Sometimes we look but we don’t really see – a local link to Egypt

On a recent visit to the graveyard at All Saints church in Grasby, North Lincs I was very surprised to see the recent addition of a Commonwealth War graves sign – indicating the presence of a war grave. A quick consultation of the CWGC app revealed the name Arthur Frank Wescott of the Royal Field Artillery who died on the 13th of November 1918. Now I’ve visited this particular graveyard many times as I have two family members buried here and I was immediately curious as I could not recall the presence of a CWGC Portland headstone in such a small graveyard.

I walked round the graveyard 3 times looking for a headstone until I noticed the ‘Dardanelles’ wording on large, white memorial stone directly behind the grave of my Nanna. The headstone bears the names of three unmarried brothers who fell during the conflict – the sons of  local Headmaster Elton Edward Wescott and his wife Leah of Grasby.

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Arthur Frank Wescott died on the 13th November 1918, a scant two days after the signing of The Armistice, whilst serving as Corporal 99056 in A Battery of the 152nd Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery. The CWGC records state he was buried in the churchyard at Grasby, he presumably having died at home of his wounds. Arthur was 20 years old.

Harry E Westcott should in fact be Elton Harry Wescott. Elton was serving as Corporal 9828 in the 6th Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment when he was killed in action on the 15th August 1915 at Gallipoli aged 23. He was buried in the Alexandria (Chatby) Military and War cemetery in Egypt, grave reference no: J44. I’m rather taken with the personal inscription on his gravestone which states ‘Asleep with England’s heroes in the watchful care of God’.

Edward Lawrence Wescott died of wounds on the 11th May 1917 in France whilst serving as Sergeant 9580 of the 8th Battalion, Lincolnshire Regiment  at 22 years of age. He had apparently been a member of the 1st Battalion and had gone to France as a member of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in August of 1914 and could therefore have been a regular soldier. Edward was buried in the Etaples Military cemetery, grave reference no: XVIII.M.6A. Like Harry, Edwards gravestone bears the inscription ‘Asleep with England’s heroes in the watchful care of God’. 

In September, I’m due to start my Doctoral research project on the IWGC’s operations in Egypt during the Great War – with a particular focus on the cemeteries of Hadra and Chatby at Alexandria. The Chatby Military and War Memorial Cemetery (originally the Garrison cemetery) was used for burials until April 1916, when a new cemetery was opened at Hadra. I am so looking forward to uncovering more stories such as Harrys within the context of my research.

‘A gallant and erudite Soldier’ – The Funeral of Major William Throsby Bridges

William Throsby Bridges was born at Greenock, Scotland, on 18 February 1861. As a youth he moved to Canada, where he later entered the Royal Military College but failed to graduate. In 1879 Bridges moved to Australia and joined the civil service, working in Braidwood, Murrurundi, and Narrabri. He returned to military life in 1885, taking a permanent commission in the artillery, and that same year married his wife, Edith. For the next few years he held various positions at the School of Gunnery and attended several gunnery courses in England, passing them with distinction. Bridges served with the British army in South Africa from 1899 until he was evacuated with enteric fever in 1900. In January 1909 he became Australia’s first chief of the general staff and the next year was tasked with founding Australia’s first military college, the Royal Military College at Duntroon. By the time the First World War had broken out Bridges had attained the rank of Brigadier General and was given the task of raising an Australian contingent for service in Europe. He was promoted to Major General in August 1914 and was appointed the commander of the new Australian Imperial Force. Bridges travelled to Egypt with the first contingent in October and started to record his experiences in a diary from early 1915.

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From this diary we can observe the evolution of planning for the Gallipoli campaign, including his meetings with commanders like Lieutenant General William Birdwood and General Sir Ian Hamilton and with various Australian commanders who would rise to prominence in the years to come.

On 25 April 1915 units of Bridges 1st Australian Division were the first to land at Anzac Cove. In the desperate confusion of the first day the landing force suffered more than 2,000 casualties, and little progress was made towards achieving their military objectives. Bridges argued for an immediate evacuation but was overruled. From the outset Bridges insisted on inspecting the front lines on a daily basis, despite the danger to himself. On 15 May 1915 he was travelling with other officers through Monash Valley when he was shot through his right femoral artery by a Turkish sniper. The rapid onset of gangrene meant that immediate amputation for a 53 year old man would prove fatal so a medical decision was taken that it was better for nature to take its course, which in Bridges’ case was 3 days. He  died on board the hospital ship Gascon before it reached port. His last recorded instruction was “that his regret should be conveyed to the Minister for Defence that his dispatch concerning the landing was not complete — he was too tired now.”

William Bridges was initially buried at Alexandria in Egypt, but in June 1915 his body was exhumed and returned to Australia. A series of interesting photographs held by the State Library of  New South Wales show views from his original funeral.

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He became the only Australian killed in the First World War to have his remains returned to Australia. On 3 September 1915 he was buried on the slopes of Mount Pleasant at Duntroon in Canberra, under the words ‘A gallant and erudite soldier’.

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Sources and Acknowledgements 

The Australian War Memorial

State Library of New South Wales