Paying Our Respects To Private Joseph Arthur Desroches

September 23, 2017.  We’re not inexperienced travellers, but even we can sometimes get into situations we simply can’t understand.  Quite often it happens with food and France gave us a real doozie.  Our hotel in Arras offered ‘le petit dejeuner’ (breakfast), served buffet style, so you picked what you wanted.

In the hotel you had a choice of hard-boiled or ‘fresh’ eggs.  I had no idea what ‘fresh eggs’ were so passed by them and chose a hard-boiled egg.  Pieter didn’t notice the hard-boiled eggs, just the ‘fresh’ eggs, and so he chose one, thinking how nice it was of the hotel to guarantee an egg that wasn’t old.

CIMG8466 Sep 6 2017 fresh eggs at Holiday Inn in Arras

‘Fresh’ eggs on offer at the hotel breakfast in Arras. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

I wish I’d taken a photo of his face when he cracked open his egg and saw……a raw egg.  It was fresh all right, straight from the chicken!

IMG_20170905_075317693 Sep 5 2017 Pieter tries to eat a raw egg

The ‘fresh’ egg was really a raw egg. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

It took us two days to realize that the silver box beside the eggs, which we thought was some kind of fancy toaster, contained boiling water so you could cook your egg to your own specification.  Who would have guessed?

Over breakfast, Pieter determined that while he was going back to Caix to find the Manitoba Cemetery, if he had to search for it street by street, we first were getting gas and going to a few cemeteries that might be easier to find.  We got gas in the town of Vimy.  For those interested in the price of gas, it was 1.399 euros per litre (about $2.06 Canadian).

From Vimy we went to Ligny Saint-Flochel British Cemetery, where Joseph Arthur DESROCHES is buried.

CIMG8474 Sep 6 2017 Pieter at base of cross of remembrance at Ligny St Flochel British cemetery where Desroches is buried

Pieter at the base of the Cross of Remembrance in Ligny Saint-Flochel British Cemetery. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Joseph Arthur DESROCHES was born August 8, 1891 in Miscouche, the son of Zephirim Desroches and Priscilla Gaudet.  Unlike most of the soldiers on the Borden- Carleton Cenotaph, Desroches was married, to Mary Ann Wedge of Fernwood, and had four children: Elizabeth Eileen, Joseph Alfred, Lucy Priscilla, and Charles Arthur.  A farmer before the war who worked for Howard MacFarlane of Bedeque, he was wounded by a shot to his head at Cagnicourt on September 2, 1918, and died on September 4 at Number 7 Casualty Clearing Station, located in Ligny Saint-Flochel, 7.6 km of Cagnicourt.

We learned that a Casualty Clearing Station was located further back from the front line than Aid Posts and Field Ambulances, and manned by the Royal Army Medical Corps, with attached Royal Engineers and men of the Army Service Corps. Its job was to treat the wounded enough to allow him to return to duty or to keep him stable long enough to be evacuated to a Base Hospital.

According to the war diary of the Headquarters of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Brigade, 1st Canadian Division, in preparation for an attack on the Drocourt-Queant Line, several battalions assembled their positions in the early hours of September 2.  The 13th Battalion was on the left, and the 14th Battalion, which Desroches was part of, was immediately behind.  The 16th Battalion was on the right, with the 15th Battalion immediately behind.

The war diary went on to explain what happened on September 2:  “The 13th and 16th Battalions were to capture the 1st objective, including the Drocourt-Queant and support lines.  The 14th and 15th Battalions were then to leap-frog and capture Cagnicourt, Bois de Bouche, and Bois de Loison and advance up the Buissy Switch where the 13th Battalion were to go through and mop up the switch on the Brigade Frontage. 

Promptly at 5:00 am our barrage opened and the 13th and 16th Battalions advanced.  The German barrage came down very quickly within a minute of ours but was light and caused few casualties. 

The first phase of the attack went according to schedule and the 1st objective was reached on time. The 14th and 15th Battalions went through but after passing Cagnicourt were held up badly by machine gun fire from the flanks which were exposed, as our flanking brigades could not get up…

As with all of the graves of Islanders, Pieter put down the flags of Canada, Prince Edward Island, and Canada 150.  We were grateful to PEI Senator Mike Duffy, PEI MLA Jamie Fox, and MP Wayne Easter for providing us with flags and pins for this venture on the war memorial trail.

CIMG8482Sep 6 2017 grave of Arthur Desroches in Ligny St Flochel British cemetery

Grave of Joseph Arthur Desroches in Ligny Saint-Flochel British Cemetery. Note that the spelling of his surname is without an ‘s’. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

CIMG8483 Sep 6 2017 Ligny St Flochel British cemetery where Desroches is buried farmers field in background

Ligny Saint-Flochel British Cemetery with the Cross of Remembrance and a farmer’s field in the background. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

The cemetery has 629 burials, of which 347 are Canadian and 46 German.  The German graves are similar to the Commonwealth graves, which was surprising as most German graves have only an iron cross on them. The German graves are set apart from the Commonwealth graves by an indentation in the ground, making an artificial step, like in a sunken living room.

Unfortunately, as with so many of the WW1 soldiers, we have not been able to find a photo or additional information on Joseph Arthur Desroches.

In the next blog entry we visit Bac-Du-Sud and Bellacourt cemeteries before continuing our search for the Manitoba and Grandcourt cemeteries. Do you have information or photos for Arthur Desroches?  Comments or stories?  You can share them by emailing us at or by commenting on this blog.

© Daria Valkenburg