Cemetery Focus: Guillemont Road

Welcome to another of my blogs where I focus on a particular cemetery & you might have noticed a recurring theme so far, they are all on the Somme. I spend most of my time there on my visits to the old front line and it’s become almost a second home to me over the last 20+ years. It’s an area I feel comfortable in and I know about many of the events that took place here. But as ever I’m still learning and something new out there is always waiting to be discovered!

So this week we find ourselves at Guillemont Road cemetery, located by the side of the road on the D64 which runs from Combles-Guillemont-Montauban-Mametz to Albert. It was on this road that on 29th August 1914 the German 4th Reserve Corps, part of Von Kluck’s First Army, passed through, quickly dealing with any of the French Army that were encountered. Interestingly this would be repeated in May 1940 as General Guderian’s XIX Panzer Corps, specifically 2nd Panzer, motored down this road heading towards Albert where a small unit of British soldiers had been left to put up some kind of defence as the main bulk of the British Army moved back towards the coast. The 7th Royal West Kent’s a Territorials unit lasted less than an hour, lacking both training & anti tank weapons. 20 would give theirs lives with the remainder surrendering or managing to escape

Back to Guillemont Road of course and as we look at the magnificent entrance if we peer down the road to our left we see Trones Wood & to our right the village of Guillemont itself

Guillemont Road Cemetery entrance ( Authors Own Photo)

The village was taken briefly on 30th July 1916 by 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers of 90th Brigade, 30th Division but couldn’t be held due to high number of casualties & prisoners taken in a counter attack by the Germans. On the 8th August it would be the turn of 55th (West Lancashire) Division to attack & again after a brief occupation of the village they were pushed back. An attack by 2nd Division took place on 18th August & again they initially captured parts of the village. It wouldn’t be until 3rd September 1916 in what became known as the Battle of Guillemont that elements of 20th (Light) Divison as well as 16th (Irish) Division captured & cleared the village & pushed on to the Ginchy Road. Casualties again were high especially to the South with over half of the Irish battalions becoming casualties as well as losses by French forces further to the South around Hardecourt-aux- Bois. The objective was Leuze Wood but it would see days of fierce fighting before the tip of this would be taken

Shortly after this the cemetery was begun an Advanced Dressing Station had been set up here to treat the wounded of this battle & from further afield at Ginchy & Lesboefs where the Guards Divison were in action and initially 121 men were buried here when it was closed in March 1917

In March 1918 this area was lost in the German Kaiserschlacht before being retaken by the 18th Division, returning again to this area after spending the Summer of 1916 near here, & 38th (Welsh) Division on 29th August 1918

It became after the war a concentration cemetery,having been designed by Sir Herbert Baker, and it now contains 2,263 Commonwealth burials and commemorations. 1,523 of the burials are unidentified but there are special memorials to 8 casualties known or believed to be buried among them. That’s just an incredible 744 identified! Many bodies were brought in from the surrounding fields where they had lain since July-September 1916

In April 2019 I was very privileged to attend the reburial service of an Unknown soldier of the Sherwood Foresters, Notts & Derby Regiment in this cemetery whose body had been found with, if I recall rightly, 12 others whilst building the new wind turbines just North East of Guillemont towards Ginchy. He was the 4th to be reburied I think. Attended by the modern day ancestor regiment, The Mercian Regiment, the Military Attaché from Paris & CWGC staff the coffin draped in the union flag was carried by pallbearers of the regiment and a beautiful service was conducted and the unknown laid to rest. It was an incredibly humbling experience & the first & up to now the only reburial I’ve attended

Burial Service of Unknown Soldier April 2019( Authors Own Photo)
Unknown Sherwood Forester later that day after headstone installation (Authors Own Photo)

Of course many of you will be aware that Lieutenant Raymond Asquith 3rd Grenadier Guards, the son of the then Prime Minister Herbert Asquith, who on 15th September 1916 was shot through the chest whist attacking between Ginchy & Lesboefs and who died before reaching the ADS here at Guillemont. His story can be found in several places so I won’t reproduce it here but what is interesting is on the same row is buried Lieutenant Honourable Edward Wyndham Tennant, 4th Grenadier Guards killed a week after Raymond Asquith and related by marriage. There are suggestions he was buried here on purpose but it could have just been coincidence

Two graves that I always visit and raise a smile at, which you may find strange in a cemetery, are those of Private G/79064 H J Claus 9th bn Royal Fusiliers & Private 781529 Thomas Edward Christmas 29th bn London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers) who both were killed on 28th August 1918 and buried in Hardecourt French Military Cemetery before being concentrated here by 3rd Labour Company in the 1920’s

Grave of Pvt HJ Claus (Authors Own Photo)
Grave of Pvt TE Christmas (Authors Own Photo)

Between the cemetery and the village Captain Noel Chavasse would win his first Victoria Cross whilst serving as Medical Officer in 10th bn King’s Liverpool Regiment ( Liverpool Scottish) when he rescued wounded men from the battlefield after an unsuccessful attack. Of course less than a year later whilst near Ypres he would win his second VC sadly awarded posthumously

If we look to the North we can see Delville Wood and the Western edges of the village of Longueval and moving our eyes across the landscape to the West we can see some modern day farm silos where the railway line that came out of Trones Wood passed this farm into Guillemont Station a short distance away

If we leave the cemetery & head down the road towards Guillemont turning off to our left down a track, where the German front line later known as Park Lane was, there is a wonderful walk that takes you up literally following the old German front line to Delville Wood & Longueval. As we walk we pass the site close to the old Quarry of Guillemont we see on our right what is now a water overflow area. When this was dug in 1938 3 bodies were found and one of these was identified as Captain Charles Hindley Walton 19th bn Manchester Regiment killed on 23rd July 1916. He was identified by a engraved cigarette case and is now buried with the other 2 men in London Cemetery & Extension, High Wood. Below can be seen concentration report showing the other unknowns were also 4th City 19th Manchesters. My good friend Andy Partington with interest also from Jonathan Porter have tried to confirm the identity of one of these other men for a few years now

Burial return © CWGC
Captain Charles Walton’s grave (Image Andy Partington)

We follow the track to the left,Hoop Trench, and a little further on as we look towards Trones Wood we see a private memorial in a field surrounded by a brick wall. This memorial was placed here by the family of 2nd Lt George Marsden-Smedley of 3rd Rifle Brigade who aged just 19 & in his first action was killed near here on 18th August 1916. He was seen to have been shot by a German Officer on the parapet if a German trench near here. His body like so many was never identified

Marsden-Smedley Memorial (Authors Own Photo)

The railway line ran close to this memorial as it headed into Guillemont with a branch off to the left to Waterlot Farm, a sugar refinery, and into the centre of Longueval. The front line was above the slight embankment on our right before it jutted out slightly around the chimney from the old refinery. As you can see again the Germans had the advantage with this slightly elevated position. There are remains of old buildings at the site of Waterlot with some newer farm buildings still in use. Remember as ever this part is private land

Trench map 15/08/16 (Memory Map/Great War Digital)

As we go on further we’re at the back of modern day houses with a peek of Delville Wood & it’s cemetery just behind it. Entering the village down the D20 road now if you’re lucky you may find a stop at the Calypso II bar/ Tabac for some liquid refreshment is in order

Guillemont Road is certainly one of my favourite cemeteries with its wonderful views of the battlefields & villages and being in what was no mans land it gives you a real birds eye view of both the British lines in Trones Wood & the distance they had to cross to get the German lines. Although cleared after the war I’m sure that this area still has many secrets to reveal

Thanks again for joining me I hope you’ve found it informative or if you knew the stories & the area I hope it managed to somehow transport you back there until we can all return. As ever feel free to comment here or contact me via twitter @Terriermcd . Especially if you have any personal stories & connection to Guillemont




Andy Partington

The Middlebrook Guide to the Somme Battlefields

IWM Resource

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