Visit by Thames Valley Branch, The Western Front Association
On Saturday 8th May, members of the Branch together with members from the Surrey and London Branches met at Kensal Green cemetery for a guided tour arranged and conducted by our good friend and member, Claire Aston. Although the day was very overcast and threatened rain, Claire had made some delicious soup for us and together with some of her splendid chocolate cake and skeleton and poppy biscuits we were very well set up for our tour of the cemetery. She then explained that every guide had his or her speciality which they would take as their theme, hers being RFC and RAF men of the Great War as well as showing us other interesting grave sites in the cemetery. Claire emphasised that as well as being a site of historical importance the cemetery was also home to many types of birds, animals, insects, trees and wild flowers and the site is treasured for that alone. It is also contains many monuments of varying designs reflecting Victorian taste and incorporate the various development in taste up to the present time.
The cemetery itself covers a vast area, some 77 acres but walking was easy even in areas where we had to discover obscure grave sites. Good walking shoes or boots are however essential for visitors. It would be impossible to try and explain the exact route we took during our tour but our walk was circular and not in the least bit fatiguing.
Claire took us to some fascinating graves and memorials. They included those of -
- Alexis Soyer and his wife, inventor of the famous Soyer stove.
- Commander Bartlett RN, killed testing an Airship
- Doctor James Barry, Army Medical Officer
- H.R.H The Duke of Cambridge C in C for 39 years with his unsuitable wife.
- Louise Beauclerk, daughter of General Wombwell and mistress to the Duke of Cambridge. Their tombs are very close to each other as they were in life.
- Lt Harry Lascelles RFC whose parents Claire advised were in dispute with the War Office after their sons death regarding the cost of a different coloured uniform their son had purchased.
- Lt Harold Carter, RFC whose BE2c had burst into flames before crashing and who has a lovely monument of an angel pointing to the sky.
- Sir James Henry Domville RN who had shot himself after serving bravely in the war
- General Sir Charles Whittingham Horsley Douglas, ADC to the King who died at the War Office in late 1914, aged 64.
- Flight Sub Lt Duncan RNAS who drowned whilst strapped into his Sopwith Schneider that crashed into the sea as a result of engine failure.
- Captain J Heaton Armstrong educated at Eton and Cambridge and served in throughout the whole of the Great War,losing an eye and the use of one of his legs and was charged with the seating arrangements at the 1953 Coronation Ceremony
- The poignant little grave and monument in the corner of the cemetery of Marigold Churchill, the 3 year old daughter of Winston and Clementine Churchill who died in 1921.
- Matron Maud Amy Buckingham QAIMNS 2nd War Hospital, Holymoor, Birmingham
- Sgt Reginald Cannon Pasker RFC ex Indian Army, described by Claire as her favourite rogue who apparently was forever in debt and in trouble with the authorities due to his great passion for polo
- Captain James Malcolmson and his son, both war dead and buried in the same grave.
Also within the cemetery are two Commonwealth War Graves plots, one containing Commonwealth graves and the other for men from Great Britain which contains the graves of two 16 year old soldiers and where the ashes of Lt W H James VC were scattered.
The cemetery contains many more interesting memorials and we found to our great surprise that we had been walking for nearly three hours and were aware that we had only seen a small part of Kensal Green cemetery. The party returned to the chapel for a final cup of tea and, Claires lovely chocolate cake and cookies and to express our thanks to her for being our guide during a fascinating, instructive afternoon. I would urge branches to take advantage of the tour, a most interesting insight into our history and heritage. Don't miss it.