A tribute to Archbishop Desmond Tutu

It was a grey, damp Boxing day morning 2021 in England and the very sad news arrived of the death at age 90 of Archbishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu earlier that morning in Cape Town after a full and active life of great moral conviction and compassion for humanity. Online messaging technology, not available at the time of his enthronement in 1986 as Archbishop of Cape Town, meant I swiftly received the news from my sister who lives in Cape Town. I shed tears of sadness for his grieving family (his wife Leah, children and grandchildren) and the loss to the world of a person whose courage, tenacity, love and humour helped change a nation for the better, influencing many around the world to stand for justice, truth, reconcillation and peace.

What follows are my recollections of meeting and being in the presence of Archbishop Desmond Tutu at his beloved St George’s Cathedral, Cape Town.


I grew up in the St George’s Cathedral community in the 1970s and 1980s. The congregation was a mix of white, black and mixed race people (known at the time as Cape Coloureds) and was spiritually led by the Dean of Cape Town, Edward Laurie King (whom we all referred to as Dean Ted King or Fr. Ted King). My father, John Herbert, was one of the Churchwardens, my mother Wendy sang in the morning choir, my elder brothers were choristers until their voices broke (mostly for Evensong, festival occasions and the Nine Lessons & Carols at Christmas) and my younger sister and I were altar servers, usually carrying a candle or crucifix in the processions and helping the priests with preparing the Eucharist. Occasionally I read a lesson: a group of us were trained by a gentleman who was very exacting about pacing our speed of reading and annunciating our words clearly; training which has proved very useful in my work and volunteer roles since.

My father organised the ‘tape ministry’ named for James ‘Pop’ Pitt who was the original recipient of the audio cassette recordings a small team of people at the Cathedral used to make of the Sunday Eucharist services which were sent to those who could not attend, usually due to distance or ill health. ‘Pop’ Pitt was bedridden in a Pinelands care home with his wife, and every Sunday my father would take his cassette player to them so they could listen to the recorded service. When Mr Pitt died, he left a legacy (the James Pitt Memorial Fund) to the Cathedral, some of which paid for a new cassette recorder and a cassette copying machine. My brother Russell and I often helped my father set up the microphones above the choir stalls which were connected to the Cathedral sound system and the cassette recorder, record the services, and copy the tapes for posting to a few parishioners each week.

Enthroning our new Archbishop

The annoucement in 1986 that the new Archbishop of Cape Town would be the Bishop of Johannesburg the Right Reverend Desmond Tutu (+Desmond – see footnote) threw the Cathedral community into a flurry of preparations. Previous enthronements had always been big, solemn celebrations sometimes attended by priests from around the world, however this was South Africa’s first black Archbishop of Cape Town with the country still in the grip of apartheid, so the eyes of the world were upon us and more bishops from around the world than ever before were invited to attend. According to the newspaper clippings in my scrapbook, 56 bishops and many other clergy, plus representatives from other religions came. Visiting clergy included The Most Reverend Robert Runcie (Archbishop of Canterbury). Several famous people from around the world attended, including Coretta Scott King (wife of the late Martin Luther King), Stevie Wonder, Harry Belafonte and Senator Edward Kennedy. The South African government of the time blocked visas for some of the invited guests, such as Bishop Ding from China, whose visa was withdrawn just before he was due to travel. Apparently there were over 1,300 people at the enthronement in the Cathedral. Cape Town was represented officially by the Mayor and Mayoress Leon and Anthula Markovitz and their deputies Peter and Clara Muller.

The logistics of finding accommodation for and transporting all those visitors was resolved by the enthronement organising team asking parishioners willing to host visitors for a few days to turn up at Cape Town International airport and take an enthronement guest home with them as the flights arrived. Our family offered a bed for a Bishop, and Bishop Amos Waiaru, a Bishop of the Solomon Islands, was assigned to us when we arrived at the airport on Friday 5 September (in 1988 Bishop Amos became Archbishop of the Solomon Islands – Archbishop of Melanesia). He spoke a form of English which had evolved in the islands from several languages, called Pijin English, and told us a bit about life and the Anglican church there.

The following morning while my father was at the airport helping receive and allocate Enthronement guests, a man arrived from England who explained that +Desmond had invited him to come (his son was +Desmond’s godson, from the time our soon to be Archbishop was assistant curate at St Mary’s Church, Bletchingley in England while he was doing his Masters) but somehow his name wasn’t on the list so he didn’t have a place to stay. Dad brought John Ewington home, my sister moved into my old bottom bunk bed so he could have her bedroom while I moved back to the top bunk, while Bishop Amos used my new bedroom. Hosting John Ewington in our home was to have far reaching good consequences for me. He was an organist and the General Secretary of the Guild of Church Musicians so he had a lot of musical church connections in England.

Two serving teams were needed for the Enthronement (one to lead the choir and another for the main procession leading the priests) and I was picked to carry a candle in the processions at the start and end of the service. My sister wasn’t selected for the processions but was able to attend, she used my 110mm camera to take a few photos from the gallery just below the great north transcept window, they are very grainy but I’m so glad she was able to take them as it showed how full the Cathedral was, and some of the additional scaffolding for the press.

Servers (Petra, Anna and Edward) leading the choir procession onto the red platform
Servers (Petra, Edward and Anna) leading the choir procession onto the red platform (photo Julia Dawson)
The end of the Bishops procession moving towards the choir
The end of the Bishops procession moving towards the choir (photo Julia Dawson)

My diary reminds me there was a 2-hour rehearsal during the afternoon for servers and choirs in the Cathedral on Saturday 6 September. Dean King described this occasion: “the final dress rehearsal in September 1986 found me in the pulpit trying to get order out of a vast mitred and garrulous eccleicsiastical family, amidst which, mercifully, three Japanese Archbishops and four Orthodox Arhimandrites sat in total silence.” (King, 1996)

Scaffolding was set up in the chapels on either side of the choir, one for the press (St John’s chapel side) and the other for the 6 trumpeters (St David’s chapel side, beneath the 4 manual Hill organ). This enabled them to see over the top of the carved panels on either side of the choir and gave the press a good vantage point of the enthronement, without them being in the way. Although the film crews took responsibility for their own filming and audio, my father was involved in helping with the Cathedral sound system to ensure all the microphones used for speaking were balanced at the right volume, so was in a good position to see the actual enthronement as the sound system was located at the end of the choir stalls on the St John’s chapel side, alongside the tomb of William West Jones (first Archbishop of Cape Town), across the aisle from the Cathedra (Archbishop’s throne). My step-mother Denise, who was a lay minister and an independent midwife at the time (this was before her ordination some years later) sat with my father at the Cathedral sound system.

My brother Russell was no longer a chorister and had become a bell ringer, he probably rang the bells before and after the service then would have had a seat at the back of the Cathedral. Sadly, although I think my father made an audio recording of the Enthronement, I cannot find a copy in my collection of cassette tapes.

'Solemn procession' is the caption from The Argus newspaper - this was the procession of Bishops and Archbishops from around the world, lead by servers Melanie, Michael and Sarah (photo from The Argus newspaper)
‘Solemn procession’ is the caption from The Argus newspaper – this was the procession of Bishops and Archbishops from around the world, lead by servers Melanie, Michael and Sarah (photo from The Argus newspaper)
Archbishop Robert Runcie processing past the choir. The trumpeters and their music stands can be glimpsed above the choir on the right
Archbishop Robert Runcie processing past the choir. The trumpeters and their music stands can be glimpsed above the choir on the right (photo by John Herbert)
+Desmond Tutu processing towards the Cathedra for his enthronement as Archbishop of Cape Town
Archbishop-elect Desmond Tutu processing towards the Cathedra for his enthronement as Archbishop of Cape Town (photo by John Herbert)

Every available chair was used, plus more chairs were hired to extend the seating capacity as much as possible. The processions moved from St David’s chapel beside the vestry, past the south transcept gallery where the huge choir from Soweto was placed, along the South side aisle then along the central aisle in the nave up the red platform steps, past the choir stalls to the high altar in the Sanctuary. I recall a woman in a reclining wheelchair at the back of the South side aisle near the Lady Chapel as the procession moved slowly around the cathedral, which was packed with people, many of whom could not see much of what was going on (my diary reminds me there were some big TV screens up showing what was happening, though some seating positions may not have had a view of the screens).

Archbishop Desmond Tutu is enthroned in St George's Cathedral
Archbishop Desmond Tutu is enthroned in St George’s Cathedral by Dean of the Province and Bishop of Grahamstown, the Very Reverend Kenneth Oram (photo by John Herbert)

Our serving team was seated beside the high altar, I recall the Dean of Cape Town was also sitting in that area during the sermon and, as he sometimes did for important occasions, was wearing red socks under his robes. I didn’t get much of a view of the enthronement even though the Cathedra was not far from where I was sitting, because there were several priests standing between, but I could hear everything and had an order of service. There is a press photo in one of my newspaper clippings showing the Bishop of Grahamstown (the Very Reverend Kenneth Oram) presenting the new Archbishop of Cape Town with ‘The Book of Gospels’ just in front of the high altar, with 3 servers – Petra, Edward and Anna (me, in the middle seat) visible in the background.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu receives 'The Book of Gospels', with servers Petra, Anna and Edward sitting in the background.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu receives ‘The Book of Gospels’, with servers Petra, Anna and Edward sitting in the background (press photo from The Argus newspaper).
Presenting the new Archbishop of Cape Town to the people
Presenting the new Archbishop of Cape Town to the people (photo Julia Dawson)

Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s sermon was an hour long, a local newspaper clipping about it is headlined ‘Dr Tutu condemns violence’ and explains that he “urged South African Christians to live as a family” and to “desire and look for the best” in others as he did for P. W. Botha, who was the president of South Africa at the time. His plea for unity in the church pointed out that it wasn’t expected that every issue could be agreed upon but respecting each others views was important. He had told journalists that all that he said which might be construed as political stemmed from the “imperatives of the Christian gospel”.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu begins his sermon in the pulpit (photo Julia Dawson)
Archbishop Desmond Tutu about to preach his sermon in the pulpit (photo Julia Dawson)

There was plenty of traditional Anglican and Catholic music in the service, including Elgar’s Ecce sacedos magnus, Parry’s I was glad, Bach’s Jesu, joy of man’s desiring and an extract from Handel’s Judas Maccabeaeus plus some rousing hymns and the trumpet fanfare when the Archbishop was presented to the people.

The Soweto choir filled the Cathedral with pulsating, joyful and glorious African singing Ha ke Le tjee, Ke Le Mobe (see words below), my sister had a wonderful view from her vantage point of them singing, clapping and swaying in the gallery. John Ewington’s report for the Church Times indicates that Archbishop Desmond Tutu was swaying with the music in his throne.

The Soweto Choir filled the gallery below the rose window
The Soweto Choir filled the gallery below the rose window (photo Julia Dawson)
Petra, Edward and Anna leading the choir procession out at the end of the Enthronement service
Petra, Edward and Anna leading the choir procession out at the end of the Enthronement service (photo Julia Dawson)

My sister was able to get the front cover of her order of service signed by several people, I have a photocopy of her signed order of service and my original copy (which had a few signatures inside, mainly of the servers).

Extract of my sister's signed order of service, showing Archbishop Desmond Tutu's message for her (photo Julia Dawson)
Extract of my sister’s signed order of service, showing Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s message for her (photo Julia Dawson)
The front cover of my sister's signed order of service for the Enthronement which includes the Archbishops of Canterbury and Cape Town (photo Julia Dawson)
The front cover of my sister’s signed order of service for the Enthronement which includes the Archbishops of Canterbury and Cape Town and the Bishop of the Solomon Islands (photo Julia Dawson)

The enthronement was followed that afternoon by a 3-hour outdoor Celebration Eucharist at The Cape Showground, Goodwood for 10,000 Anglicans. We attended that service, a happy affair despite the dull cool weather. The service included massed choirs, marimba bands and a rousing rendition of Nkosi Sikelei’ iAfrka, with a sermon by The Archbishop of Canterbury (who included a Xhosa proverb in his sermon about a priest only being a priest through the people) and some speaches by Dr Allan Boesack (leader of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches) and the Rev Peter Storey (former leader of the Methodist church).

My sister's photo album, showing some of the Goodwood Showground Eucharist plus one of the photos she took in the Cathedral (photo Julia Dawson)
My sister’s photo album, showing some of the Goodwood Showground Eucharist plus one of the photos she took in the Cathedral (photo Julia Dawson)

Later that afternoon John Ewington wrote his report of the day for the Church Times (I have a copy of the article in my scrapbook) at our dining room table, before he and Bishop Amos Waiaru went to the Mayoral Banquet in the evening.

My sister talking with Bishop Amos Waiaru in our living room, with me in the background
My sister talking with Bishop Amos Waiaru in our living room, with me in the background (photo John Herbert)
My sister and Bishop Amos Waiaru in our living room
My sister and Bishop Amos Waiaru in our living room (photo Anna Page)
John Ewington writing his report for the Church Times while Bishop Amos Waiaru relaxes in our living room
John Ewington writing his report for the Church Times while Bishop Amos Waiaru relaxes in our living room (photo Anna Page)
Denny serving dinner after the Enthronement. I still have that dining room table and chairs!
Denny serving dinner after the Enthronement. I still have that dining room table and chairs! (photo Anna Page)

Sermons and music

After his enthronement, and despite his busy schedule, +Desmond regularly preached at the Cathedral, he was on very good terms with Fr. Ted King the Dean. As +Desmond explained later in his own tribute to the late Ted King (who died of cancer in 1998) it was a “warm and cordial relationship” (Tutu, 2007) and helped him speak truth to power in his public ministry as Archbishop of Cape Town.

I still have audio copies of three of those sermons by the Archbishop, one of which I recorded myself on Easter Day in 1988, during the 11am Solemn High Mass which included the music of Charles Gounod’s St Cecilia Mass. His sermon came just after the Credo, and he started by saying a heartfelt “Tremendous stuff” in reference to the music (he often asked the congregation to applaud the musicians at the end of a service). His sermons were always challenging, electrifying, solemn, and fun in equal measure, he had a gift of delivering a message thoughfully and was also very capable of poking fun at himself and others.

In September 1988, after correspondence with John Ewington, who had put us in touch with various English pipe organ builders during 1987, I left Cape Town and emigrated to England to work as an apprentice pipe organ builder. I received occasional cassette tapes from the Cathedral as my step-mother and others continued the tape ministry after my father’s sudden death in July 1988 (update 1 January 2022: my step-mother has just reminded me that +Desmond sent flowers to us after my father died – the same experience retired Bishop of Natal Michael Nuttal has just talked about in the sermon at +Desmond’s funeral). In December 1990, I returned to Cape Town to get married in St George’s Cathedral to John Page, pipe organ builder, with Dean Ted King presiding at our wedding ceremony. John and I returned from our camping trip honeymoon just in time for Christmas in Cape Town. On Christmas Day 1990 +Desmond preached the sermon at St George’s Cathedral and afterwards my step-mother took our photo with the Archbishop outside the Cathedral, near my mother’s memorial tree and the bell tower. This was the last time I met him, and the photo shows that he made us laugh with his sheer joyous exhuberance for life, the meaning of his middle name.

Christmas Day 1990 outside St George's Cathedral: Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Anna and John Page (photo Denise Herbert)
Christmas Day 1990 outside St George’s Cathedral: Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Anna and John Page (photo Denise Herbert)

Thank you Archbishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu for your wonderful example of embracing life, people and following through on your deep personal, theological convictions about equity and love.

Words of Ha ke Le tjee (Sesotho), as printed in the Enthronement Order of Service, with a rough English translation

Ha ke Le tjee,
Ke Le Mobe,
Ke le ea khesehang,
Na Har’a baetsalibe,
‘Na ke bonoe joang?

Jo, ke mohlolo-holo
Ha ke tatoa le ‘na
Ka rato le lekalo,
Le ke Morena.

Onkentse joang moratuoa,
Ntho e hlokolotsi,
Le daemane ea bohlokoa,
‘Na molefatse?

Oa mpatla, oa mpatlisisa
Ka lilemo-lemo;
Oa mphumanana, oa mphelisa,
Oona Molimo

Ke phela ka boiketlo
Atleng tsa Morena;
Ke ka thaka ea leihlo
Le ‘na ho eena

Rough English translation (Google translate – sorry about any inaccuracies)

I’m not like this,
I’m Bad,
I am despised and rejected of men;
Among sinners,
How am I seen?

Oh, it’s a miracle
I’m not interested in myself
With love and affection,
This is the Lord.

How are you, my love,
Serious thing,
And precious diamonds,
‘Are you the world?

He is looking for me,
he is searching for me
For years;
He finds me and heals me,

See God I live comfortably
In the hands of the Lord;
It’s in the pupil of the eye
Me too to him

References and bibliography

ACOM (2019) Anglican Church of Melanesia elects new Archbishop, 25 June. Available at https://www.abmission.org/news.php/480/anglican-church-of-melanesia-elects-new-archbishop (accessed 27 December 2021)

Donaldson, A. (2021) OBITUARY | Desmond Tutu: Tenacious, charismatic, and a thorn in the National Party and ANC’s side, 26 December. Available at https://www.news24.com/news24/obituaries/obituary-desmond-tutu-tenacious-charismatic-and-a-thorn-in-the-national-party-and-ancs-side-20211226 (accessed 26 December 2021)

King, Dean E. L., (1996) A Good Place to Be: Dean E. L. King on thirty years at Cape Town Cathedral. PreText, Cape Town, ISBN 0-620-20764-7

Tutu, D. M. (2007) Foreword, in ‘This Strange Pilgrimage’ Edward Laurie King, eds Mary Bock and Barry Smith. PreText, Cape Town, ISBN 978-0-9802596-2-9.

Various newspaper cuttings from The Cape Times, The Argus and The Church Times (undated and not labelled, in my scrapbook)

West, E. (1988) Discovering God – a selection of sermons by Edward King. Edited and compiled by Evelyn West. Printed by Handy Printing Works CC, Cape Town

Wikipedia (2021) Desmond Tutu (last updated 27 December 2021). Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desmond_Tutu (accessed 27 December 2021)


+ is a symbol of the cross used informally to denote a Bishop or Archbishop, it is often used when they sign their names, for example the autographs on my sister’s Order of Service for the Enthronement shows the Archbishops of Canterbury and Cape Town and the Bishop of the Solomon Islands signed their names in this way.


Visit to the Somme – part 4

The War diaries of the 4th Infantry Brigade, 2nd Canadians indicated troop movements away from the Somme at the beginning of October 1916.  Corporal Noel Bramwell Hall and his fellow infantry in the 19th Battalion had to take a long curved walk to their destination across fields, farms and through villages so they did not pass too close to the frontline.

They set off on 5th October from Bouzincourt and walked to Warloy-Baillon via Senlis-le-Sec. They had a couple of nights at Warloy to rest.

On 7th October their billet was La Vicogne via Contay, Herissart and Val de Maison.

Their 8th October destination was Bonneville via Val Heureux (Vert-Galand farm).  It seems they had a bit more rest at Bonneville of 3 nights in one place without being fired upon.

Beauval (one of the other Canadian Battalions came through this town)

Beauval (one of the other Canadian Battalions came through this town, not far from Occoches)

On 11th October they left Bonneville and went via Rienvillers, Autheux and Occoches to Remaisnil.

Their 12th October destination was Sibiville and Sericourt which they reached via Bouquemaison, Rebreuve-sur-Canche and Canettemont.

On 13th October they left the Houvin-Houvigneul area (it seems some of the Brigade was there rather than nearby Sibiville) – the march table for their destination listed several villages including Houvlin, Magnicourt-en-Comte, Monchy Breton, Orlencourt, Marquay and Bailleul-aux-Cornailles.

On 14th October they moved to Bruay-la-Buissiere, Haillicourt and Ruitz near to Bethune and the frontline.

16th October was the day the 4th Brigade marched to the Barlin-Hersin area in preparation for the frontline again.

Signs for Lens, Bethune, Lievin and Barlin

Signs for Lens, Bethune, Lievin and Barlin

During the afternoon of 26 October 2016 we roughly followed their route from the Somme to get a sense of the landscape and places they would have seen on their journey.  It was mostly farmland, villages and towns until we approached Bruay-la-Buissiere, though even on the motorways leading to Lieven, Lens and Loos-in-Gohelle where Noel is buried the colour of the autumnal trees lining the route were spectacular.

So although the landscape had become industrial and built up, there was enough nature to retain some beauty.

British line in Artois in the spring of 1916 after the relief of the French army south of Loos.

British line in Artois in the spring of 1916 after the relief of the French army south of Loos. http://www.1914-1918.net/maps.htm

The British frontline the 2nd Canadians had been sent to relieve was divided into three Brigade sections: Souchez on the right (south), Angrez in the centre and Calonne on the left (north) – near Bully-Grenay (where one Battalion was based in reserve).  The 4th Brigade was assigned to the Calonne section which was being held by the 111th Brigade and relieved them on the 17th October.

The map shows the British front line in Spring that year.

The Lens and Bethune area was a mining region and therefore of great value strategically.  Some of the 4th Brigade was called upon to help with some tunnelling for military purposes while most of the others manned the defences and frontline.

The War Diary intelligence summary sheet for 26th October 1916 shows that the weather was fair, the gas alert was relaxed and the Duke of Devonshire visited the 2nd Canadians that day. It also stated: Casualties O.R. 1 killed, 1 wounded.  O.R. means Ordnance Rating.  Noel.

On the Library and Archives of Canada website I found the index card showing the circumstances of Noel’s death:

“Killed” (Accidentally)

He was instantly killed by the premature explosion of a shell in the gun he was serving, during operations in the vicinity of Calonne.

Cemetary: Cite Calonne Military Cemetery, Near Fosse No. 2 de Lievin, 1 1/2 miles West North West of Lievin, 4 miles South of Vermelles, France.

Circumstances of death Cpl Noel B Hall 26 October 1916

Circumstances of death Cpl Noel B Hall 26 October 1916

Newcastle Daily Journal 10 November 1916 - death notices for Ann Eliza and Noel Bramwell Hall

Newcastle Daily Journal 10 November 1916 – death notices for Ann Eliza and Noel Bramwell Hall

It seems that he died somewhere just south of Grenay as the cemetery where he was originally buried was between Grenay and Lievin and they would not have moved him far.  He was less than 2 months short of his 25th birthday.

Also online I found a very poignant listing in the Newcastle Daily Journal, Friday November 10, 1916 which showed not only Noel’s death notice (under the military deaths – Roll of Honour) but that of his grandmother Ann Eliza Hall who died on 9 November exactly 2 weeks after Noel’s death, at the age of 79.

I can imagine that Ann Eliza was probably already unwell and that the appalling news of her beloved grandson’s death broke her heart.  Only 2 years previously her eldest daughter Marian had died and Noel’s father (her son) was also dead.

In 1925 Noel’s aunt Rosa Beatrice Hall, still living at the Manor House in Shincliffe, received a letter from the Imperial War Graves Commission which explained that Noel’s body had been moved to the Loos British Cemetery.

The tone of the letter is sensitive even though it would have been sent to many families (the type is different for the unique information about individual soldiers but the letter was still signed personally).

In 2008 we found his grave so it wasn’t difficult to find it again in the neatly laid out cemetery.  Once again for our visit to Noel the weather was beautiful, with a clear blue sky, the fog of the Somme area left behind.

We had brought some English roses from our garden to place on Noel’s grave – the lovely yellow scented ‘Summertime’ which climbs around an archway in our garden, the two last buds of the gorgeous scented deep purple ‘Young Lycidas’, some sprays of the prolific red Olympic flame and an unidentified orange coloured hybrid tea rose from our front garden.  Noel has a known grave with his name on it.  So many of the WWI dead have no known grave or were not identified, therefore it seemed fitting to bring him an unidentified rose to acknowledge his many lost comrades.

The Maple trees in the cemetery had lost a lot of their leaves but still looked flaming in the sunshine.  We signed the Visitors Book before we left to return to England.

Our entry in the Visitors Book at Loos British Cemetery

Our entry in the Visitors Book at Loos British Cemetery

It was an immense privilege to be able to retrace some of Noel’s steps on this 2 day trip to France and learn something of what those soldiers experienced in that terrible drawn out fight for territory which wasted so many lives.


War Diaries of 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade October 1916

British line in Artois in the spring of 1916 after the relief of the French army south of Loos. Campaign and Battle Maps, The Long, Long Trail – the British Army in the Great War http://www.1914-1918.net/maps.htm

Library and Archives Canada – Circumstances of death registers, First World War

See also Visit to the Somme – part 1Visit to the Somme – part 2 and Visit to the Somme – part 3.

Visit to the Somme – part 3

26 October 1916 was the day my Granny’s cousin Noel Bramwell Hall died in WWI.  He did not die at the Somme where he had served in the 19th Battalion of 4th Brigade during the Canadian capture of Courcelette from the Germans.  Instead his Brigade, part of the reserve army, was moved out of the Somme area at the beginning of October and marched north to relieve British forces fighting between Lens and Bethune.  As an infantry unit they walked the distance.

26 October 2016 dawned very foggy in the Somme, common weather for that time of year in the area.  So retracing Noel’s steps in the Somme before the march north meant venturing out in the very low cloud.  We went in search of Sausage Valley.

Becourt Chapel on a foggy morning

Becourt Chapel on a foggy morning

In the War Diary of the 4th Brigade of the 2nd Canadians for 25th September to 4th October the Brigadier-General mentioned Sausage Valley several times.  On the 25th the Brigade was moved back from behind the lines near Albert where they appeared to have been stationed for a few days.  They were moved back to the battlefields to help with operations around Pozieres.  The 19th Battalion were moved to Tara Valley in readiness for being called forward however because of heavy shelling overnight on other Battalions and other movements on the battlefield the 4th Brigade wasn’t called into position and was returned further behind the lines, so 19th moved from Tara Valley to Sausage Valley along with the 18th Battalion early on the 27th September.  The following day they were on the move again:

The 19th Battalion under command of Lieut-Colonel W. R. Turnbull was moved up to GUN PIT ROAD during the night and came under the orders of the G.O.C. 6th Brigade.  Early in the morning of the 28th September, this Battalion was ordered to push forward from GUN PIT ROAD in the direction of a Line from DESTREMONT FARM to the SOUTH PRACTICE TRENCHES and to establish a Line well in front of the PRACTICE TRENCHES.  This operation called for caution and at the same time, a fixed determination to attain the objective, in spite of opposition from the numerous small hostile parties suspected to be firmly holding hidden strong points in the area which the advance had to be made.  The movement was carried out with dash and splendid gallantry and our position advanced over a thousand yards with few casualties.” (War Diary, September 1916)

70th Brigade (23rd British Division) managed to occupy Destremont Farm just south west of Le Sars after heavy fighting over the next 2 days and the War Diary continued:

Under incessant and increasing machine gun fire from the direction of LE SARS and the high ground to the North and West, the leading Platoons of the 19th Battalion pushed forward and took up a new position about 400 yards north of the PRACTICE TRENCHES. A support trench about 150 yards in rear and a reserve trench were also hastily constructed.  Flank protective trenches were also provided.  Lewis Guns adn Bombing posts were quickly prepared and during the day all ranks worked steadily improving the postiion.  By noon the Battalion had completed a continuous front line trench, 4ft deep, and established observation posts and direct telephone communication with Battalion Headquarters.  Much valuable information was sent form these advanced observation stations.  A message was received fromt he G.O.C 2nd Canadian Division extending his congratulations to the Units taking part in this splendid achievement.  This much appreciated communication was promptly transmitted to all Ranks engaged.” (War Diary, September 1916)

Apparently on the morning of 29th September some scouting parties were sent out – one such party from the 19th Battalion discovered 3 Germans in a dug-out and killed them, later that day another group discovered others in a Gun Pit who surrendered and another patrol under Lieut Dunn of 19th Battalion found an unoccupied German trench 500 yards in front of the advanced line which contained their equipment, bombs and ammunition, they immediately set up their own post in the trench of bombers, Lewis gunners and Snipers.  19th Battalion were relieved by 20th Battalion during the night of 30th September/1st October, with the 19th going into support.

Nicholson, G. W. L. 1962. Official History of the Canadian Army in the First World War: Canadian Expeditionary Force 1914-1919. Queens Printer and Controller of Stationary, Ottawa, Canada.

Nicholson, G. W. L. 1962. Official History of the Canadian Army in the First World War: Canadian Expeditionary Force 1914-1919. Queens Printer and Controller of Stationary, Ottawa, Canada.

Before being relieved by the 9th Brigade of the 3rd Canadians, all Battalions of the 4th Brigade took part in some more trench digging during the night of 2nd October.  The War diary explained:

This order also required the 4th Brigade to dig a “jumping off” trench forward of our position in some sections, and called for the work being completed during the night October 2nd/3rd or before relief.  he men were very much exhausted from want of sleep, heavy shelling and continuous rain.  As these trenches were required for further offensive operations contemplated by the Army, and every man realised the importance of pressing the advantage we had already gained over the enemy, the work was undertaken cheerfully, notwithstanding the exhausted and worn out condition of all ranks.  Every Unit in the Brigade contributed to the working parties and by noon the following day, a further advance had been made in our general line.  By joining some disused portions of enemy trench, and pushing forward a series of posts our Battalions had been able to gain in some places two hundred yards of additional ground.” (War Diary, September 1916)

During this time they also buried some of the dead.

Information about Becourt Chapel

Information about Becourt Chapel

The 4th Brigade was relieved during the night of 3rd/4th October and moved to Sausage Valley and subsequently to Bouzincourt and rest billets.

The work of the Brigade was appreciated by the Army Commander who intimated to the Division in a special message, his pleasure and satisfaction with the work done by all Ranks.” (War Diary, September 1916)

The bottom end of Sausage Valley which is just south of Le Boisselle ends at a village called Becourt.

The large bomb crater Lochnegar is alongside the top end of the valley.  We didn’t visit the crater but instead headed for Becourt.  There we discovered that the Chateau had been severely damaged during the war but that a Red Cross station had been established in the Chapel and in the basement of the Chateau.  This made sense – those of the troops stationed in the valley who were wounded would have been taken for treatment to the Chateau and if they died they were buried in the Cemetery which was established nearby (Norfolk Cemetery, Becordel-Becourt).

Looking at the floor display at Thiepval Museum

Looking at the floor display at Thiepval Museum

We drove to Thiepval Memorial and visited the museum.  There we saw photos of the damage to Albert and Courcelette and read some of the personal accounts of soldiers who had fought in the Somme.  The display of artefacts found in the battlefields in the 100 years since the war was stunning and sobering – it was placed under glass in the floor along with screens of photos and videos with captions, as if ‘finding’ those pieces of evidence at ground level like the farmers and reconstruction workers will have done, rather than seeing them displayed in wall mounted cabinets at eye level as in most museums.  Most were rusted, distorted and encrusted with mud – the horrible reality of trench warfare.  We walked quietly along, pausing frequently to read, examine and reflect on the terrible waste and destruction of lives and property.

We also saw an early aeroplane in the museum which had been used in the first air warfare, however we could not linger long as we needed to attend the daily ceremony at the Thiepval memorial itself.  So we went outside and walked to the Memorial which loomed in the fog in a massive ghostly shape, very evocative of the many lost souls it records on its thick bastions.

first view of Thiepval Memorial in the fog

First view of Thiepval Memorial in the fog

I had a short discussion with the person leading the ceremony who confirmed that he had put my poem reading at the start rather than the end as another group were also taking part and had names to read out.

I had requested to read a poem but had not chosen one of the well known war poems (in Flanders Fields would have been appropriate as it was written by a Canadian and I have sung Liz Lane’s beautiful setting of that poem in The Open University Choir).  Instead the Royal British Legion gave permission for me to read my own poem, written in 1986 on my way home from school.

It was introduced as follows:

We will now hand over to Anna Page who together with her family is commemorating Corporal Noel Bramwell Hall, 2nd Canadians 19th Battalion 4th Brigade. She will read her poem “We were so young”.

It is dedicated to the many young men and women who went off to war, and is about how they might have been sustained by childhood memories in the worst of the conflict when reality was very different from their idealistic expectations. 

We were so young (by Anna Herbert, aged 17)

I hear the laughter in children’s voices,
I remember their plays, I know their choices,
I see their childish summer games,
I remember all their innocent aims
And I think:
We were so young.

Our view of life was young and kind
Hardly a conflict can cross my mind
That was as cruel as those we were yet to know,
Or as frightening as places toward which we go
And I realise:
We were so young.

The Winter has come for those summer joys,
The sun has set on our babyish toys,
We must face the future as we did in those days,
Backed with golden summer memories
Of the days
When We were so young.

The Act of Remembrance followed with the Bidding Prayer:

Let us remember before God and commend to his sure keeping: those who have died for their country in war; those whom we knew, and whose memory we treasure; and this day especially those who gave their lives in the Battle of the Somme.


They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old,
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning
We will remember them.

All:  We will remember them.

Last Post (which was a recording broadcast over the sound system)

Two Minutes Silence


Then three men came up to read the names of all those from their town and surrounding villages who had died in WWI.  It was hard to read those names without choking up especially as the list was long and there were several with the same surnames. I had found the fourth line of my poem difficult though managed to keep going.

Beside the poppy wreaths at the Thiepval Memorial

Beside the poppy wreaths at the Thiepval Memorial

The act of remembrance ended with the Kohima Epitaph – When you go home tell them of us and say: ‘For your tomorrow we gave our today.’

Afterwards we explored the monument and the cemetery beyond it which was filled mostly with unidentified British and French soldiers.  Although I would have liked to have seen the memorial in brilliant sunshine (as depicted in photos) seeing it in the fog gave a very strong sense of a shadowy army of lost men forever honoured in that place. It was an intensely moving experience.

At the entrance to the Visitors Centre and Museum are two large banks of earth covered in grass and remembrance crosses and poppies with messages. We bought a cross with a poppy on it to take to Noel’s grave.

We drove from Thiepval to Grandcourt, Miraumont, past Courcelette then back down the Albert-Bapaume road and across the Ancre river at Aveluy, covering some of the ground where 4th Brigade had spent their last few days in the Somme.  It was still foggy so not worth taking any photographs and there was little time to stop as we had to embark on the last part of our journey – retracing 4th Brigade’s march to Calonne and the visit to Noel’s final resting place.

See also Visit to the Somme – part 1, Visit to the Somme – part 2 and Visit to the Somme – part 4


War diary – Operations of the 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade at the Somme, Sept 25th – October 4th 1916, Brigadier-General R. Rennie, MVO. D80, Commanding

Nicholson, G. W. L. 1962. Official History of the Canadian Army in the First World War: Canadian Expeditionary Force 1914-1919. Queens Printer and Controller of Stationary, Ottawa, Canada.  Found at https://18thbattalioncef.wordpress.com/18th-battalion-unit-action-battles/somme-battles/brickfields-and-death-the-battle-of-fler-courcelette/

Visit to the Somme – part 2

Courcelette Church

Courcelette Church

While retracing the steps of Cpl Noel B Hall of the 2nd Canadians at WWI we visited the village of Courcelette after spending a bit of time at the memorial to the Canadians on the Albert-Bapaume road.  The village is small – a church and about 30 houses.  19th Battalion didn’t fight in the village however I’m fairly sure they would have passed through it or very close to it later, based on the information from the War diaries of 4th Brigade.

The road layout has remained the same even though the fighting and shelling during WWI destroyed or badly damaged most of the buildings.  The village still looks old as the houses have been rebuilt, often using the same materials and designs.

In the centre of the village is the church and a small green which has become the war memorial for those of the village who died fighting.  There is also a memorial to the Canadians and an information display showing a map and description of what happened.  The small, old trees around the green have hand-made large poppies strung from their branches in places.  It is clearly a place of pilgrimge for many people.

After visiting Courcelette we found our way to the nearby British Cemetery.  I was intrigued to discover that the memorial entrance to the Cemetery was designed by Sir Herbert Baker who also designed St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town where I grew up.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) cemeteries are all immaculately maintenained with the graves in neat symetrical rows, like a military parade.  It was very sobering reading the number of headstones inscribed with the simple words “A solder of the Great War – known only to God”.  We came across the grave of a Canadian soldier who died on the same day as Noel and was the same age, though at the Somme rather than near Lens.

The descriptions of the Somme battles showed that this peninsular of farmland between Bapaume, Albert, the rivers Ancre and Somme was hotly contested, taken and retaken at various times during the 4 1/2 long weary years of war and that early graves were often pulverised in later battles which meant that many bodies were never found or were unidentified.  Sometimes bodies are still uncovered during farming or building operations, when possible they are identified, they are always reburied with full military honours in one of the military cemetaries.  And the farmers are always ploughing up shrapnel, spent ammunition casings, shovels, cooking utensils and personal belongings.

Next we made our way to the Thiepval Memorial as I needed to find out if they could explain a place name I had come across several times in the War Diary of the 4th Brigade but could not find on a map.  The Brigadier-General had used local place names as well as nicknames for the newly dug trenches in his descriptions of events and I wanted to find Sausage Valley as it seemed to be a place where the troops were sent back to from the front line for a temporary rest.

At the Thiepval Memorial they have an information desk by the main entrance door to the Visitors Centre and this was run when we arrived by a very helpful person (she was English but lives long term in France) who looked it up in a detailed map guide book she had under the desk.  She was able to give me exact co-ordinates for the valley – 1000 metres south of La Boisselle and gave us the electrifying information that there was also a Mash Valley on the other side of the village 600 metres west of La Boisselle.  We had a good laugh about the British sense of humour which must have resulted in those two valleys being given such names by the armies who used them.  She also photocopied a map from her book showing the positions of these valleys.

We asked the Thiepval guide about visiting actual trenches and she told us about Beaumont-Hamel nearby.  So rather than look at the museum at Thiepval that afternoon we made our way into the Ancre river valley.  The river flood pools in the valley inspired JRR Tolkein’s descriptions of the Dead Marshes in The Lord of the Rings as Tolkien fought in the Somme in 1916.  The valley is quite wooded, though maybe 100 years ago many of the trees were destroyed in the war which would have added to the ghostly atmosphere.

Beaumont-Hamel is a rocky hilltop and valley battlefield riddled with trenches which have been preserved under grass.  So many of the 1st Battalion Newfoundlander Soldiers died there on the first day of the Somme (70% of their number) it is treated as one large war grave – a sacred site.  It contains 3 CWGC cemetaries.

At the entrance and the top of the site the area is wooded and there are plenty of trenches, half filled in.  We spotted fungi and a couple of red squirrels, so immediately thought of Ellie, who would have been delighted to see them if she had been with us.

At the edge of the trees is the dramatic Caribou monument on a stone cairn overlooking the ridge and the valley.  There is a trench at the top of the ridge, it has a boardwalk and is usable.  The path leads downhill into the valley to the British frontline trench which still contained some of the metal side wall supports.  Further on we saw the metal stakes used for holding the large coils of barbed wire which would have been stretched along the top of the trenches.

In the valley beyond the Wellington Trench and close to the German frontline (which was just over the other side of the ridge leading down to Y Ravine) is the Y Ravine Cemetery.

We walked up the hill to the German front line trenches and the heavily fortified Y Ravine.  These trenches were roped off as not safe to walk in as there is still plenty of ammunition embedded in the ground.  There was a place to look into the Y Ravine immediately opposite the 51st Highland Division monument.  Beyond this monument was the Hunter’s Cemetery, a circular memorial which used a bomb crater as a grave pit.

It was a short walk to the Hawthorn Ridge Cemetery No. 2 which contained gravestones closely fitted side by side, often with double burials.

We were back under the trees again, maple leaves floating down as we walked along Maple Walk back to the Caribou monument.

As we walked towards the museum building we saw the remains of a Gun carriage, it made me think of Noel serving a gun and the dangers posed to soldiers if they made a mistake or if ammunition was faulty.  There was also a poem by John Oxenham inscribed on a plaque beside a tree inviting those who visited to think about the sacrifice of those soldiers and the responsibility future generations have to uphold peace.

Although Noel had not fought at Beaumont-Hamel, seeing preserved trenches (even though grassed over) brought the realities of the battle into focus.

After we left Beaumont-Hamel we drove down into the Ancre valley again and to Albert, past the Basilica in the centre of the town and on to the hotel.  In the evening we returned to the centre of Albert for a meal and I photographed the Basilica which had been fully restored after suffering terrible damage during the war, the golden statue ‘The Leaning Virgin’ standing once more on top of the tower after being knocked sideways during the early part of the war and later knocked right off near the end of the war.  There was also a statue of a Scottish Highlander near the restaurant which I couldn’t resist photographing if only for its nickname.

It had been a long and fascinating day discovering the Somme and putting Noel’s story into context but there was more to explore the next day including Sausage Valley, to be covered in Part 3.

See also Visit to the Somme – part 1, Visit to the Somme – part 3 and Visit to the Somme – part 4


War diary – Operations of the 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade at the Somme, Sept 10th – 17th 1916, Brigadier-General R. Rennie, MVO. D80, Commanding

War diary – Operations of the 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade at the Somme, Sept 25th – October 4th 1916, Brigadier-General R. Rennie, MVO. D80, Commanding

Visit to the Somme – part 1

In 2014 I blogged about my Grandmother’s cousin Corporal Noel B Hall who died during 1916 in WWI.  We had visited his grave in June 2008 on our way back from the Waldkirch organ festival and I vowed at the time that for the 100th anniversary of his death we would visit him again.  But first I needed to do more research about him and his military service.

Noel Bramwell Hall, undated postcard

Noel Bramwell Hall, undated postcard

Noel served at the Somme yet was killed and buried north of the Somme battlefields.  There is a vast amount of information available online about WWI and trying to pin down the story of one individual soldier felt at times like seeking a needle in a haystack.  However I did know some basic facts because of the newspaper article I have in the family archives lists his Company, Battalion and Brigade.  This information had enabled me to find his grave information on the CWGC website 8 years ago.  But why was a young man who had been born and grew up in Durham serving with the Canadian army? Why did he die north of the Somme at Calonne (between Bethune and Lens) when it appeared he had spent some weeks at the Somme first?  Why was the undated postcard, showing one of only 2 photos I have of Noel (in civilian clothes), addressed to his grandmother and maiden aunts at an address in Sunderland when they lived in Shincliffe, Durham?  These were all questions which I hoped to answer.

Information from the family archives left in my care by my grandmother and her sister Charlotte Beryl Pearce as well as searches of census and birth records enabled me to discover the following facts about Noel:

He was born on 24 December 1891 in Shincliffe, County Durham to Frederick Jackson Hall and Florence Jane Hall (nee Hudson).  He was apparently their 3rd son, but one of his brothers had died in infancy.  His elder surviving brother was called Frederick Jackson Hall.  Noel was baptised Noel Bramwell Hall on 13 January 1892 in Shincliffe. I think his first name must have been chosen because he was a Christmas baby and his second name possibly because his mother may have been a fan of the Bronte sisters fiction.  On the 1891 census his father’s occupation was listed as Solicitors Clerk and the family lived in Shincliffe Village.

His father did not appear on the 1901 census because at the time he was serving in the Boer War in South Africa.  In the 1901 census nine year old Noel and his mother were living at Sherburn House Station NER, Sherburn, Durham – they were boarders and his mother had ‘living partly on own means’ next to her name.  His elder brother (known as Eric) was listed in the 1901 census as living at 56 Old Elvet in Durham with their grandparents as James Hall ran the Old Elvet private school and 13 year old Eric was a pupil there.  On the 1911 census his mother did not appear, I found out she died in 1910.  I have yet to find out when his father died.

Noel was listed on the 1911 census as living with his Grandmother Ann Eliza Hall and aunts Marion and Rosa Beatrice (James Hall had died in 1908) at the Manor House in Shincliffe Village.  His occupation at age 19 was Music shop assistant, presumably in Durham.  The Hall family was well known for being very musical, they had organised a number of concerts in the city when James ran the school and I have a copy of a programme from one of these concerts in the 1890s showing that Noel’s father had sung solos.

On 18 April 1912 aged 20 Noel emigrated to Montreal, Canada on board a ship called Sicilian (the Allan Line).  He lived in Toronto, the newspaper article even included his address as 49 Bellefair Avenue.  His occupation on the ship record was listed as ‘farming’.

The second Canadian infantry Division was formed in 1914. The 19th Battalion of the 4th Brigade was raised at Exhibition Park in Toronto, Ontario on 6 November 1914.  I have found Noel’s enlisting papers online (attestation paper) – the medical examination part is dated 7 November 1914 and the attestation part is dated 12 November 1914.  So Noel probably attended the gathering at Exhibition Park.  The paper includes his aunt Rosa Beatrice Hall as his next of kin.  It also lists his occupation as ‘Tutor’.  He was not married and had not served in the military before (this contradicts the newspaper article which said he had previously served with the Grenadier Guards – it is just possible that the reporter was told that his brother or uncle was serving with them but incorrectly claimed this for Noel instead – I have not yet investigated his brother and uncle’s war records).  The attestation paper also gives details of his appearance – he was 5ft 6 1/2 inches tall, his chest girth when expanded was 33 1/2 inches with a range of expansion of 2 inches, his eyes grey and his complexion and hair fair.  He had a large mole on the back of his right shoulder.  His religious denomination was indicated as Church of England.

Noel Hall Toronto article, 1915

Noel Hall Toronto article, 1915

On 13 May 2015 the 4th Brigade sailed from Canada on The Tunisian and arrived at the West Sandling Camp, Shorncliffe in Kent (England) on the 23 May.  The Toronto newspaper article describes this arrival through Noel’s eyes:

“We got into Devonport at nine o’clock Saturday morning, the 22nd, but had to wait in the harbour til two boatloads of troops from Ireland disembarked to go on to the Dardenelles.  So we waited til Sunday morning.  We got off at 10 o’clock and got on a Great Western train for Sandling, Kent, though we did not know then where we were going.  We went through the suburbs of London and were given a great reception all along the line where holiday-makers were waiting for their excursion trains, and I noticed that there were few few young men among the crowds, in fact it was very noticeable.  We saw the soldiers drill Sunday just as if it was a week-day, but they were volunteers from factories who were working all the week.  We had to stop twice to let the Red Cross trains pass through to London and we could see the poor fellows lying on the stretchers all bandaged up, and it gave one the feeling that we were near to the front.  We noticed all over the country Red Cross flags flying on churches and factories that had been made into hospitals.  Where we are in camp we are just twelve hours run from the trenches, in fact some of the men who left for the front were back in forty-eight hours.  That is going a quick service, don’t you think?”

Arriving in Dunkerque

Arriving in Dunkerque at breakfast time

The 4th Brigade of the 2nd Canadians trained at West Standling Camp until 14 September 1915 when it was transported to the front line in France to serve as a Reserve army.  It seems that their first few months of service was behind the lines, possibly relieving others for short periods.

I concentrated my research on the last 2 months of Noel’s life as going through all the War Diaries for the 4th Brigade would have taken a lot more time.  This helped me piece together enough information to know that he fought at the Somme and did trench digging there but somehow succeeded in surviving the Somme carnage only to die less than a month later further north. So our trip needed to include both the Somme and Lens areas and I worked out key places to visit in the two days.

First view of the Canadian Memorial at Courcelette

First view of the Canadian Memorial at Courcelette

We set off very early on Tuesday 25th October and got the 6am ferry to Dunkerque from Calais.  Breakfast on the ferry meant that we didn’t need to stop along the way to eat as we drove through northern France via Lens, Arras and Bapaume – all occupied by the Germans during that period of 1916.

Our first stop was on the Albert-Bapaume road midway between Courcelette and Martinpuich to see the memorial to the famous advance by the 2nd Canadians on 15th/16th September 1916.

My research showed that the 3 Battalions of 4th Brigade involved (18th, 20th and 21st) had the ground prepared for them by the 19th Battalion (Noel and his fellow soldiers) as they did some major ‘jumping-off’ trench digging work according to the War Diary of the 4th Brigade:

Crossing the road to the Canadian Memorial at Courcelette

Crossing the road to the Canadian Memorial at Courcelette

In preparation for the attack, a series of jumping-off trenches in advance of our Front Line, had to be dug.  This work was carried out successfully by the 19th battalion, Major Gordon F Morrison, Commanding, in the absence of Lt-Colonel W R Turnbull, wounded in a previous engagement.  The enemy shelling during the few days this work was going on, was very severe, and unfortunately many casualties resulted. 

The great value of these forward Trenches, which were dug by the men of the 19th Battalion, was however, clearly shown by subsequent events and too much credit cannot be given to those carrying out of the work, which was done under an irritating and destructive fire during several days and nights.

Memorial stone inscription

Memorial stone inscription

Our Artillery kept up a steady and very effective fire day and night on the 12th, 13th and 14th September. This fire covered all enemy trenches which came within the zone of the attack, and the effect was clearly revealed in the shattered nerves of many of the prisoners who came in on the day of our advance.” (War diary, Sept 1916)

The 19th waited behind the lines to be pulled in to help with the battle if they were needed.

The four waves were to form up in the jumping-0ff trenches, previously prepared, and to be in positions in ample time to give all ranks a good rest before the hour fixed for the assault.  The fourth Company of each Battalion forming the fifth wave, formed up in trenches to rear.

Stone Maple leaf wreath

Stone Maple leaf wreath

In addition, Platoons from the 19th Battalion, followed closely upon the First wave of the three attacking Battalions as an intermediate wave, and the instructions given to this wave were, that it should “mop up” or deal with any enemy left, who might possibly fire into the backs of those troops who had passed on.  The intermediate wave was also instructed to consolidate the First Line German Trench and take charge of all Prisoners.” (War diary, Sept 1916)

However during the night most of the 19th Battalion were relieved by other Battalions so it appears that Noel and his colleagues didn’t have to do much of the “mopping up” work, though a platoon of bombers from the 19th did stay to help.

Courcelette from the Canadian Memorial

Courcelette from the Canadian Memorial

The first use of tanks in war took place in this battle:

At 6.30 am the “TANKS” supporting the advance of the 4th Brigade went forward in accordance with instructions and assisted in the taking of some enemy positions. … The “TANKS” used for the first time, proved their value.  Prisoners stated that, in their opinion, it was not war but “Butchery”.  One “TANK” is reported to have got astride an enemy trench and to have enfiladed it both ways.  A machine gun officer captured in the SUGAR FACTORY, declared that he directed fire at them, but without any effect, and certainly the advance of this new offensive weapon had much to do with the success of the operation.” (War diary, Sept 1916)

Rosie at the Canadian Memorial

Rosie at the Canadian Memorial

The Canadians advanced further than was anticipated in appalling conditions and both the Sugar refinery on the Albert-Bapaume road and Courcelette were recaptured from the Germans, though many soldiers lost their lives as a result.

The Canadian Memorial at Courcelette to those long dead soldiers is beautiful.  It is set in the heart of a wide open field adjoining the road and is designed to be a simple, solid and lasting tribute to all those men who fought in such difficult and nightmarish circumstances.

Autumn trees at the Canadian Memorial Courcelette

Autumn trees at the Canadian Memorial Courcelette

The central memorial is surrounded by rings of Canadian Maple trees, visiting when we did was perfect for observing the different colours of the leaves as they were falling from the trees – there was a great carpet of them all over the mossy grass.  On a bright sunny day the effect would have been stunning, on the grey cloudy day the cobwebs in the grass were covered in moisture and the effect was peaceful and contemplative.  Rosie sat in a corner seat and said she could have sat there all day just watching the leaves fall.

Maple leaves and cobwebs

Maple leaves and cobwebs

View of Courcelette from the Canadian memorial

View of Courcelette from the Canadian memorial

At each memorial and cemetery is a Visitors book in a specially designed stone cupboard with a metal door.  I wrote a different message in each one we visited.

Our entry in the visitors book at Courcelette

Our entry in the visitors book at Courcelette

Anna beside the Canadian memorial stone

Anna beside the Canadian memorial stone

Canadian Memorial at Courcelette

Canadian Memorial at Courcelette

The next place in our trip was to the village of Courcelette, however that will be in Part 2.

See also Visit to the Somme – part 2, Visit to the Somme – part 3 and Visit to the Somme – part 4.


War diary – Operations of the 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade at the Somme, Sept 10th – 17th 1916, Brigadier-General R. Rennie, MVO. D80, Commanding




Noel B Hall – WW1 victim

Noel B Hall, B Company, 19th Battalion, 4th Brigade, 2nd Canadian Contingent

On this 100th anniversary of Great Britain’s entry in the first world war, it seems fitting to examine the small traces of evidence we have about the only soldier casualty of that terrible war that I know of in my family.

The Hall family were a prominent Durham family, who ran the Old Elvet School in the city. Noel moved from Durham, England to Toronto, Canada shortly before the war. When WW1 broke out he enlisted in the Canadian Army. However he stayed in touch with his family in England (see postcard below).

Noel Hall postcard

Noel B Hall – photo postcard

Noel Hall postcard

Noel B Hall – photo postcard note to his grandmother and aunts

He wrote to a friend in Toronto who published what Noel wrote about his embarkation journey via England to the Western Front in their local newspaper (see article below).

Noel Hall toronto article

Article in Toronto newspaper based on letter Noel’s friend

He was promoted to Corporal during the war. He fought in the Battle of Courcelette in 1916 (see news paper article, which does not mention his name) and was killed on 26 October 1916.  He was only 24.

Noel Hall newspaper 1a

Canadian’s Day of Glory – newspaper article 25 September 1916

Noel Hall newspaper 1b

Canadian’s Day of Glory – newspaper article 25 September 1916

Noel Hall newspaper 1c

Canadian’s Day of Glory – newspaper article 25 September 1916

Noel Hall newspaper 1d

Canadian’s Day of Glory – newspaper article 25 September 1916

In 1925 his body was moved from the Cite Calonne Military Cemetery to the Loos British Cemetery due to local French laws and sanitation regulations. The Imperial War Graves Commission wrote to his aunt Rosa Beatrice Hall with this news (see letter).

Noel Hall war grave letter 1a

Imperial War Graves Commission letter to Rosa Hall about moving Noel’s body

Noel Hall war grave letter 1b

Imperial War Graves Commission letter to Rosa Hall about moving Noel’s body

Noel was my Grandmother’s cousin (her mother Charlotte Eliza Hall’s nephew), Rosa was Granny’s aunt.

In June 2008 me and my family tracked down and visited Noel’s grave at Loos British Cemetery.  It is a small cemetery, immaculately maintained and we saw it on a sunny day. I wonder if Rosa ever managed to visit his grave, she was listed as his next of kin so I can guess that they were close.  We hope to visit his grave again in 2016.