Posted by: michaeldaybath | May 24, 2011

Reflections on the new Dorsetshire Regiment memorial at Authuille

The news this month that a new monument to the soldiers of the Dorsetshire Regiment has been recently unveiled at Authuille in France is a reminder that, as memories of the First World War recede into the history books, the need for tangible foci of memory remains [1]. As Charles Cooper of the Western Front Association commented before the unveiling,  “People visiting the Somme want a focus where their grandfathers or great-grandfathers served” [2]. The memorial takes the form of a Portland Stone obelisk, with the regimental and county crests and – perhaps inevitably – a quotation from Thomas Hardy, “Victory crowns the just” (from the poem “Men who march away”).

Title page of gunnery notes

Title page of gunnery notes by Sgt W. Rawles, 1/4th Dorsetshire Regiment (1918)

My own grandfather and great uncle served in that regiment during the war but, as members of the 4th Battalion, they spent most of the war in India or the Middle East. I know very little of their service history, but I do have some notes taken by my great uncle at a musketry course held at Pashan Camp, Kirkee (India) in October-November 1918 (see image above).

That said, on my first visit to the Western Front battlefields in Belgium a few years ago, I was determined to look for the distinctive Dorsetshire Regiment cap badge when visiting Commonweath War Graves Commission (CWGC) cemeteries. Perhaps inevitably, I found one in the very first one that I visited:  Hooge Crater Cemetery just east of Ieper (Ypres).  I resolved at the time to find out a little more about Lieutenant L. S. Palmer.

CWGC gravestone

CWGC gravestone for Lieut. L. S. Palmer, Hooge Crater Cemetery, Belgium (September 2007)

The name Palmer immediately suggested to me a Bridport link, if for no other reason than the well-known brewery of that name.  Lieutenant Palmer had evidently died in September 1917, in one of the many engagements that made up the 3rd Battle of Ypres, perhaps better known now by the name of the ridge and village that became the focus of fierce fighting later that year: Passchendaele. What eventually became known as the Battle of the Menin Road commenced (and ended) on the 20th September, when Australian and British troops advanced along the line of the Menin Road towards Zonnebeke [3]. By the standards of the 1917 campaign, the engagement was reasonably successful, with almost all objectives being obtained [4].

Hooge Crater Cemetery started off as a wartime burial site but was extended after the war by the concentration of graves from smaller cemeteries and individual burials [5]. Rose Coombs’s standard introduction to the Western Front memorials notes that 5,922 men are buried or commemorated there, 3,578 of them unidentified [6]. A recent work on the Lutyens-designed cemeteries by Jeroen Geurst provides some additional background information [7]:

Initially the cemetery contained seventy-six graves, in the rows A to D of Plot 1, but witnessed a huge extension after the Armistice, when graves were added from the battlefields of Zillibeke, Zantvoorde and Gheluvelt and from smaller cemeteries in the vicinity (pp. 328-330).

Geurst describes the architectural setting of the cemetery as follows:

The field lies on a gentle slope on the south side of the road from Ieper to Menen, in an open landscape. As the ground descends, the plateau offers a fine view of the cemetery and the surrounding landscape.

A horizontal plateau has been installed on the slope, on the side of the road, with a sunken circular part with the war stone in the middle. The circle recalls the bomb crater of July 1915. […] The Cross of Sacrifice has been placed behind the War Stone, between two shelters. As the visitor enters the cemetery next to the War Stone and the Cross of Sacrifice, the climax is at the entrance and consequently the cemetery proper is a tranquil continuation (p 330).

Returning to Lieutenant Palmer, a search of the CWGC records [8] revealed that he was Leslie Stuart Palmer from Bridport, the son of Mr.  J.  C. Palmer, of 29 South Street. This also showed that he belonged to the 4th Battalion of the Dorsetshire Regiment, but died while attached to the Machine Gun Corps. Armed with this information, it was easy enough to confirm the link with the brewing family of Bridport by reference to the book published in 1923 by J. W. Rowson to commemorate Bridport’s role in the war. This revealed that Palmer was one of two brothers that died in the war, the sons of Alderman J. C. (Cleeves) Palmer J.P., the Mayor of Bridport from 1916 to 1917 and senior partner at the brewery. Rowson’s book also provides a summary of Leslie Palmer’s war service [9]:

LESLIE STUART PALMER, Lieut., youngest son of Mr. J. C. Palmer, was killed in action on the 20th September in the same year. He was an officer of the 4th Dorset Regiment and was attached to a Machine Gun Corps, going to France in June, 1916. He was gassed and invalided home in October of that year. After recuperating he returned to France in June, 1917, and was killed by a sniper in the following September.

A recent visit to Bridport gave me the opportunity to find Lieutenant Palmer’s name on the town’s war memorial (one designed by G. Gilbert Scott) and to find a photograph of him in a recently published history of the brewery by Tim Heald [10]. This additionally records that Leslie Palmer was educated at Sherborne College and had previously worked as junior brewer at Cobbold’s Brewery in Ipswich. On the manner of his death, Heald adds that Lieutenant Palmer “was killed by a sniper during the second phase of an attack on 20 September 1917 after pushing to within 50 yards of the opposing infantry. He was buried where he fell; just east of Shrewsbury Forest, 2½ miles east of Ypres.” Shrewsbury Wood is a little way south of the Menin Road,  to the east of Hill 60 (where the 1st Battalion of the Dorsetshire Regiment had suffered severely in a gas attack in  May 1915 [11]). Palmer must have been one of the many graves to have been relocated to Hooge Crater Cemetery after the war.

To conclude, it must be very unusual to be able to unearth the life of a randomly selected officer purely from published sources and the Web.

For me, Lieutenant Palmer’s peaceful grave in the countryside outside Ieper represented a direct link with the war experiences of my grandfather and great uncle’s generation, amazingly now almost a century away. Maybe one day I’ll be able to visit Authuille and see whether the new memorial will do the same.

Bridport War Memorial

Panel of the Bridport War Memorial

“Men who March Away” was written by Hardy in 1914, just after the start of the war and at the time of the (so called) Rape of Belgium. It seems to me that his later war poems give a far more nuanced view of the true nature of war.

Men Who March Away

(Song of the Soldiers)

By Thomas Hardy

What of the faith and fire within us
Men who march away
Ere the barn-cocks say
Night is growing gray,
Leaving all that here can win us;
What of the faith and fire within us
Men who march away?

Is it a purblind prank, O think you,
Friend with the musing eye
Who watch us stepping by,
With doubt and dolorous sigh?
Can much pondering so hoodwink you?
Is it a purblind prank, O think you,
Friend with the musing eye?

Nay. We see well what we are doing,
Though some may not see —
Dalliers as they be —
England’s need are we;
Her distress would leave us rueing:
Nay. We well see what we are doing,
Though some may not see!

In our heart of hearts believing
Victory crowns the just,
And that braggarts must
Surely bite the dust,
Press we to the field ungrieving,
In our heart of hearts believing
Victory crowns the just.

Hence the faith and fire within us
Men who march away
Ere the barn-cocks say
Night is growing gray,
Leaving all that here can win us;
Hence the faith and fire within us
Men who march away.

5 September 1914

From:  Thomas Hardy, Moments of Vision (1917), in: The Complete Poems of Thomas Hardy, ed. James Gibson (London: Macmillan, 1976), pp. 538-539.

References:

1. Peter Parker, The last veteran: Harry Patch and the legacy of war (London: Fourth Estate, 2009).

2. “Somme memorial to Dorset World War I soldiers,” BBC News Website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-dorset-13154655

3. Leon Wolff, In Flanders fields: the 1917 campaign (London: Longmans, Green, 1960), p. 148.

4. The battles of September and October 1917 are described in: Nigel Cave, Ypres: Polygon Wood (Barnsley: Leo Cooper, 1999).

5. Nigel Cave, Ypres: Sanctuary Wood and Hooge, rev. ed. (Barnsley: Leo Cooper, 1995), pp. 109-110.

6. Rose E. B. Coombs, Before endeavours fade: a guide to the battlefields of the First World War, 12th ed. (Old Harlow: Battle of Britain International, 2006), p. 55.

7. Jeroen Geurst, Cemeteries of the Great War by Sir Edwin Lutyens (Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 2010), pp. 328-331.

8. Commonwealth War Graves Commission: http://www.cwgc.org/

9. J. W. Rowson, Bridport and the Great War: its record of work at home and in the field (London: T. Werner Laurie, 1923).

10. Tim Heald, Palmers: the story of a Dorset brewer (Bridport: Palmers Brewery, 2008), p. 62.

11. The attack is described in: Nigel Cave, Ypres: Hill 60 (Barnsley: Leo Cooper, 1998).

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Responses

  1. […] crosses as memorials. In other cases, memorials can easily become lost from view. Readers of my earlier blog on the new Dorsetshire Regiment memorial at Authuille may wonder why there had been no earlier […]

  2. […] few years ago I wrote a blog about my very first visit to Ieper, where on looking for a random Dorsetshire Regiment casualty in […]

  3. […] have already mentioned on this blog that I have a special interest in the 1st/4th Dorsetshire Regiment. Both my grandfather and great uncle, Henry Day and William […]


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