shortly after an unwise comment by the adjutant of the battalion about how fortunate they had been in not suffering any officer casualties in recent times. Sassoon described Thomas in some detail as 'Dick Tiltwood' in his semi-fictionalised Memoirs of an Infantry Officer.

Royal Welch Fusiliers buried in Point 110 New Military Cemetery
RWF Officers graves in Point 110 New Military Cemetery

Sassoon first met David Thomas in mid-1915 at Litherland, and described him as 'good as gold'. Thomas was a close friend of both Graves and Sassoon, and the latter's account of David Thomas's burial to the sound of machine gun fire is very moving. The inscription on Thomas's headstone reads 'Per crucem ad lucem' (through the cross, we reach the light). He was just 20 when he died. One can still hear gunfire in this area from time to time, as there is a clay pigeon shooting range near to the Bois Francais today.

Grave of David Thomas
Grave of David Thomas

A little further along the track, this time off to the left is Point 110 Old Military Cemetery. The Bois Francais is visible on the ridge above, and the gleam of the Basilica in Albert can be seen from here too. This cemetery is the larger of the two with just less than a hundred burials, again all identified. Once again, it was originally a French cemetery, taken over by the British in August 1915. This was probably given the name 'Old' as it had been started by the French earlier than the 'New' Point 110 Cemetery. In fact, before September 1916 the hill was not known by the name 110 at all, but rather as King George's Hill. Again, the original French graves have long since been removed.

Point 110 Old Military Cemetery
Point 110 Old Military Cemetery with the Bois Francais beyond

On the headstone marking Private William Blandford's grave is an inscription that reminds you of those left behind: 'He waits for us above, resting in the Savior's love. His wife and little Nance.' William Blandford was from Blandford in Dorset, and served with 'B' Company of the 1st Dorsets. His wife was Lucy Amelia Blandford, living at 51A Dorset Street in Blandford. We can't know how old 'little Nance' was when her father was killed on the 5th of October 1915, but since William himself was only 22, she can't have been more than a few years old at the most.

Point 110 Old Military Cemetery
Point 110 Old Military Cemetery

There quite a number of burials of men from the Manchester Regiment who died on the 6th of February 1916, including Lieutenant Thomas Murdoch aged 20 from County Antrim. Several men from Tunnelling Companies are also buried here, and one can reflect on the particular bravery it took to dig underground with the constant threat of the enemy blowing a counter-charge, or the tunnel collapsing, and thus those trapped being literally buried alive. For example there is Second Lieutenant Norman Isherwood of the 174th Tunnelling Company. His headstone bears the insignia of the Royal Engineers. He was 22 when he was killed in action on the 8th of October 1915.

Grave of Second Lieutenant Norman Isherwood of the 174th Tunnelling Company
Grave of Second Lieutenant Norman Isherwood of the 174th Tunnelling Company

It seems on walking along the row of graves that there are many very moving personal inscriptions at the base of the headstones here. For example, that on Private Edwin Isaac Harper of the Northamptonshire Regiment reads 'To our hero from Mother, Dad, brothers and sisters'. On Private Charles Cameron's headstone are the words 'Ever remembered. Our thoughts are always with him in this foreign land'.

The Bois Francais itself is just beyond these cemeteries: a small wood on a ridge, where the enemy lines were relatively close together as neither wanted to concede the high ground. The trenches near here had London names: Park Lane and Shooters Hill for example. Shell-holes and what may perhaps be the remnants of trench lines can be seen in the right side of the wood off the track. German trenches can also be seen on private land just beyond.

Bois Francais
Bois Francais

The lines here were incredibly close. The very acurate GPS based Linesman system allows a very good estimate to be made of locations of the German and British front lines. The photograph below shows the view from the position of the British front lines towards the German front lines in early 1916. The German front lines were located just where the shadows begin on the track from the trees above. The front lines were only some 40 paces apart - the position was on the brow of a hill and neither side wanted to give up any ground here.

Position of the lines at the Bois Francais
The front lines were very close at the Bois Francais

From the Bois Francais to the right is the area where Seigfreid Sassoon earned his Military Cross on the 25th of May 1916. This is the site of Kiel Trench and the land here still bears the scars from the Great War. However there are also the remains of World War Two gun emplacements here. Walking further along the right side by the fence towards the trees gives better views of the remains of German trenches here.

Shrapnel can still be seen in the furrows of the fields here, rusty fragments of metal ninety years old lying alongside clay pigeon fragments from the 'Ball-Trap' shooting site a little further along.

Area of Kiel Trench, Bois FrancaisArea of Kiel Trench, Bois Francais
Site of the Kiel Trench at the Bois Francais

In his Walking the Somme, Paul Reed describes very rewarding walks which cover this area and the sites around, also giving the historical background from b oth the military and the literary associations perspective. The book is thoroughly reccomended to those visiting the area.

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Mametz

Mametz in ruins
Mametz in ruins after capture on the 1st of July. Photo: Vise Paris

Over the ridge to the north-east from the Bois Francais lies the village of Mametz. In the lee of the slope to the south of the village is the beautiful and moving Devonshire Cemetery. Probably one of the most famous and most visited cemeteries on the Somme, there is a stone by the cemetery gate which bears the inscription "The Devonshires held this trench, the Devonshires hold it still".

Steps leading up to the Devonshire CemeteryInscription by the gates of the Devonshire Cemetery
The stone by the entrance and the inscription at Devonshire Cemetery

The inscription was originally on a wooden sign, and the stone tablet replaced this in 1986. In Devonshire Cemetery lies the body of Captain Martin, who made a model of the ground the 9th battalion was to attack on the 1st of July, and predicted that they would be wiped out by machine gun fire from the 'Shrine' (located just in front of the graveyard in the village of Mametz). The views from the cemetery to the Shrine (left - showing the ground the Devonshires had to advance over) and from the Shrine towards the British front lines (right) are shown below.

View from Devonshire line towards The ShrineView from The Shrine towards British lines of July 1st 1916
View towards (left) and from (right) 'The Shrine'

Martin proved correct and is buried in the cemetery; his name inscribed along with two other Devonshire soldiers on one headstone. In the Cemetery, only two of the 153 burials are not Devonshires, and only one of the 151 Devonshires buried here did not die on the 1st of July. A small cemetery with just two long rows of headstones, this is a location in which to remember the tradgedy of the Great War, as the Cemetery is effectively the trench from which the soldiers who are now buried here attacked on the 1st of July 1916.

Devonshire CemeteryDevonshire Cemetery
Devonshire Cemetery

Very near the site of the Shrine, I saw a large shell lying waiting for collection by the ordnance disposal experts. I placed a normal paperback book by the side of it to give some idea of the size of this shell.

Large shell near 'The Shrine' in Mametz
Large shell near 'The Shrine' in Mametz

A little further south-east along the road from the Devonshire Cemetery is another beautiful and very moving cemetery - Gordon Cemetery. On the 1st of July 1916, the 2nd Gordons attacked to the right of the Devonshires, so these two cemeteries, close to one another, represent their respective attacking fronts; the bodies of those who were killed being buried very near to where they had fallen. Despite the casualties, the attack here was successful, with gains made right through to the north of Mametz.

Gordon Cemetery, near Mametz
Gordon Cemetery, near Mametz

The cemetery contains two short rows of headstones, whilst the others are arranged in two semi-circles around the Cross of Sacrifice. Only the rows mark actual graves. At the front right of Gordon Cemetery in a row are the graves of six officers of the Gordons who died on July the 1st 1916. They were all Second Lieutenants, and one of those is listed by the CWGC as Nigel Lorne McNeil, attached to the 2nd Gordons from D Company of the 3rd Gordons. However, the file on this officer at The National Archives shows his name was actually Neil Lorne McNeill, born on August the 5th 1894, so just 21 when he died. He applied for appointment to the Special Reserve of Officers in March 1915, an application which had to be counter-signed by his mother, Marjorie C. McNeil, as he was under 21.

The report of his death, which was sent to the War Office 20 days after he was killed, describes his place of burial as "Behind grave in '67 Support Trench', by the roadside, near MANSEL COPSE, just S. of MAMETZ" with the map reference 62d F.11.c.8.3. Today he lies there still, and his grave is the second from the left in the picture below.

Gordon Cemetery, near Mametz
Officers graves (including N.L. McNeil), Gordon Cemetery

Unlike the graves of these officers, the majority of headstones in the cemetery do not mark actual burials. All the 'headstones' in the two semicircles record the names of soldiers who are known to be buried within the cemetery, as the exact location of their graves is not known. Not all burials are of identified soldiers, and one headstone commemorates "Four Soldiers of the Great War" - but otherwise all the special memorial headstones within these two semi-circles are of known men, all are 1st of July men and all are Gordons.

Gordon Cemetery, near Mametz
Special memorials for other ranks in semicircles at Gordon Cemetery

The only other known locations of graves within this cemetery are the three at the back left; again (like the officers graves) in a row, one is an unknown soldier who died on the 9th July 1916, and the other two Royal Field Artillery men, who died the day before. These three were also buried by the 2nd Gordon Highlanders when the cemetery was made, and their graves are shown below.

Burials at Gordon Cemetery, near Mametz
RFA graves, Gordon Cemetery

The village of Mametz itself is small, peaceful, and probably little changed for many years. The two pictures below show the outskirts of the village, in the 1930s and today.

Mametz in the 1930s
Mametz in the 1930s Photo: A. J. Insall

Mametz today
The same scene today

Within the village is a Memorial to the 20th, 21st, 22nd and 24th Manchester Regiment, which was erected by the Western Front Association. These battalions were among those who successfully took the village of Mametz on the morning of the 1st of July 1916.

Memorial to the Manchester Regiment in Mametz
Memorial to the Manchester Regiment in Mametz

Dantzig Alley British Cemetery is located to the east of the village, on the road which leads to Montauban. It is very near to the site of Dantzig Alley trench, which was captured by the 2nd Queens and 22nd Manchesters on the 1st of July 1916. The photograph below right shows a stone inset in the wall, on the left side of the cemetery, just past a small shelter. This stone commemorates the Royal Welch Fusiliers killed on the Somme between 1916 and 1918.

Dantzig Alley CemeteryPlaque to Royal Welch Fusiliers within Dantzig Alley Cemetery
The entrance inscription (left) and the plaque to the RWF (right) at Dantzig Alley Cemetery

This cemetery was started in July 1916, and used on and off nearly until the Armistice, when it contained 183 graves (these now form Plot One which constitutes the upper tier, at the front and nearest the road). As with many cemeteries, graves were also concentrated here after the war ended, and these are found in the lower tier at the back. The headstones in this lower part face away from the road, whilst those in the upper tier face towards the road. In all there are now just over 2000 burials or commemorations here, with around a quarter being unidentified soldiers. This is not as high a figure as for many other 'concentration' cemeteries, although I am not aware of any specific explanation as to why this should be. It is a beautifully kept cemetery, as the picture below (with flowers in bloom in late October) shows.

Dantzig Alley Cemetery
Dantzig Alley Cemetery

There is a further memorial to the Royal Welch Fusiliers (this time the 14th battalion specifically), which is located at the rear of the cemetery and is in the form of a seat. There is a Hedd Wyn quotation and the statement "Erected by the Officers, Non-commissioned Officers and Men of the 14th (S) battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers, 38th Welsh Division in memory of their comrades". Also at the rear of the cemetery is a special memorial to 70 soldiers who were buried in two other cemeteries (Vernon Street, Carnoy and Bottom Wood, Fricourt) whose graves were later destroyed.

Special Memorial at Dantzig Alley CemeteryRoyal Welch Fusiliers seat at Dantzig Alley Cemetery
Special memorial (left) and the 14/RWF seat (right) at Dantzig Alley Cemetery

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Sources & Acknowledgements
Commonwealths War Graves Commission website
Brig-General Sir James Edmonds: Military Operations France & Belgium 1916 (Volume 1)
Robert Graves: Goodbye to All That
Major & Mrs. Holt: Battlefield Guide to the Somme
Rudyard Kipling: The Irish Guards in thr Great War
Chris McCarthy: The Somme - the day by day account
Martin & Mary Middlebrook: Somme Battlefields
The National Archives: Various files
Paul Reed: Walking the Somme
Siegfried Sassoon: Memoirs of an Infantry Officer
The Times & The Scotsman Archives
Jean Moorcroft Wilson: Siegfried Sassoon - the making of a war-poet