September 28, 2017. After a few successful cemetery finds, we decided to make a second attempt at finding Grandcourt Road Cemetery, the burial place of Arthur COLLETT. We finally found it in the afternoon on a very narrow path between farm fields, one km south of the village of Grandcourt in the spectacularly beautiful Somme Valley.
The Commonwealth Graves Commission write up on the cemetery warned that access was difficult, saying “Please note that parking is difficult. There is no permanent pathway to the cemetery. Visitors must cross two fields to reach the cemetery.” They weren’t kidding!
By “no permanent pathway” they meant you had to drive down a very narrow path which had inches to spare on either side on our small rental car. We were dwarfed by a cornfield on one side and a potato field on the other.
Needless to say, there was no parking and no way to turn around except to drive backwards! We simply stopped the car beside the sign pointing to the cemetery and crossed our fingers in the hope that no one would come along down the road or we would be in trouble before anyone saw the car.
The next challenge, now that we found the location, was getting to the cemetery. It involved crawling up a set of steps to the first field. One look at the steps, with no railing, and it was clear that only Pieter was attempting this journey.
From the top of the steps it was another 500 metres, across two fields, before Pieter reached the cemetery. Poor Arthur Collett! From Rhodes Scholar to lie buried in a field in the middle of nowhere!
In one field, the farmer had made a grass path to walk along, in order to reach the cemetery, a thoughtful gesture that was much appreciated.
The second field wasn’t as easy to cross. That farmer found his potatoes more important than providing access to the cemetery, and did not have a grass path. Luckily for Pieter, it was not raining or he would have been stuck in the mud.
Eventually, however, Pieter reached the gates of the cemetery, and learned it was made in the spring of 1917 when the Ancre battlefield was cleared. There are 391 WW1 burials, 108 of them unidentified. 390 are British soldiers, and one, our Lt Arthur Collett, the lone Canadian burial.
Arthur Leigh Collett was born December 8, 1888 in Victoria, Prince Edward Island, the son of Ella May Simmons, and was the adopted son of William Henry Collett and Alice M. Moore. After receiving a Bachelor of Arts from King’s College in Halifax, Nova Scotia, he went to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, but shortly afterwards enlisted in the 12th Regiment in September 1914, later transferring to the 8th Battalion of The Gloucestershire Regiment. According to the King’s College history, he “at once forsook his work at Oxford and enlisted in the Imperial Army. He served in France with the 8th Gloucesters.”
In a Pioneer newspaper article from July 15, 1916, came word of an injury, which he survived. “Mr. W. H. Collett, Victoria, has received a cablegram from London, England, notifying him that his son Lieut. A. L. Collett, was wounded on July 3rd. Lieut. Collett, who is a Rhodes scholar and also an Oxford M.A., went over to England with the First Contingent and was later transferred to the 8th Gloucester Regiment.“
Unfortunately, he died in action on November 18, 1916 during the last day of the Battle of the Ancre. The Battle of the Ancre, fought against the German 1st Army between November 13 and 18, 1916, was the final large British attack of the Battle of the Somme.
The war diary for November 18, 1916 of the 8th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment made the following record: “Formed up in artillery formation preparatory to attack on Western outskirts of. Grandcourt. 6:10 a.m. attack launched, first objective reached and carried. The 10th regiment was right on our right being partially held up our flank was in the air. Casualties: 12 Officers, 283 Other Ranks.”
And so that’s how Arthur Collett ended up in Grandcourt Road Cemetery, sharing a grave with an unknown soldier.
After placing the flags by Collett’s grave, Pieter had to retrace his steps back across two fields and down the narrow steps, then squeeze himself into the small space between the steps and the car. Then we had to gingerly inch our way back out onto an actual road. We were lucky. No one came onto the path while we were there!
Grandcourt Road Cemetery is difficult to access, and requires a lot of time, determination, and a good level of physical fitness. Consequently, it’s not well visited. Pieter wrote in the Guest Register and noted the previous entry was dated four months earlier.
In the next blog entry we visit the Newfoundland Memorial at Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Battlefield Memorial Park before we continue our search for the Manitoba Cemetery. Do you have information or photos for Arthur Collett? Comments or stories? You can share them by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org or by commenting on this blog.
© Daria Valkenburg