Registered Charity

The FOBLC is recognised by HMRC as a charity, ref. XT38745, and is a member of the National Federation of Cemetery Friends

For all enquiries please contact our Chairman geoffrey@foblc.org.uk


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The Somme Revisited


On Monday 25th April I accompanied three of my FOBLC colleagues Geoffrey Thurley (the Chair), Mick Martin and Peter Mealing (the driver) across the channel, following the route that General De Gaulle once called the 'fatal avenue', the sweep of low lying country in Northern France heading towards the much visited Somme battlefield (the Somme is the name of a French department and river). The weather was unremittingly poor, with a freezing wind and driving rain,  similar to the conditions that delayed the start of the battle whose centenary will be marked on 1st July 2016, which became the bloodiest day in British military history.   We nevertheless managed to cover several of the most iconic battlefield sites that are forever associated with what at the time was seen as the 'Big Push' aimed at bringing the First World War to an end.

Commonwealth War Grave Commission cemeteries lie dotted along roadsides, there are 242 in the Somme department, and provided a poignant reminder of the horrible losses sustained in the battle. We passed first through the village of Gommecourt at the northern extremity of the 22 mile battlefield,  where the 56th (London) Division fought with particular heroism, before stopping outside the village of Serre, at which many of the 'Pals' battalions in the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) recruited from the industrial towns of Northern England suffered terrible losses attacking German positions uphill from a series of copses, and whose sacrifice was captured in the memorable quote 'Two years in the making, Ten minutes in the destroying', Walking in what was once 'no mans land' with the sound of a skylark overhead and viewing the memorial plaques was a hauntingly memorable moment. The verdant landscape that surrounds the bronze Caribou statue at Beaumont Hamel (opened by Earl Haig in 1925), the scene of the Newfoundland battlefield park was perhaps the busiest of the sites we visited with parties of French and Canadians visitors much in evidence.

The monumental Thiepval Memorial to the missing, containing the names of 73,357 soldiers whose bodies were never recovered, is visible from afar and although we were unable to get too close as preparations for the centenary meant that it was part covered in scaffolding, we did ambulate it before moving onto Mametz Wood.

Arriving on a single track road at Mametz Wood was a particularly poignant moment, having earlier successfully campaigned for a maroon plaque to be erected at the birthplace of Poet and Artist David Jones in Arabin Road, Brockley, who as a private in the 38th (Welsh) Division was wounded there following a bloody action to capture the wood, an action launched on the 7th July 1916 and who later recounted his experiences in his masterpiece 'In Parenthesis'. We placed a wooden cross at the foot of the stunning Welsh dragon memorial (erected in 1987) and the photograph at the top of this post was taken shortly thereafter. Alighting for lunch at the much patronised 'Le Tommy ' restaurant in Pozieres- the scene of determined German resistance from the onslaught of Australian troops, due to its strategic importance, we then stopped at the Tank Memorial, three British tanks went into battle for the first time in the history of warfare on the 15th September 1916 before starting on the homeward journey to Calais.

Having arrived safely back in London , due to the commendable forward planning and able direction of our driver Peter Mealing, we were each left with so many powerful memories and recalled in muted conversation some of those remembered in Brockley and Ladywell cemeteries who fell on the Somme, which battle formally ended on the 18th November 1916, the Allies having advanced seven miles for truly enormous losses, before the war then entered another destructive attritional phase.

The friends group have two forthcoming events that will mark the Somme centenary in slightly different ways:   

In the Ladywell cemetery chapel on : Tuesday 31st May at 7.30pm (as part of the Brockley Max festival) Dr Anne Price -Owen ( Director : David Jones Society) will present an Illustrated talk ' David Jones: Artist, Warrior, Author of In Parenthesis’ All welcome.


The Ladywell Chapel, Brockley and Ladywell Cemetery, SE4 (where David Jones is buried) - The evening of July 9th 2016

A performance of our David Jones In Parenthesis programme. This is another very exciting site-specific performance for the Company. Both these performances fall within the exact centenary dates of the Battle of Mametz Wood, which much of In Parenthesis is based on. (This event is subject to final confirmation)

Mike Guilfoyle
Vice-Chair, FOBLC

Remembering Decadent Poet Ernest Dowson (1867-1900)



The Department of English and Comparative Literature at Goldsmiths, University of London hosted the first International symposium on the poet, translator and novelist Ernest Dowson on a storm -tossed saturnine Friday 14th April 2016.   Ernest Dowson who died in 1900 aged 32 is interred in Ladywell cemetery and his signature grave is a regular stopping point on guided walks (it is also a place of pilgrimage for Dowson admirers), more particularly so after his headstone was restored by public subscription in 2010. The organisers of the symposium, Doctoral students Alice Conde and Jessica Gossling, assembled a stellar cast of Dowson scholars and admirers who offered those present a bewildering range of insights and commentaries.  These were drawn from the often tortured but exquisitely gifted musings of this representative of what the poet W.B.Yeats termed the 'tragic generation', the Aesthetes and Decadents of the 1890's, with panel based presentations on many aspect of his life and works, from the dauntingly arcane ' Tropes of Tainted Medievalism: Ernest Dowson's Recasting of Fin' Amor to Dowson's Decadent diminuendo! The FOBLC were well represented amongst the audience as were members of the Brockley Society. Although the bulk of the presentations struck a distinctly rarefied academic tone and reflected the peculiar Dowsonian fascinations of the presenters' research interests.

The plenary session was greatly enlivened by the contribution of Ernest Dowson biographer Jad Adams (Institute of English, University of London) whose talk on ' Slimy trails and holy places: Dowson's strange life', was presented with brio and addressed one of the more thorny aspects of his oeuvre - his attraction to young girls in the context of fin de si├Ęcle literary mores. It was author Jad Adams who had spoken movingly from his biographical account of Dowson's life at the restoration of his headstone in 2010 and he offered a memorably appreciative talk that reminded those present of the reasons for his residual literary appeal, continuing popularity and wider cultural significance. Which topics were picked up in the subsequent discussion centred on many of the themes tantalisingly offered throughout the day.

The symposium was fittingly rounded off with some entertaining verse from a trio of poets aided by preprandial refreshment at 5pm, l'heure verte (green hour) but 'happy hour' Absinthe was not it should be noted on offer! The assistance of the Friends group was acknowledged in the accompanying hand outs and I suggested during the plenary that maybe a future such event might be hosted in the Dissenters Chapel close to Ernest Dowson's grave so that the 'most exquisite poet of his generation'  is brought again to the attention of a wider audience. A working title might be 'Through the gate'?  recalling the words on his epitaph which are drawn from arguably his best known poem Vitae Summa Brevis! ( Brief sum of life)

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.

Mike Guilfoyle

Vice-Chair : FOBLC

Take A Walk On The Wild Side



Following the successful walk last year, the FOBLC invites you to take a walk on the wild side with Mike Keogh.  During this free guided walk Mike will help you discover the varied wildflowers and diverse Nature in the two Cemeteries.

Meet at the Ladywell Road gate at 2pm on Sunday 17th April.  The walk is expected to last up to an hour and a half.


Nunhead Cemetery Annual Open Day 21st May 2016

Choir in the ruined Nunhead Chapel

The Friends of Nunhead Cemetery will be running their annual open day on the 21st May from 11am to 5pm.  Admission is free and it's a beautiful cemetery as well as being a popular and well organised event so put the date in your diary!
'Bugman' Jones

There will be music in the ruined chapel, free tours, a plant stall, the famous Bug Hunt for the kids, home made refreshments and many other stalls.  Parking is limited but you can also get there via Nunhead rail station or the P12 bus. 

More information is available at www.fonc.org.uk


OUTPOSTS OF EMPIRE - GUIDED WALK

Worcester Yeomanry at the Pyramids in Egypt during the  Great War

On Sunday 21st of February there will be a guided walk entitled OUTPOSTS OF EMPIRE.

This walk will be co-led by FOBLC members Mike Guilfoyle and Peter Mealing . It will cover both cemeteries and stop at some of the graves of the soldiers, missionaries, adventurers, surgeons and others whose lives and deaths spanned some of the further outposts of the British Empire - from Madras to Malta.

All welcome.  It is free though any donations are appreciated - the walk starts at 2:00pm from the Ladywell entrance and lasts approximately 1 1/2 to 2 hours.