Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Blackmore: Notes and Queries (1). Bertie Millbank

The Internet has really opened opportunities to share family, local and social history. Here is a sequence of correspondence I have had with Joe Ryan, an Essex man living in France, regarding Bertie Millbank who was an early victim of the First World War. My intention is to leave the discussion on this blog and marshal the various topics onto the main website: http://www.blackmorehistory.co.uk.

Joe Ryan, working in Paris, wrote:
13 November 2008

Hello. I work in Nanterre, close to the Neuilly cemetery where there are about 30 Commonwealth War Graves. At this time of remembrance I decided to pay my respects. Having grown up in Essex, I was drawn to the grave of Bertie Millbank (born in Blackmore). Two things struck me:
- He died very early in the War.
- He is buried in Neuilly, miles from the front line.
Do you know anything about the circumstances surrounding his death?

Replied
13 November 2008

Thank you for your E mail. It is only within the last couple of months that I have heard about Bertie Millbank through research because his name does not appear on the Blackmore War Memorials. I know nothing of his circumstances other than the certificate on the CWGC site. On Remembrance Sunday a friend, who is a member of the congregation at the Church, told me that she may be related. I wonder if it is possible that you could send me a photo of the cemetery and grave. I know that she would be very interested. I will forward this note to her and, if I may, will publish your letter on the website. We might hear from someone who knows more detail.
Regards
Andrew

Received
14 November 2008

Andrew,
You may publish my email, but please remove my address. The war cemetery occupies a small percentage of a municipal cemetery, which itself is set against a backdrop of the Défense skyline, with its many towers and "Grande Arche". There are several hundred French war dead and the Commonwealth graves share the ground with those of their fallen allies.

What's striking about the Commonwealth graves is:
- The casualties are from very early in the conflict (autumn 1914)
- They are arranged in chronological order, so it is possible to walk down the lines and advance through the months of September and October 1914.

Of course, the biggest question is "Why are these soldiers buried here, 100 kilometres from the front line?"

I'll try to get an answer from the people at the cemetery.
Regards,
Joe RYAN

Replied
14 November 2008

Dear Joe
Could these individuals have fallen in retreat?
Andrew

Received
15 & 19 November 2008

I've been looking at the early days of WWI. I'd forgotten how close the Germans did get to Paris. There was a British Expeditionary Force (BEF) on the ground at the time. They engaged the Germans at Mons in Belgium. They then fell back to Le Cateau in northern France where there was a major battle on the 26th August 1914. There must have been fierce fighting "Of the 40,000 Allied men fighting at Le Cateau: 7,800 were injured or killed”. They then continued south to Paris.

The Essex Regiment were present at Le Cateau (http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=37139) so Bertie Millbank may have been injured at Le Cateau and died a month later.

It looks as though the BEF was a "standing army" ready for any emergency. Bertie Millbank had probably signed up before the war started.

The Essex Regiment no longer exists (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Essex_Regiment) and is now part of the Royal Anglian Regiment.

I haven't yet got a camera, but I found this image on the net. It shows the cemetery (not the Commonwealth graves) and some of the buildings of "La Défense" behind it. (http://bp0.blogger.com/_F39h2n82-Yw/SDELcVOQZII/AAAAAAAABNE/r5HRyLNak64/s1600-h/0207.JPG). I visited today and the guardian knew of no reason why there should be British war dead buried there.

However, I did find a page in French on the web that says that the soldiers were buried there, having died in one of the various hospitals in Neuilly.

Interestingly enough, there is the grave of a Scots Guard (Houldsworth) who died on the same day as Bertie Millbank. His inscription says that he was injured during the first battle of the Aisne. Apparently, that was an allied offensive (French and the British Expeditionary Force) which started on 13th September 1914 and took place along the River Aisne, east of Soissons. This is 100 kms NE of Paris. The offensive failed to break through German lines and both sides dug in, beginning trench warfare and the "race to the sea" movement. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Battle_of_the_Aisne).

Replied
23 November 2008

Many thanks for this information which I will pass on. La Défense is, if I am right, is the modern quarter of Paris. About 15 years ago I went with a friend on an organised coach trip to Paris for a weekend's sightseeing. We stayed at a hotel nearby.

Received
23 November 2008

1) Just looked at the image again and you can actually make out the war graves. Over on the very right, just under the hedge, where you can see white lines as the graves are blurred into each other.
2) La Défense is basically the business sector although there are a few blocks of flats. Plenty of towers belonging to banks, insurance, telecoms, petrol companies etc I've worked there, off and on, for over 20 years. You probably stayed in one of the hotels at the Pont de Neuilly.

No comments: