WW1

Cemetery Focus: Bernafay Wood British

This is one of those cemeteries that really means something personal to me & the reason being is that this was the first one that I visited as an independent traveller many moons ago. I was staying nearby at the old Montauban-de-Picardie railway station which is now bed & breakfast accommodation run by Christine & Jean-Pierre Matte. If you’re looking for somewhere for a few nights to rest your head after a day spent on the battlefields this is a good place in an historic location. It’s maybe not for anyone who likes a few facilities or a bit of home from home luxury but it’s clean, very period French with good welcoming hosts

Bernafay Wood British Cemetery (Authors Own Photo)

The Cemetery itself is located approx 1.5km to the North East of the village of Montauban by the D197 road which runs from Maricourt in the South to Longueval about 2km to the North. Space is available for several cars to park up, just make sure you leave room for the CWGC gardeners to park their van! It sits on the opposite side of the road from the Western edge of Bernafay Wood or Bois de Bernafay as its locally known and it was one of many cemeteries designed by Sir Herbert Baker

By the Armistice it contained 246 burials mainly from when it was the site of an RAMC Advance dressing station from August 1916 & it was also used as a frontline cemetery until April 1917. Later additions were made afterwards with the closure of Bernafay Wood North Cemetery on the opposite side of the road & to the North of the wood itself, just off the track that exists today close to the old railway line which ran across here from Albert to Ham. Bodies were also concentrated here after being brought in from original graves or those found in excavations of the surrounding areas of the battlefields to the east towards Trones Wood, Guillemont & beyond

Probable site of Bernafay Wood North Cemetery with the railway line clearly visible

Now containing 945 burials & commemorations it also has 11 special memorials to those known or believed to be buried here and also memorials to 12 men originally buried in Bernafay North Cemetery & whose graves were lost due to shellfire. Most are from the United Kingdom but it also contains 122 Australians, 4 South Africans, 2 New Zealanders & 1 Indian. 417 of the buried are unknowns

©CWGC

As you enter the Cemetery you’ll see the Stone of Remembrance in front of you and the Cemetery then slopes to the left at the back of the Montauban Ridge & up to the rear where the Cross of Sacrifice sits. There were originally 2 stone shelters on either side of the entrance which existed at least until the early 1960s I believe. Although now gone some of their structure still exists as part of the entrance wall. When I first came here I’m pretty sure it had a small hedge which has now been replaced by a non obtrusive wire fence. I remember a few years ago the damage caused when a car crashed through the corner of the cemetery after losing control on the bend of the road as it headed from Longueval and it took out some of the hedge and several headstones in Row A. Think they must have spent too much time in the Calypso II !!

Original shelters at Bernafay Wood (AWM H12664)

Despite its location close to the battlefields of the 1st July none of those buried here fell on that day. There are several from the days following after the consolidation of Montauban and the capture of Bernafay Wood on 3rd/4th July by the 9th (Scottish) Division and the weeks & months after when battles raged for nearby Trones Wood, Longueval & Guillemont. The Australian graves are from December 1916 to early 1917. Later graves are from the Spring Offensive of 1918 when the 9th (Scottish) Division, back in Bernafay Wood, was pushed out by the Germans & then more from the recapture of this area on 27th August 1918 by the 18th (Eastern) Division who had been here before & had taken Montauban on 1st July 1916

Australian ambulance men at Bernafay assisting their comrades, who are suffering from trench foot (AWM E00081)

Nissen huts were erected here by units of the 14th Field Ambulance when the ADS was established here and these can be seen in the above photograph taken in December 1916

One of those buried here is Captain Percy Wellesley Chapman MC. An Australian from Goulburn, New South Wales he had enlisted aged 28 as a Private/Trooper service number 1008 in the 1st Light Horse Regiment, 6th Reinforcement on 9th March 1915. On 28th June 1915 he embarked at Sydney for Gallipoli. Percy would serve at Gallipoli for just 8 weeks. By 12th January 1916 he was serving with 1st Infantry battalion and after being recommend for a commission he was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant in the 3rd Infantry battalion whilst in Tel-el- Kebir, Egypt. In February Percy became part of the newly formed 55th Infantry battalion, part of 14th Brigade, 5th (Australia) Division II Anzac Corps and later was sent to defend the Suez Canal around Ferry Port

Captain PW Chapman MC (vwma.org)

In June 1916 it was the turn of II Anzac Corps to be transferred to the Western Front and they arrived at Marseilles, France in late June. They moved to Armentières to take over from I Anzac Corps who had been moved to the Somme and the 5th Division commenced training. However on the night of 12th July Percy & his battalion following the rest of 5th Division moved to Bois Grenier in preparation for a diversionary attack planned for the 19th at Fleurbaix (Fromelles). On 16th July Percy was promoted to Lieutenant & 3 days later the 5th Division, the Division with the least experience of trench warfare in France would go into battle at 6pm

The attack was a disaster with little planning & no clear objectives. The 5th & 8th Australian Divisions would attack with the British 61st Division after a 7 hour preliminary bombardment, the Germans knew they were coming!

Initially the 14th Brigade took around 1000 metres of the German trenches but due to the failure of the 15th Brigade,who had suffered severely in no man’s land, they had to withdraw the following morning

Percy was awarded the Military Cross on this day with the Citation for his Military Cross: ‘For conspicuous gallantry during an action. He repeatedly led bombing attacks along the enemy’s trenches and fought them back long enough to enable many of our wounded to reach safety’. (Source: Commonwealth Gazette No. 184, (Date: 14 December 1916)

It was a huge tragedy for the Australians over 5500 men became casualties with nearly 2000 of those being killed or dying of wounds. They lost a further 400 who were taken prisoner & for many months the 5th Division was taken out of the line to regroup & retrain. By October 1916 they were transferred to the Somme and the area around Flers. Percy was wounded with a gunshot wound to his leg not long after and after being treated in hospital in England he wouldn’t return to front line service until December however on 11th November Percy was promoted to Captain

Early 1917, after a bitter winter, saw the 5th Division became involved in the Battle of the Ancre & in March 1917 they followed the German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line. Involved in skirmishes with the Germans it was on 12th March that Percy was reported as missing after going out on patrol. 3 days later his body was found on the parapet of the German trench known as Sunray at Guedecourt. A report by a Pvt D Whalan of 10th Platoon C Company 55th battalion states that one of Captain Chapman’s legs and an arm appeared to have been blown off by a shell & that he was dead. His body was taken back to 14th Field Ambulance and buried alongside it in the cemetery already established at Bernafay Wood. In a condolence letter to Chapman’s father, Sergeant Stephen Philip Livingstone wrote, “…the boys respected him so much that they always referred to him as Captain Chappie, and I never heard anyone speak a single disrespectful word of him…

Captain PW Chapman’s original grave marker ( AWM P03788.004)

He now rests in Grave J.42 with the words “Our Beloved Son A.W.C & G.E.C” the initials of his parents, Archibald Wellesley Chapman & Gertrude Elizabeth Chapman engraved at the base

GS wagon passes Bernafay Wood in September 1916 (©IWM Q1541)

Percy’s story isn’t unique of course and it’s just one of dozens that’s waiting to be discovered in Bernafay Wood so I do urge you to please have a look yourself and try to search out the stories of those who rest eternally here. It’s not my intention to plagurise others hardwork in research so I won’t reproduce their work here. As a starting point Tim Bell on his 17th Manchester’s website has some further reading here https://17thmanchesters.wordpress.com and also worth a look is https://www.ww1cemeteries.com/bernafay-wood-roh-a-h.html by Brent Whittam & Terry Heard which has some information & many photos of those laid here

Spring sunlight at Bernafay Wood ( Authors Own Photo)

It really is a beautiful cemetery surrounded by wonderful yellow fields of rapeseed with views towards Delville Wood & Longueval to the North and Westwards across the Vallée de Longueval to Bazentin and South West to Montauban. A great place to spend a warm Spring or Summers evening with those wonderful Sunsets casting there rays across the horizon. For me it’s certainly a place you should visit

Iron Harvest at Bernafay, Look but never touch! (Authors Own Photo)

Thanks again for joining me this week and so get in touch or leave your comments here or on twitter @Terriermcd

Sources:-

Montauban, Battleground Europe by Graham Maddocks

cwgc.org

vwma.org.au

The Middlebrook Guide to the Somme Battlefields by Martin & Mary Middlebrook

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