A Wreath for Tommy Agar-Robartes (and my Grandad) by Carolyn Shipton


ImageBuried at Lapugnoy, near Loos, in Northern France lies my Grandfather, a Bombardier in the Royal Field Artillery, killed like so many, in the Great War.  I had visited his grave some 20 years ago, but on this the centenary of the outbreak of hostilities, I knew I should go again – it wasn’t much to ask.  As a National Trust member (and volunteer at Godolphin House) was also aware that Captain the Honourable Tommy Agar-Robartes MP, heir to the Lanhydrock estate was also buried at Lapugnoy, so I offered to take a wreath for Tommy as well.

On 7 April 2014 my husband Tony and myself set off to Dover to catch the ferry (hurrah for the orange army who had completed the rail link at Dawlish just 3 days before).  Overnight in Dover, and onto the early morning ferry – the nice calm sea, just right for a full English breakfast to while away the crossing during which we speculated on how things would have been different for those 1914 volunteers. We were now a party of 5, Mike our guide/driver and Francis and Sheila who were hoping to find the grave of their Great Uncle killed on the Somme.  I knew my Grandfather had been killed in 1918 at a place called Philosophe as he was mentioned (surprisingly for a lowly Bombardier) in the unit war diary for that day, and this was close to a water tower at Vermelles (also mentioned by the diarist).  Tommy had been mortally wounded 3 years earlier in 1915 at a Chalk Pit (below) about a mile beyond Vermelles . How easy for us with GPS to drive and find these locations, the terrain now showing no scars of the massive trench network indicated on our war maps. A surreal feeling driving through Philosophe and finding the Water Tower, surely a modern one now, but built on the same site. Next, close by to locate some of the landmarks mentioned in Tommy’s unit war diary.

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On 26 September (2 days before he was wounded) Tommy’s diarist states that they had marched (via Vermelles) to a ‘farm, called Le Rutoire and bivouacked in a field close by’.  The farm house is still there, smartly restored, with the name clearly over the door. In 1915 it would almost certainly have been shelled. Next the unit dug itself in at ‘Lone Tree’ and we were sure we had located this place, a junction of tracks, but of course no sign now of the desolation there would have been nearly a hundred years ago.  A few yards further to ‘trenches around wood and Chalk Pit’. I walked up the road to the pit, now overgrown and enclosed by a modern fence for safety reasons and impossible to see clearly, but this undoubtedly was the place where Tommy was wounded He subsequently died of his wounds 2 days later..   The surrounding area was flat as a pancake for miles, a chalk pit, however shallow, would have been a godsend. The Germans were well dug in at Bois Victor Hugo (see map above) and the diarist writes how the British soldiers ‘were met almost before they got out of the trenches by a terrific machine gun fire…they were absolutely mown down’.

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On the third day of our visit (after visting the Somme, at Arras and at Thiepval) we returned to Lapugnoy to lay wreaths on the graves. The cemetery lies in a peaceful valley and holds 1,324 burials, the site first chosen in 1915 for the forthcoming battle of Loos, and later extended in 1917 for the battle of Arras and later conflicts. Twenty years ago there was a storm brewing with thunder rumbling overhead as I laid a wreath for my Grandad, and said the Collect for the Royal Artillery.  An emotional moment. The sun came out and the cold wind died as we read a simple poem for Grandad and for Tommy.  It seemed that in the intervening years I had become more understanding, more accepting, more forgiving. The atmosphere was less charged. The woods behind Tommy’s grave were full of bluebells, (just like Lanhydrock), he would have felt at home.

The National Trust at Lanhydrock would like to thank Carolyn and Tony Shipton for writing this article and providing the photographs based on their experiences visiting the war cemetary at Lapugnoy.   

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2 Comments

  1. Richard Waters

     /  May 1, 2014

    What a terrific thing to have done, especially in this anniversary year.

    Reply
  1. Remembering Tommy Agar Robartes 30 September 1915 | Devoran War Memorial Cornwall

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