In my last blog I wrote about our experience at Mont St Quentin, while on a tour of the Australian World War I Battlefields.
After St Quentin we drove on to Peronne, where we had lunch and visited the ‘Historial De La Grande Guerre 14-18’ or the Museum of the War of 1914-18, which was housed in the old medieval castle. It was well worth visiting, as it showed the story of the soldiers, of the many nations, who took part in the war.
After lunch we boarded the bus and drove to the Peronne Communal Cemetery Extension.
The Peronne Communal Cemetery Extension was begun in March 1917 after the Germans had abandoned the town the first time. The Germans continued to use this cemetery when they took the town back in early 1918.
The Australian 2nd Division became the final group to use it, until after the end of the war when the Commonwealth Graves Commission brought in all those soldiers in isolated graves and small cemeteries. There are 517 Australians here, nearly all lost their lives on the attack on Mont St Quentin in late August and early September 1918.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission has its own website at http://www.cwgc.org/. It is worth visiting not only for the history and continued work of the Commission, but the symbolism which goes with the cemeteries, such as the ‘Cross of Sacrifice’ and the ‘Stone of Remembrance’.
This was the first of many cemeteries we visited over the next few days, and our tour guide did a wonderful job in educating our group on these features, as well as many more concerning the general nature of these cemeteries.
We have two family heroes in this cemetery, Private Robert Edward Sherwood and Corporal James Joseph Stapleton.
Before we left home in June I had printed out from the above mentioned website, the map of this cemetery and marked the position of their graves.
We were able to alight from the bus at the cemetery gate.
The sky was grey and cheerless, never the less the cemetery was beautiful with the gleaming white headstones, lush green grass, and coloured flowers in full bloom decorating the graves themselves. The whole was shrouded in a peaceful silence.
We were the only members of the group to have soldiers buried here, and with the assistance of Pete and our fellow tour companions we were quickly able to find their graves.
For the second time that day we were in for a surprise, although perhaps we should not have been. Corporal J J Stapleton was buried between his two mates, who were carrying him to the field medical station when they were killed by shrapnel from an exploding ‘whiz-bang’ mortar shell.
This gave us a strange comforting feeling knowing that even though he had died so far away from home and family, he was not alone, but resting in peace beside his mates.(Below)
We were able to take photos with the back -drop of the Australian flag. One of the members of our group had previously made many tours of the Western Front Battlefields, and generously shared with us all an Australian flag he had brought with him. We all appreciated this kind gesture, as it gave an added depth to all our photos.
My grandmother’s, cousin, Robert Edward Sherwood was also buried in another section of the cemetery. We took photos of his grave with the Australian flag too.(Below)
After reboarding the bus, we headed for the town of Iepers, where we were to stay the night.