September 21, 2017. After we left the Monument to the 1st Canadian Division, we began the hard work of trying to find the cemeteries where individual soldiers from the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion were buried.
Although Pieter had printed out detailed instructions from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission on the exact location of each cemetery and the burial locations, we soon found out that actually finding the cemeteries was easier said than done.
Pieter determined that the first cemetery we should go to was Moeuvres Communal Cemetery Extension where Private Charles Lowther is buried. On the way to Moeuvres on a nerve racking ride, sharing the road with drivers who think they’re kamikaze pilots, we passed through the village of Vis-en-Artois and I demanded we stop for coffee and a badly needed toilet break.
Pieter gallantly tried to stop to accommodate me, to the annoyance of a Belgian truck driver who kept blowing his horn – the only one to do so on the trip. But, luckily we found a parking spot and made it safely across the road to the café.
After using the facilities, I was able to order us coffee in my best schoolgirl French. Everyone immediately picked us out as foreigners, and the owner asked if we were here to visit the British cemetery. Why else would Les Anglaises be in town? And were we interested in the postcards?
“Bien sur”, I said. I had no idea which cemetery he was asking about, but shopping is always fun. Pieter was a bit annoyed until he realized that he wanted to go to this cemetery as that was where Corporal Kenneth John Bell, another name on the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion, was buried. It turned out the British cemetery was just down the road from the café in Harcourt. Now Pieter thought it was very smart of us to have stopped in the right café!
After our break, and postcards in hand, we made our way to the Vis en Artois British Cemetery. According to the information given by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the villages of Vis en Artois and Haucourt were taken by the Canadian Corps on August 27, 1918. The cemetery began right after that date and was used by fighting units and ambulances until mid-October 1918.
Originally, the cemetery had 430 graves, of which 297 were Canadian. After WWI the cemetery grew by adding graves from battlefields and smaller cemeteries in the area, until today it has 2,369 burials from WWI, 1,458 of them unidentified.
We found the grave of Kenneth Bell, but to our surprise he was not in a single grave. He was buried with Private P. B. CLARK, who had died four days earlier than Bell.
Kenneth John BELL was born March 28, 1896 in Cape Traverse, the son of William Bell and Lucy Rogerson, and nephew of PEI Premier John Howatt Bell. On September 16, 1918 he was hit by enemy shell fire, and was attended to by the medical officer of the brigade, but he died on the way to the dressing station. The location of the unit at the time of the casualty was Rumaucourt, 10.2 km from Harcourt.
It’s a shame as Bell, per his obituary, “had fought in the battles of the Somme, Vimy Ridge, Lens, Ypres, Passchendaele and many later battles and came out without a scratch”, only to die two months before the war’s end. Unfortunately, we have not been able to find a photo or additional information on Corporal Bell.
From Harcourt, we travelled 14 km further to Moeuvres Communal Cemetery Extension where Private Charles Lowther is buried.
We soon learned that when we saw the word “Extension” by the name of a cemetery, it meant that the war graves were in a separate area, usually at the back, of a public cemetery. In Moeuvres, the Extension has 565 Commonwealth burials and commemorations of WWI, with 263 unidentified graves.
Charles LOWTHER was born in North Carleton on September 27, 1896, the son of Henry and Bessie Lowther. He died September 25, 1918 after being wounded by enemy shrapnel in a trench at Inchy-en-Artois, 2.1 km from Moeuvres. He was evacuated by a unit of the 52nd division, who later reported him dead.
According to the war diary of the 25th Battalion, which Lowther was part of, for the 25th of September in Inchy-en-Artois: “…At about 6:00 am the enemy put down a heavy barrage on our lines and started to attack in force. Our S.O.S. was sent up and the field guns opened up immediately. We prevented the enemy from entering our trenches and in many places our men started over the top to meet the enemy, who was completely repulsed after some heavy fighting. The enemy continued to bombard our trenches the whole day, lifting fire towards the evening. At 11:00 pm the battalion was relieved by the 44th Canadian battalion. Casualties 6 O.R killed and 16 O.R. wounded…”
O.R. refers to “Other Ranks”, ie not officers. We looked to see if there were any other graves of men from the 25th Battalion but saw only one, that of an O. Daigle, who also died on September 25, 1918.
Unfortunately, as with Kenneth Bell, we have not been able to find a photo or additional information on Charles Lowther.
By this time it was 3:30 pm. With the success we’d had so far today, Pieter wanted to find two more cemeteries, the Manitoba Cemetery in Caix and Grandcourt Cemetery in Grandcourt. We should have quit while we were ahead, as by 7 pm we hadn’t found either cemetery and were getting very testy with each other. It was time to admit defeat for the day and go back to Arras for a well-deserved dinner and rest.
In the next blog entry we continue our search for the Manitoba and Grandcourt cemeteries. We need help to put a face to the name on these two graves. Do you have information or photos for Kenneth Bell or Charles Lowther? Comments or stories? You can share them by emailing us at email@example.com or by commenting on this blog.
© Daria Valkenburg