“As we stood in that great hall with the names of tens of thousands of those of our comrades who had no known burial place inscribed on its panelled walls I saw near by some of our women-folk with the tears gently rolling down their faces and a brave smile come stealing forth, I wondered whether the sacrifice had been worth it, whether the League of Nations and the Pact to outlaw war would bear fruit or whether our sons and daughters would be plunged into a struggle with which our own great war would fade into insignificance. As the smile came and as later in the ceremony the sun came forth in all its glory so the hope of the former came in full strength, and we marched past our Prince with the consciousness that we had done our best and, come what may, posterity could point no finger of scorn at the present generation.”
In August 1928, some 11,000 pilgrims made the journey from Britain and the Irish Free State, as well as individuals from Australia, New Zealand and Canada, to the former battlefields of France and Flanders as part of the British Legion Great Pilgrimage.
This article records the experiences of eleven of those 11,000 pilgrims, and their impressions of what it was like to take part .
William Hartley Barnes M.S.M., who lived at 20 Grove Lane in Padiham, near Burnley in Lancashire, travelled with “T” Train Party from Yorkshire to take part in the Great Pilgrimage.
Born on 24 November 1884, William was employed as a carpenter when he attested for the Royal Engineers at Burnley on 7 April 1915, being issued with the service number 89430. On the outbreak of the war Barnes was a member of the National Reserve, having previously served with the 5th Battalion, The East Lancashire Regiment (Territorial Force). He embarked for Egypt on 14 June and was posted to 71st Field Company, which formed part of 13th (Western) Division. After serving at Suvla, Barnes was appointed a paid Lance-Corporal on 8 December and promoted to 2nd Corporal on 5 February 1916. He went on to serve in Mesopotamia and was promoted to Corporal on 13 May, and advanced to Sergeant on 3 July. He spent one month in India on leave the following year, and was admitted to hospital on 15 October 1918 suffering from malaria. Embarking for home on Boxing Day, Sergeant Barnes was posted to the Royal Engineers Depot at Chatham on 19 February 1919 and was transferred to the Class Z Army Reserve when he was demobilised on 25 March. He was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal on 22 September 1919.
One of three men from Burnley who went on the Pilgrimage in 1928, William was interviewed when he returned by a journalist of The Burnley Express regarding his experiences. For him, the pilgrimage was personal as he went to visit Ploegsteert where his brother, 8393 Sergeant John Barnes, who served with “D” Company of the 1st Battalion, The East Lancashire Regiment and had been killed on 7 November 1914 during an attack mounted through Ploegsteert Wood to Le Gheer. After laying a wreath there, William visited a cemetery where many of his brother’s comrades were buried:
“Close by is a cottage known as the “Lancashire Cottage,” which, during the war, was the headquarters of the East Lancashire Regiment. The man who tenanted the cottage during the war is still in occupation, and he told Mr Barnes that he would always remember the lads from Lancashire. If any visited the spot where he lived he would always welcome them.” 
William Hartley Barnes M.S.M. died at Burnley in 1978, aged 93.
“We joined the big pilgrimage to France in August. I would not have missed it for anything. It will live in my memory as long as I live. About 11,000 people made the pilgrimage – every class and creed – some of the highest and some of the lowest in the land, all there to visit the battlefields and the graves of their dead. It made one realise the war brought everyone level – all suffered alike.
The organisation was wonderful; special trains were waiting at London, where we all had our different parties, numbered “A” to “W.” Each member wore a badge, with the letter of his party attached. Special boats took the pilgrims to France, where a hot meal was provided on arrival at Calais. I belonged to the overseas party “A”, which was billeted at Amiens, and visited the battlefields from there each day. We visited Beaucourt Hamel, (sic) in the Somme Valley. All along the route were objects of interest – stumps of trees, an old tank, a cemetery, etc. – and on arrival there we found that a section of the Somme is being cared for by Newfoundland. The trenches are left in their war-time condition, the old duck-boards are still down, although now broken and rotting; dug-outs are intact; and the trenches wind in out of each other for miles. The ground around about is strewn with relics of old rifles, shoes, dixies, water-bottles, barbed-wire, etc., and one can see the broken remains of a machine gun, and beside it a helmet, rifle, and water-bottle of the gunner – telling all plainly that he died at his post. A beautiful monument is built there to the Scottish Highlanders, and Lady Haig, who was there as a pilgrim, was visiting it at the same time as we were. We all stood motionless as a Scottish piper, with his bagpipes, struck up a “Scottish Lament.”
We also visited the famous Vimy Ridge, the scene of such fierce fighting. The Germans held the Ridge right up to 1917. It is a long range of hills. One can easily see why the enemy fought so hard for it, as it commands miles of country. The movement of troops for miles around could be seen from the Ridge. It is simply honeycombed with trenches. One can walk through them for miles. Their construction is wonderful; the dug-outs etc., are specially built, and a great under-ground tunnel connects with the front line. Men, munitions, and supplies were all brought into the line in this way. “No Man’s Land,” in between the trenches, is ploughed up by shell-fire. There are holes everywhere, and one can hardly take a step between. We thought the enemy fire was bad enough; but our own fire must have been hell! I remember how we used to shell it for days without a break. A beautiful monument is being built on top of the Ridge, in memory of the Canadians who eventually captured it. A monument, also, is being built on the left of the Ridge to the Frenchmen who took that portion of the line. It is a nice idea – a big column, with a beaconlight always burning at the top which never goes out. It stands as a silent reminder of those sleeping beneath. Thousands and thousands of our men and Frenchmen fell at Vimy.
We went over to Arras, Albert, Poperinghe, etc., and Ypres Salient (where I received my wounds). Ypres Salient is now a cemetery. The cemeteries are beautifully kept; every grave is marked by a white stone, as the wooden crosses at first used rotted very quickly. Every stone is exactly alike, row after row. On many stones are the name and rank of the soldier; but on many others no name appears – just the simple words, “A British Soldier: Known Unto God.” The main gate, built at the entrance to Ypres, is a monument to the boys who were missing and have no known graves. It has 60,000 names on its panels, and on one panel – No. 23 – is devoted to the Australian boys. I found the name of my cousin – Claude Bower. He was reported missing after a big battle at Ypres.
It was at the Menin Gate that the big ceremony was held in honour of our dead. The Prince of Wales, King and Prince of the Belgians, Marshal Foch, Admiral Jellicoe, etc., were present, and 11,000 pilgrims. There was no hitch of any kind. Each party was allotted a place and marched to it. Our party was on the right side of the Gate. It was a most impressive sight. Flags of every Division and country which took part in the war were flying from the ramparts. After the service there was a march past – women first. It was splendid to see them trying to keep in step to the band – old and young women, mothers and widows; many wearing rows of medals. Then came the men; every man with his medals up, swinging along, shoulder to shoulder, as in the old days. The Prince of Wales, King of the Belgians, and all the Royal party stood on a raised dais, on the right of (the) Menin Gate, and the Prince took the salute.
The towns in the war area are now re-built, and a good proportion of the battlefields are cultivated and growing crops. Wild flowers and scarlet poppies are growing on every side. Roads have been re-made, and everything looks prosperous. No mud to be seen anywhere, as you go through the trenches – so different to the grim days of conflict!
The French people turned out in thousands to give us a welcome. They cheered, waved, and gesticulated, and when a little rank of blinded men from “St Dunstan’s” marched by, arm-in-arm, the roar that went up could be heard for miles.”
Born at Armidale, Selby Garfield Bower was aged twenty-three years and seven months and stated that he was employed as a grazier when he attested for the Australian Imperial Force at Sydney on 17 November 1914. Issued with the service number 1504, he sailed from Australia with the 3rd Reinforcements for the 2nd Battalion on 10 February 1915 and was promoted to Corporal on 11 February.
After training in Egypt he was posted to the 2nd Battalion on the Gallipoli Peninsula, joining the battalion at Anzac Cove on 5 May. Bower was appointed a Lance-Sergeant on 22 June, but on 25 August was admitted to 3rd Australian Field Ambulance suffering from influenza. Evacuated to Mudros, Bower was admitted to No. 1 Australian Casualty Clearing Station before sailing for Malta on 31 August and being sent to St Patrick’s Hospital for treatment. On 10 September he embarked on the H.T. Scotian for England, and on his arrival was admitted to the London War Hospital at Epsom on 18 September. While being treated in hospital at Epsom Lance-Sergeant Bower met Lydia Mary Jones, a nurse at the London War Hospital, and they married in 1916.
Following his discharge from hospital and convalescence at Weymouth, Lance-Sergeant Bower was posted to the 1st Training Battalion A.I.F. at Perham Down on 6 July 1916 and was drafted to France on 31 July. He joined 1st Australian Infantry Base Depot at Etaples on 1 August and was sent back to the 2nd Battalion, rejoining the unit on 10 August at their billets in Pernois. On 12 September, while serving in the front line near Zillebeke, Lance-Sergeant Bower received severe wounds to his left leg and foot, fracturing his fibula and tibia, from a German minenwerfer shell burst. He was admitted to 1st Australian Field Ambulance before being evacuated to No. 17 Casualty Clearing Station at Remy Siding. From there he was sent to Boulogne and was admitted to No. 3 Canadian General Hospital on 18 September before sailing on board the H.M.H.S. St David for England. Bower arrived at the Queen Mary Military Hospital at Whalley on 19 September where he remained until 13 March 1917 when he was transferred to the 3rd Australian Auxillary Hospital at Dartford. On his discharge from hospital, Bower was posted to No. 2 Command Depot A.I.F. at Weymouth on 26 April. Unfit for further service at the front, Bower embarked on board the Hospital Ship A.14 on 21 July, and arrived back in Australia on the H.M.A.T. Euripides on 19 September. His arrival back home was reported by The Armidale Advertiser on 25 September:
“By Saturday morning’s mail there returned to Armidale Sergt. Selby Bower, a son of Mr Geo. Bower, the well-known Armidale wool-buyer. Three years ago this month the gallant Sergt. answered the call of King and country, being among the first to do so from this district. He returns with a badly injured foot and leg, but with the knowledge of a duty worthily discharged. He was always a popular young fellow, and his wide circle of friends have given him a very hearty welcome home. Sergt. Bower was attached to the 2nd Battalion and saw practically the whole of the Gallipoli campaign up to shortly before the memorable evacuation. He participated in the famous Lone Pine charge, and passed through the whole campaign scathless except for slight illness. Afterwards he went to France, and survived the multitudinous dangers at Pozieres and on the Somme until finally, at Ypres, a 12-inch German minenwerfer shell burst near where he and nine of his comrades were standing. All the rest were killed, the Sergt. alone escaping, though with a sadly damaged foot. This occurred at night time, and the Sergt. had been dodging these little German favours all day. Though at first his recovery was despaired of, six months in hospital made a very big difference, especially the devoted care and attention of one excellent English nurse, who subsequently became Mrs Bower. It was indeed a romantic love affair. Mrs Bower is due in Australia by the next mail boat.
The Sergt.’s leg is some three inches short at present, and he is to undergo an operation at Randwick to have the bones reset and lengthened. Despite his many stirring experiences the young soldier looks exceedingly well, though he cannot walk without crutches. As to the war generally he says there is much yet to be done, and every man possible is needed, chiefly to bring the battalions up to their proper strength and give the boys so long out there a decent rest. He says the German organisation is wonderful, but their soldiers are long-distance fighters only. Never did he have a chance to get into a hand-to-hand contest – they always either ran or threw up their hands.”
Lance-Sergeant Bower was discharged as physically unfit for service, as a consequence of his wounds, on 14 March 1918, and received his war medals at a ceremony held at the Town Hall in Armidale on 3 September 1921. Selby worked as a butcher after the war, but he and Lydia left Armidale in 1923 when he purchased the Coliseum Picture Theatre at Lithgow. They lost everything when the building was destroyed in a fire during the early hours of 31 August 1924.
On 12 May 1928, the Bowers sailed for England on board the S.S. Koln, and during their trip stayed with Lydia’s mother. It was during this visit that Selby went to France and Flanders as part of the British Legion’s Great Pilgrimage.
Mentioned in Selby’s letter was his cousin, 6 Private Claude Bower, who served with “A” Company of the 33rd Battalion, Australian Imperial Force and who is commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial. Claude had attested at Armidale on 11 August 1915 and at the time of his enlistment was aged eighteen and employed as a groom. He embarked from Sydney on 4 May 1916 and landed at Southampton on 9 July. Private Bower was drafted to France on 21 November 1916 and was killed on 14 October 1917.
Claude’s brother, 7213 Private William Eric Bower, enlisted for the Australian Imperial Force at Armidale on 31 December 1916. Aged eighteen and seven months, he was employed as a car driver when he attested and left Sydney with the 24th Reinforcement for the 13th Battalion on 7 February 1917. Arriving at Devonport on 11 April, Eric Bower joined the 4th Training Battalion at Codford Camp and was drafted to France on 18 October, being taken onto the strength of the 13th Battalion six days later. Eric was severely wounded in the abdomen on 8 August 1918 and died of his wounds at 11.10 a.m. the following morning after being admitted to No. 61 Casualty Clearing Station. He is buried at Vignacourt British Cemetery: Plot VI, Row A, Grave 13, and the following inscription is carved at the base of his headstone:
In Loving Memory of the Noble Son of Mr & Mrs Bower
Age 19. (R.I.P.)
Another Australian who went to France on the Great Pilgrimage was Arthur John Williams, who was a member of the Geelong Branch of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia. Formerly 3615 Private A. J. Williams, 3rd Pioneer Battalion, Australian Imperial Force (8th Reinforcements), he wrote to his friends at Geelong and recounted where he had visited while in France and Belgium:
“Dear Brownie and comrades at Geelong,
I promised to write and tell you something of the British Legion Pilgrimage to the battlefields of France, so here goes.
Saturday, August 4th, was a very wet day in London and promised anything but fine for our trip. At Victoria Station I met two members of the Geelong branch, E. A. Alsop and W. J. F. Butterworth. They were very well and asked to be remembered in me letter to all “digger” cobbers in Geelong. They also joined the Pilgrimage as did many Australians from all parts of the Commonwealth.
The trip across the Channel was very rough, and hundreds failed to appear at the dinner table. Arriving at Calais we had tea and supper there and entrained for Amiens, arriving there about 2 a.m. Sunday, where we were all sent to our billets (just like old times) and Sunday being a free day we were at liberty to go where we liked so three others and myself got a taxi and visited “Villers Bret,” Corbie, passing through Hamel to Sailly Laurette, then to Cressy and Chipilly where we inspected “Big Bertha” the great gun that fired upon Paris 75 miles away and eventually captured by the Australian Third Division. Then on through Fay and back another route, so we saw a good deal of the country through which we passed in 1918.
There is not a sign of a trench, or a dug-out, (except, of course, where they are preserved) and in their place miles and miles of splendid crops of all sorts; one can hardly credit that the people who cleared away all signs of devastation, and are building up new villages in places where the old ones were destroyed, building is going on everywhere.
Monday we visited Beaumont Hamel, and the Newfoundland Park where fine monuments have been erected, trenches preserved, duckboards and all. The Ulster Cemetery is close by, and in company with several others I also paid a visit. These cemeteries are kept beautifully and made one almost wish that he were one of the “Glorious Dead.”
Tuesday we visited Vimy where the Canadians are building a wonderful monument which I should like to see when finished. The tunnels and trenches are concreted, and lighted with electricity, and should last for all time.
Wednesday we went to Ypres. This, of course, was the crowning day of the whole tour. The people are re-erecting a beautiful city, though there are still evidences of the ruthless destruction, particularly to the great Cloth Hall, part of which is being left in its original condition as a monument. The early morning was damp, but when we got out of the train the rain stopped and the day turned out full of sunshine. The Menin Gate Memorial is a beautiful thing, where are engraved the names of over 35,000 (sic) soldiers who have no known grave. The Prince of Wales and the Crown Prince of Belgium were there among the thousands of people, and the march past of 11,000 pilgrims was a great sight.
On Thursday I visited the cemetery at Sailly Laurette, where I found the graves of four of my old comrades who were killed in the battle of Bray on August 22, 1918. They were buried side by side, and Les Parrott, of Geelong, will remember them well – Lieut. J. McConnell, Sergt. M. H. Lewis, D. G. Bethune, and C. E. Marriott, all of the 3rd Pioneer Battalion. I am sorry that I did not get the names and where buried of some more Geelong boys. There must be hundreds lying at peace in the many cemeteries that I visited.
The whole Pilgrimage was wonderfully organised, and everyone concerned deserves the greatest credit. We arrived in Paris yesterday evening and I have been very busy sight seeing ever since. Paris is a fine city with its crowded streets with the taxis flying around like flies.
To-day I visited the Arch de Triomphe, where the French Unknown Soldier is buried, and also the Perpetual Flame which is most unique. I also visited the Effel (sic) Tower and went to the top from where a wonderful view of Paris and the surrounding landscape for miles can be obtained. The trip is nearing the end, and I hope to get back to London on the 13th.
I hope you have not fallen asleep while reading this – or perhaps you were like Jack Brownlee – had some refreshments half way through. Anyhow I trust that this letter finds all the Geelong boys well, including yourself, and with best wishes from yours in comradeship
A. J. Williams.”
Born on 7 January 1889, Archibald Candler, better known as Archie, attested for the Coldstream Guards at Bury St Edmunds on 15 August 1905, stating his profession as musician. Issued with the regimental number 6301, he was posted to the 2nd Battalion and appointed as a Drummer. In 1908 Candler, who had already earned his first Good Conduct badge, transferred to The Suffolk Regiment and was issued with the regimental number 7715. He served with the 2nd Battalion and was on the Permanent Staff at the Regimental Depot when war was declared, playing regularly for the Depot football team. Drummer Candler rejoined the 2nd Battalion at the Curragh and sailed from Dublin for France, disembarking at Le Havre on 14 August 1914. Promoted to Corporal while on active service, Candler was severely wounded in the leg at Sanctuary Wood on 25 September 1915 and was discharged as physically unfit for service due to his wounds on 25 May 1916 while on the strength of the Regimental Depot. Archie was subsequently issued with a Silver War Badge.
In the years following the war Archie was employed at Robert Boby Ltd. in Bury St Edmunds, where he worked as an engineer’s bookkeeper. He married Olive Ruby Lilian Game in 1922, and also joined the Royal Ancient Order of Buffalos and the British Legion branch in the town.
On his return from the Great Pilgrimage to his home at 40 Guildhall Street in Bury St Edmunds, Candler was interviewed by a journalist of The Bury Free Press and gave his impressions of what he had seen while on the pilgrimage:
“It is marvelous how they have cultivated the land around. There are big shell holes that have never been filled up, and in the middle of the wheat fields you can see these big, cement redoubts, built by the Germans; gun emplacements, and so on, which are so substantial – nearly a yard thick – that they will never be able to shift them. The people there are rebuilding their own houses at night-time, after they have done their day’s work. Some are living in the front and the backs are all blown out. The majority are in our Army huts and corrugated iron built up for shelter till they are in a position to build proper houses. Barbed wire is still about and some of the women tore their stockings and skirts on it.”
Among the places Archie visited was Vimy Ridge:
“We went all round the ridge and through the trenches, and here and there dud shells were sticking up, and there were a few rifles lying about. In the evening we were entertained to an open-air concert, with bands. We visited some of the cafes, and in a body like that, of 450, there was not a man the worse for drink. The way it was conducted and the way the people behaved themselves was splendid.”
Archie also saw the names of comrades from the 2nd Suffolks commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, and brought back two souvenir ashtrays, one from Hill 60 with bullets for legs, and another of the Menin Gate.
Archie was elected as Chairman of the Bury St Edmunds branch of the British Legion in 1935 and on 26 October 1955 was presented with his gold badge, to mark his twenty years of service in the role.
Archie Candler died at his home at 40 Guildhall Street on 4 April 1960.
“To put it into a few words, I have never had such a four days in all my life. Everything was done that could be done, both by the headquarters organisation and the municipal authorities, and the solemnity of the occasion was the dominant note. The Mayors of the different places extended both hands of welcome and friendship, and public buildings were thrown open to us. There was a magnificent reception wherever we went. At Armentieres we laid a wreath on the War Memorial. Our visit to Vimy Ridge impressed us all. There were still signs of the war to remind us of what those sleeping in the cemeteries and their comrades went through. At Ypres the great service of remembrance was most touching. Many of the war-stricken villages have made wonderful recoveries, but the people in them still remember Tommy for what he was in the war and opened their doors in welcome.”
Born on 8 February 1873, Captain Arthur George Cleale, of the Chelmsford Branch of the British Legion, had been in business as a cycle agent and ironmonger prior to the Great War, and was later as a garage proprietor. During the war he had served with the 1/2nd Battalion, The Essex Volunteer Regiment and “C” Company, 2nd Volunteer Battalion, The Essex Regiment, being commissioned as a Temporary Lieutenant on 7 September 1916, and a Temporary Captain on 10 March 1917. As well as being involved in the activities of the Chelmsford Branch of the British Legion, Captain Cleale served as Chairman of the Chelmsford Volunteers’ Association and as a Director of the West Essex Permanent Building Society.
Arthur Cleale died at St John’s Hospital at Chelmsford on 5 July 1957.
Born at Canterbury on 16 July 1877, Ellen Fowler trained as a nurse at St Mary’s Hospital in London between 1892 and 1895. During the Great War she served as a Staff Nurse with the Territorial Force Nursing Service, and registered with the General Nursing Council of England and Wales on 21 April 1922. At the time of the Great Pilgrimage in 1928 Nurse Fowler was residing at Salisbury House, on the Whitstable Road in the St Thomas’ Hill district of Canterbury. In an article that she wrote for The British Journal of Nursing later that year, she recalled her visit to Vimy Ridge:
“On August 7th we all went to Vimy, picking up our luncheon again at the station. We walked to the Ridge, Lady Haig with us. We sat down there for a while, afterwards going on to Grange Trench, where the German and Canadian trenches met; they have now been concreted and a new road is being constructed for conveying material for building the great National Memorial; even now the work done impresses one.
I noticed a poor old mother toiling up the Ridge, and went and asked her if I should try to get her a seat in a char-a-banc for it was very hot and there was about a mile further to go, also many young people, who could have walked, took up the seats; but she pathetically replied, “I want to tread over all the path my son last trod.”
Ellen Fowler died in 1945.
Mrs Mary Ann O’Connor (left), who lived at 31 Acorn Street in the Netherthorpe district of Sheffield, was a member of “T” Party of the British Legion Great Pilgrimage in August 1928. She wore the medals issued to three of her sons who had died during the Great War:
10389 Lance-Corporal John Francis O’Connor, who was killed on 18 November 1914 while serving with the 2nd Battalion, The King’s Own (Yorkshire Light Infantry). He is commemorated on Panel 47 of the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial.
14296 Driver Michael O’Connor, who served with 112th Battery, XXIV Brigade, Royal Field Artillery and died of wounds on 20 July 1915. He is buried at Hop Store Cemetery: Plot I, Row C, Grave 24.
201267 Private Thomas O’Connor, who was killed in Italy on 15 June 1918 while serving with the 9th (Service) Battalion, The York and Lancaster Regiment. He is buried Granezza British Cemetery: Plot I, Row D, Grave 1.
All three of Mrs O’Connor’s sons were also commemorated on the Roll of Honour inside St Vincent’s Catholic Church on Solly Street in Sheffield.
Mrs O’Connor carried the Sheffield Branch Standard during the ceremony held at the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, in place of ex-Sergeant Bernard Birch, who was ill and could not attend the Pilgrimage.
Mary, who was born in County Mayo on 9 July 1867, later lived at 28 Moorfield Flats in Shalesmoor and died in 1945, aged 78.
Mrs Flora Sharpe, who lived at 77 Queen’s Road in Bury St Edmunds, also took part in the Pilgrimage. She had the opportunity to visit the grave of her husband, 3/9607 Company Sergeant-Major Charles Sharpe, who had served with the 7th (Service) Battalion, The Suffolk Regiment and died of wounds on 20 October 1915 after being admitted to the West Riding Casualty Clearing Station at Lillers.
C.S.M. Sharpe had served for 23 years with The Suffolk Regiment, enlisting at Aldershot in 1888, seen service in South Africa with the 1st Battalion and 8th Battalion, Mounted Infantry (he was Mentioned in Despatches) and was awarded the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal in 1907. He was discharged in 1911 and worked went to work in Bury St Edmunds. He joined the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion shortly after the outbreak of the war and landed in France with the 7th Suffolks on 30 May 1915. C.S.M. Sharpe was mortally wounded during the fighting for the Quarries near Hulluch on 13 October 1915, and he is buried at Lillers Communal Cemetery: Plot IV, Row D, Grave 10.
Flora was interviewed by a journalist from The Bury Free Press following her return from the Great Pilgrimage, and said:
“I have come back with more content now that I have seen my husband’s grave, and if it is any comfort to other mothers that I have seen the graves of their sons – it would be to me – they can rest assured that every cemetery I saw is well kept and it is like entering a pretty English garden.”
Flora Sharpe died at Bury St Edmunds in 1962, aged 83.
Mrs Gertrude Bowley, who lived at 6 Warwick Place in Worthing, was one of the widows who took part in the British Legion Great Pilgrimage in August 1928. Her late husband, M2/269520 Private Frank Bowley, who worked as a milk carrier before the war, had served with 594th Mechanical Transport Company, Army Service Corps, attached to X Corps Heavy Artillery. He had died of wounds after being admitted to 105th Field Ambulance R.A.M.C. on 28 July 1918, aged 34, and is buried at Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery: Plot XXVIII, Row G, Grave 18A. Two photographs taken by Mrs Bowley, one in the preserved trenches on Vimy Ridge and another taken beneath the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, were reproduced in The Worthing Gazette on 15 August 1928.
Born on 2 August 1884, Gertrude Bowley never remarried and died at Worthing in 1969, two months before her 85th birthday.
72352 Private Augustus Stanley Bearman served with the 15th (Service) Battalion, The Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment) (Nottingham), and had died on 27 February 1918. Born at Bocking in 1885, he was the eldest son of Harry and Ellen Bearman, who lived on Market Place in Braintree, and married to Clara Stone at St Matthew’s Church in West Kensington on 11 September 1911. Their son, Bargrave Stanley Bearman, was born on 18 March 1913 and was baptised at Holy Trinity Church in Upper Tooting on 27 April. Augustus lived with his family at 70 Boundaries Road in Balham.
Augustus was employed as a drapers’ assistant when he attested for the Royal Flying Corps at Battersea on 8 December 1915, having previously been rejected for service by another Recruiting Office for showing symptoms of heart disease. Issued with the service number 38956, Private Bearman was drafted to France on 27 August 1916 and posted to No. 13 Balloon Company R.F.C. On 7 May 1917 he was awarded seven days’ Field Punishment No. 2 for “neglect of duty.” On 1 September he was drafted to the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division Infantry Base Depot to be trained as an infantryman, and on 24 September was transferred to The Sherwood Foresters, being posted to the 15th (Service) Battalion.
Private Bearman was killed as a result of an accidental explosion while unload Stokes Mortar bombs from a G.S. Wagon while working at the 35th Division Salvage Depot at Kempton Park Camp, south of St Julien. The Salvage Officer of 35th Division later wrote to Private Bearman’s father:
“The men of the Salvage Corps join with me in offering our deepest sympathy to you. It must be some consolation to you to know that Pt. Bearman died in faithful exercise of his duty, and gave his life for his country. We had learned to appreciate his soldierly qualities.”
News of his death at the front was reported in The Essex Newsman on 9 March:
“On Thursday Mr Harry Bearman, Market Place, Braintree, received official intimation that his eldest son, Augustus Stanley Bearman, 32, formerly R.F.C., latterly Notts and Derby Regt., was killed in action by an explosion in France on Monday. Before the war the deceased was engaged in the drapery business of Messrs. Harper Bros. at Balham. He was married and leaves a widow and little son. He was one of the choristers at St Peter’s, Bocking, when that church was opened, and sang there for several years. He was educated at Braintree College House School under Dr Amott, and was well-known and esteemed. Mr and Mrs Bearman have two other sons serving in the Army.”
Following the explosion, Private Bearman’s body was placed in a Nissen Hut at Kempton Park Camp before being buried at No Man’s Cot Cemetery, where his grave can be found at Row B, Grave 29.
On 18 May No. 6 Infantry Record Office at Lichfield sent Clara her late husband’s personal effects consisting of letters, photographs, cards, photo case, his mirror, wallet and pocket book. Probate was granted to his widow on 24 July, his effects being valued at £451 9s. 2d., and she was also awarded a weekly Widow’s Pension of 20/5d, effective from 16 September 1918.
On 5 December 1920, and memorial tablet was unveiled at St Peter’s Church in Bocking by Mrs Hills, the wife of the churchwarden, to his memorial. The inscription reads:
“To the glory of God, and in memory of Augustus Stanley Bearman, late of the Sherwood Foresters, beloved husband of Clara Bearman, and eldest son of Harry and Ellen Bearman, of this town, killed in action in France (sic), February 27, 1918, aged 32 years. Many years a chorister of this church. His life for his country, his soul to God.”
Mrs Clara Bearman had the opportunity to visit her husband’s grave while on the Great Pilgrimage, which was reported by The Essex Newsman on 18 August 1928:
“WAR GRAVE FOUND. – A party of 30 from Braintree took part in the British Legion pilgrimage to the battlefield scenes in France, among them being the widow and brother of the late Mr A. S. Bearman, who fell in action, and to whom there is a memorial tablet in St Peter’s Church. The pilgrims were able to locate the grave, upon which they found the inscription of which they had been previously notified.”
The last sentence of the inscription that had been included on his memorial tablet at Bocking was also carved at the base of his headstone.
Clara never remarried and later lived at Bagshot in Surrey. She died in 1973 while a resident in the Home of Compassion Nursing Home at 58 High Street in Thames Ditton, aged 88, and was buried in the churchyard of St Peter’s in West Molesey on 5 October.
Arthur Oswald Brown, a member of the Biggleswade Branch of the British Legion, was one of the 11,000 pilgrims who went to France and Belgium on the Great Pilgrimage in August 1928. Born at Langford in on 28 February 1881, Arthur had been employed as a coach painter and, although he had attested under the Derby Scheme did not see service overseas. He later became the licensee of The Lion Inn on Caldecote Road in Biggleswade.
Arthur sailed for France with “B” Train Party and on arriving at Amiens complained that he was suffering from pains in his stomach. A French doctor was called, and it was determined that Mr Brown was suffering from colic. Told to rest, Arthur did not take part in the excursions of Beaucourt and Vimy Ridge, but was determined to be present at Ypres on 8 August for the service at the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial. This he did, and he also took part in the march- past of the British Legion pilgrims that followed.
On returning to London Arthur went to visit his daughter at Highbury and he was taken ill at her house. Admitted to Middlesex Hospital on 10 August, it was discovered that he was suffering from acute appendicitis and was operated on immediately. A further operation took place the following day but Arthur died that same evening, 11 August, at the age of 47. His funeral took place at Biggleswade on 16 August.
“In the past week on this pilgrimage I have rubbed shoulders with members of the Legion from all parts of the country, men broken in limb and health but not in spirit for the defence of what they believed to be the right, men who have missed death and disaster miraculously, and thank God for it; men who have touched the border-line of eternity and, in their own phrase, “got away with it.”
 An extract from an article written by “A Pilgrim” from Thame in Oxfordshire who was a member of “B” Train Party of the British Legion Great Pilgrimage to France and Flanders in 1928, describing the ceremony held at the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial on 8 August. The full article was published in The Thame Gazette on 21 August 1928.
 Burnley Express, 15 August 1928.
 Selby Bower wrote his letter to Mr H. E. Williams, of Armidale, New South Wales, and it was reproduced in The Armidale Chronicle on 12 January 1929.
 Armidale Chronicle, 27 August 1921.
 Armidale Chronicle, 9 June 1923, Sydney Sun, 1 September 1924 & Armidale Express, 9 September 1924.
 Armidale Chronicle, 18 April 1928.
 Geelong Advertiser (Victoria), 23 October 1928.
 Bury Free Press, 11 August 1928.
 Bury Free Press, 28 October 1955.
 Essex Newsman, 11 August 1928.
 London Gazette, 3 July 1917, 1 October 1917 & 8 December 1917.
 “Impressions of the British Legion Pilgrimage to France,” The British Journal of Nursing, Vol. 76 September 1928, p. 237.
 Sheffield Independent, 6 August 1928.
 Bury Free Press, 30 October 1915.
 Bury Free Press, 11 August 1928.
 Essex Newsman, 23 March 1918.
 Essex Newsman, 11 December 1920.
 Biggleswade Chronicle, 17 August 1928.
 An extract from an account of the British Legion Great Pilgrimage of August 1928, written by Charles James Mullett, who was a journalist working for The Thanet Advertiser and was representing the Ramsgate Branch of the British Legion. The full article was published in The Thanet Advertiser on 10 August 1928.