Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Last Post

 George was laid to rest in the military cemetary outside Warloy, on the north side of the main road connecting Warloy with the front.

Google Earth View of the Original Cemetary and the Communal Extension to the East

Period Photo of the Extensioin
From a guide to Somme cemeteries:

Warloy-Baillon.—There are two cemeteries at the village of that name. The Communal Cemetery is on the east of the village and the Extension is in an apple orchard on the eastern side of the cemetery. The apple trees around the graves, in blossom on this spring day, made the burial ground very beautiful. All the cemeteries of France and Belgium have in common a noble simplicity of design, but each one has some particular feature. One is beautiful with orchard trees; another is graced with rose trees; of another sentinel poplars are a feature; of another the shroud-like cypresses. In every case the planning of a cemetery, its alignment, the site of the Cross of Sacrifice, and the Stone of Remembrance, its plantations and walls, are designed by the architects to harmonize with the natural features of the country. Not often on the French and Belgian sites has it been possible to attain the supreme loveliness of some of the Italian cemeteries, but all are beautiful. The first British burial took place in the Warloy-Baillon Communal Cemetery in October, 1915, and the last on July 1st, 1916. By that date field ambulances had come to the village in readiness for the attack on the German line, five miles away, and the Extension was begun. There are buried in the Extension 857 soldiers from the Home Country, 318 from Australia, 152 from Canada, and 3 unknown. The Communal Cemetery records 46 British burials.

The story of the post-war design and maintenance of British War Memorials is an interesting one. The short documentary linked below is from the Thiepval Visitor Centre and it provides the background to the creation of the Imperial War Graves Commission (later the Commonwealth War Graves Commission). It also desribes the building of the massive Thiepval Memorial, the largest British War Memorial. Thiepval remembers more than 72,000 British and Imperial soldiers who died on the Somme and who have no known grave. Located on the high ground in the centre of the Somme front, at the very place that was assaulted by George and his Salford mates, it can be seen from both ends of the 25-mile battlefield.

Another generous GWF member volunteered to take photos of George's grave for me when he travelled to Warloy to visit his Grandfather's final resting place last month. I asked for a close-up of the inscription at the base, as in previous photos I had seen, it was obscured by a small shrub. UK families were allowed to add a small inscription to the stone as long as they paid a per letter fee. Interestingly, the Canadian government levied no such charge.

George's Grave - Portland Stone from the Commonwealth War Grave Commission
The Ingham Family Inscription - Short But Moving

Warloy is a very beautiful and quiet place. As I very much doubt whether anyone from my family has ever been there, a trip is on my own personal "bucket list." 

Strangely, if George had survived and I had met him when I was young while visiting the UK, I likely would not have paid much attention to another elderly relative. But given the tragedy of his death at 19 years in such a major historical event, he has come to fascinate me. I want to know more about him and it frustrates me that every avenue for getting more information likely closed decades ago. 

But George has also opened a new area of interest to me. There were millions of "Georges" in the Great War and each one has his or her own interesting story to tell. 

I would also like to have time to properly search the archive of George's local paper, The Rochdale Observer, to see if there is a death notice with photograph. I have a photo of his dad but not him. Finding a photo of Geurge has become my "Holy Grail." If I do find a photo, George will be the subject of one of my sculpted busts. 

Warloy from the Cross of Sacrifice

Cross of Sacrifice at Warloy

I am not alone in wanting to know more about my family's experiences in the Great War. As the centenary approaches, many tourists will return to France to see where their ancestors suffered, endured, overcame, or fell. Governments and interest groups are already planning centennial activities. I can't explain the strong family connection I feel to George and the Somme but it is there. My research on George has opened other avenues of study. He was my maternal grandmother's brother. My maternal grandfather also served, as did his two bothers - one was at Gallipoli and the other was killed in action at Longueval, also on the Somme, two years after George. His remains were never identified and he is remembered on the Vis-en-Artois Memorial. I will learn each of these stories in whatever detail I can. 

George's poignant letter is the thing that speaks directly to me from the past. Each small detail, like the tiny brown burn on the letter that likely resulted from candle wax as he wrote in the dark trench at Donnet Post, the child-like handwriting conveying such mature thoughts, and his fearless tone, all make the letter a bridge to a time and place in my imagination. It makes me admire this young man I never got the chance to meet. I am proud to have him as my ancestor. Thank you again Jackie Waters!

In Memorium - George Leonard Ingham

The End ..... Warloy-Baillon

After being wounded in the night of July 12/13, quite possibly in one of two of the terrifying 3 AM frontal charges down the trench into the German blocking position, George would have been transported back to a casualty clearing station and thence to the operating centre at Warloy. 

Casualty Clearing
If George's service record had survived the attentions of the Luftwaffe in WWII, we would know exactly what the injuries were that claimed his life two days later. Given the reports of the Ovillers fighting, it seems likely that he was a victim of machine gun fire, a German grenade or a sniper. Each of these is identified as causing significant casualties to the 3rd Salfords in Ovillers. 

The following map shows the distribution of medical service centres serving the Somme battlefields. The concentration of services at Warloy is evident and it also clear why George was taken there given the lay out of the road network.

The following descriptions of Warloy are taken from an Australian history of the Somme medical services:

Period Post Card of the Main Hospital at Warloy
"The supply of dressings, equipment and medical comforts was ample. As a main dressing station the auxiliary to a British Field Ambulance in Warloy was taken over and placed under the direction of the officer commanding 1st Field Ambulance (Lieut.-Colonel C. Gordon Shaw). Arrangements were made whereby for a time “abdominal, head, and serious cases” were to be sent to the British Field Ambulance which ran the ”Main Hospital” at Warloy."

Google Street View of the Hospital Building at Warloy Today

"Under its experienced commanding officer (Lieut.-Colonel C. G. Shaw) the 1st Field Ambulance built up in Warloy a tented hospital capable of dealing expeditiously with very large numbers of wounded. The site conveniently adjoined the Corps Motor Repair Workshop, and the Motor Ambulance Convoy Park. The work at times was very strenuous - four operating tables going at one time."

WWI Hospital Ward
"The special station at Warloy for abdominal, head, and other urgent cases was staffed by special surgical “teams” from field ambulances with a female nursing staff from I Advanced the casualty clearing station. It was an operating centre, Warloy commonly known as the “main hospital,” and occupied a small but well built civil hospital of 75 beds together with accommodation for 375 in tents, huts, and other buildings."

So George clearly got the best of care available once he was successfully evacuated. One must assume that he was so seriously wounded that the medical services of the time could do nothing for him. Given that the hospital specialised in serious head and abdominal injuries, it is likely that George was seriously wounded in in one of these areas of the body. Given he died two days on, one has to conclude that the two days after Ovillers were unpleasant for him. That is sad to contemplate. 

It was general practice for officers writing home to spare the feelings of the families and to announce that thair fallen members has been killed instantly and had not suffered, even when it was a blatant lie. One wonders what the letter my great grandparents received said. I hope they got the standard lie.