The Three WW1 Soldiers Who Were Buried Together At Passchendaele

September 1, 2019.  The very first story uncovered by Pieter, when he began researching the names on the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion, was that of WW1 soldier Vincent Earl CARR, who lost his life on October 30, 1917 during the Battle of Passchendaele in Belgium.  (See The Cenotaph Research Project Begins)  Why Vincent Carr?  His was the first photo provided for the project by Vincent’s nephew, Delbert Carr of Tryon, and his wife Helen.

CIMG3083 Aug 31 2019 Pieter with Helen & Delbert Carr

Pieter with Helen and Delbert (seated) Carr of Tryon. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Carr was born May 3, 1894 in North Tryon, son of Robert Carr and Catherine McLeod.  On June 2, 1914, he enlisted in the 55th Battalion in Sussex, New Brunswick, and recorded his trade as labourer.  On October 30, 1915 his unit sailed to England aboard the S.S. Corsican, arriving on November 9, 1915.

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Photo: Vincent Carr in 1915, in the uniform of the 55th Battalion. (Photo courtesy of Delbert Carr collection. Photo colourization: Pieter Valkenburg)

On April 6, 1916 he was transferred to the 36th Battalion, and then 2 months later, on June 23, 1916, he was sent for training at the 86th Machine Gun Battalion, later re-designated as the Canadian Machine Gun Depot.  On July 28, 1916 he became part of the 1st (also called “A”) Canadian Motor Machine Gun Battery and arrived in France with his unit the next day.

In an excerpt from the November 1, 1917 Operation Report for October 28-31, 1917 by Lt C.P. Gilman, Acting Officer in Charge, of the “A” Battery of the First Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade wrote:  … “On the evening of the 29th ….were in position to fire on targets given for the Zero hour, which was 5:50 am morning of the 30th.  As soon as we opened fire, we were subjected to an intense bombardment of our positions, and we were forced to retire 6 hours later, after sustaining 28 casualties…..

Carr was one on those casualties, and is buried in Cement House Cemetery.  When we visited it in 2017, Pieter noticed that the graves on either side of him were Canadians from the same Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade unit as Carr, and that they died on the same day.  We took a photo of all three graves: R. Bellas, our Vincent Carr, and J. B. Willson.  (See On The War Memorial Trail of Passchendaele and Surrounding Area)

While we were in Passchendaele, we picked up a brochure ‘Did Your Granddad Fight in Passchendaele 1917?’ from the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917, inviting people to submit names and photos. The brochure went on to say that “in return for your cooperation you will receive a copy of a trench map with the approximate place where he was killed.  With this comes a short report based on the war diaries of his unit.”  We already had the war diary report, but a trench map was something unique, so we sent in the information, along with the observation that Bellas and Willson were buried near Carr.  Maybe they were in the same trench?

We waited for the trench map with great anticipation and ….. nothing happened.  Almost two years later, though, long after we’d forgotten about the inquiry we’d made, we received an email from the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917, with the long promised trench map and more information on what happened on October 30, 1917.

On that fateful day, researchers discovered that Vincent Carr, Jack Bingham WILLSON, and Robert BELLAS were all killed by the same high explosive shell on Abraham Heights. This is what we had expected after seeing the graves side by side in Cement House Cemetery, but to our surprise we learned that they had been buried in the same grave on Abraham Heights.

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Trench map showing the coordinates where Carr, Willson, and Bellas were originally buried on Abraham Heights. (Map: courtesy of Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917)

map of passchendaele showing abraham heights

You can see Abraham Heights towards the bottom left corner of the map. (Map: courtesy http://www.darrellduthie.com/maps/)

The Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 wrote us that: “According to the War Diary of the 1st Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade, three machine gun companies were in the field around October 30. ‘A’-Battery from the 28th till the 31st of October, ‘B’-Battery from the 29th till the 31st of October and the ‘Eaton’-Battery from the 30th October till the 1st of November. Although the positions on Abraham Heights (28.D.15.b.7.4.) were abandoned on the 29th to take up new positions just north of Tyne Cot Cemetery (28.D.16.b.6.9.), many runners were sent to the supply stores behind the front to resupply the machine guns on the front line. It’s likely that the men were killed by shellfire while hauling equipment between the gun positions and the back areas.” (Note: The numbers and letters you see in brackets beside Abraham Heights and Tyne Cot Cemetery are the GPS coordinates.)

Private Jack Bingham Willson was born January 17, 1897 in Plattsville, Ontario.  Sgt Robert Bellas was born August 1, 1886 in Morland, Cumbria, England, but had immigrated to Canada.  Both Willson and Bellas enlisted in Toronto.

A 1939 report of exhumation and reburial to Cement House Cemetery confirmed that Carr, Willson, and Bellas were recovered from one grave.  Unlike many soldiers who were never identified, they were identified by the ‘titles’ on the shoulder of their uniform identifying them as Canadian, and the identifying discs that they were still wearing.  The report indicates that two unknown British soldiers had been recovered from the same grave at Abraham Heights.

CWM_SupplyLine_CanadaShoulderTitle_EN_FINAL_20140922_Page_1

A metal shoulder title was worn by Canadian soldiers on both shoulder straps of the khaki service dress uniform. (Photo credit: courtesy of https://www.warmuseum.ca)

We thank the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 for the information they sent. If anyone can provide a photo or more information on Vincent Carr, Jack Bingham Willson, or Robert Bellas, please contact Pieter at dariadv@yahoo.ca or comment on the blog.   Please note that we are still looking for photos of 10 names listed on the Cenotaph from WW1.  See Appeal For Relatives Of These WW1 Casualties! for more information.

 © Daria Valkenburg

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