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


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A "spotter" watching the skies of London during the Blitz

Free Guided Walk -Sunday 19th February at 2.00 pm (meet at the Ladywell cemetery entrance)

We will be visiting family graves in both cemeteries connected to air raids on London in the Two World Wars. It will also feature visits to family graves of airmen who died in combat abroad.

The walk will be undertaken by Foblc members Peter Mealing and Mike Guilfoyle and last approximately 2 hrs.

All welcome  (donations optional)

Frederick Innes OBE (1864-1921): Silvertown Explosion 1917

Silvertown Explosion illustration
Contemporary newspaper illustration of the Silvertown explosion
Close to the Ivy Road pathway in Ladywell cemetery enveloped in its chitinous grassy embrace lies the Innes family grave of Frederick Innes, who died aged 57 years on the 14th December 1921.  Grandfather to FOBLC stalwart Ron Innes,  Frederick was intimately connected to the biggest explosion ever to hit the metropolis which destroyed a large part of Silvertown in East London on the 19th January 1917. The centenary of this tragic even is being commemorated.

Frederick Innes was later awarded the OBE for his  brave and public spirited actions on the day.  He worked as Chief Valvesman at the East Greenwich Gasworks which was damaged by the blast and worked heroically to save the gas supply to South London.  The Greenwich Peninsula History 2013 has the following account:

At 7 p.m. on l9th January l9l7 the Brunner Mond works at Silvertown went up – to the credit of Chief Valvesman Innes and his second Percy in charge of No.2 they managed to switch the supply over to No l. and the gas supply of South London was maintained. The holder’s builders had designed it to withstand hurricanes but the pressure of the munitions explosion ruptured it and 8 million cubic feet of gas extant in Greenwich – Charlie Wellard (whose biography is in Woodlands Local History Library} asked his mother if it was the end of the world. An old lady down the road from me says she saw a red hot girder blown across the river and pierce the gas holder. 

The devastation from the explosion is evident from this photograph  

On 19 January 1917, in the darkest days of the Great War, a massive explosion rocked London’s East End. Shockwaves could be felt in Essex, while the blast itself was heard as far away as Southampton and Norwich. But the firestorm wasn’t caused by the sinister German Zeppelins that were making increasingly frequent appearances on London’s skyline. In fact, the roots of capital’s biggest ever explosion were much closer to home: a TNT factory in Silvertown.

From the outset, the management of the former Brunner, Mond and Co. chemical works had expressed their concern about government plans to turn their plant over from the production of caustic soda to TNT for munitions. TNT is a highly unstable substance and the factory was in a crowded urban area. The Metropolitan Building Act of 1844 made it illegal to carry out ‘harmful trades’ inside the boundaries of London. But Silvertown was just outside this boundary, and its plentiful supply of labour and easy access to ports made it too good a location to overlook. In September 1915, the management caved to government pressure and the plant was soon making nine tons of TNT a day.

Sadly, the management’s concerns were founded. The explosion that ripped through the factory on that fateful Friday evening instantly destroyed part of the factory and several nearby streets. It showered molten metal across several miles, starting wild fires that could be seen as far away as Kent and Surrey.

The whole heavens were lit in awful splendour. A fiery glow seemed 
to have come over the dark and miserable January evening.
The Stratford Express

More than 900 homes near the plant were destroyed or badly damaged in the disaster, leaving thousands of people homeless. Between 60,000 and 70,000 buildings were damaged to some extent, including a gasometer over the river in Greenwich which blew up, spewing 200,000 cubic metres of gas into the air in a massive fireball. Factories, docks and warehouses were also decimated. The eventual repair bill was around £250,000 – a staggering amount of money at the time.

Even more serious was the human cost. Seventy three people died that day. More than 400 were injured, 94 of them seriously. One man lost his wife and four children, aged between 10 and 13. The dead also included many firemen from the local station, along with dock and factory workers and children, asleep in their beds. But the death toll could have been much worse: by a stroke of luck, the explosion happened at just before 7pm, after most people had left the factory for the day and before they had gone to bed (most of the damage to homes was to the upper floors).
Notice from the Mayor of Newham offering emergency assistance to those affected by the Silvertown Explosion 

The precise cause of the explosion has never been found and rumours abounded of sabotage by a German spy or that the factory had been hit by a German bombing raid. The most likely explanation is much more mundane – that fire broke out in a melt-pot room and quickly spread to railway wagons where 50 tons of TNT was waiting to be moved. The inquiry found that the site was totally unsuitable and that Brunner Mond had failed to look after the welfare of its staff. The government chose not to publish the findings until the 1950s.

Guided Walk Sunday 20th November visiting some of the fallen from the Battle of the Somme

The Battle of the Ancre Heights
There will be a free guided walk visiting the graves and headstones in the Brockley & Ladywell cemeteries of some of those who fought and fell during the 141 days of horror  of the Battle of the Somme (July to November 1916).  The walk will be led by FOBLC members Peter Mealing, Mick Martin and Mike Guilfoyle.

All are welcome to join, we meet at 2:00pm on Sunday 20th November at the Ladywell Cemetery entrance.  The walk will last approximately 2 hours.  The event is free though donations are welcome.

REMEMBRANCE SUNDAY 13th NOVEMBER 10.55am – 12noon (approx)

We will be holding our Remembrance Day event again this year. This will start on Sunday 13th November at the Ladywell Cemetery Cross of Sacrifice at 10.55am and, after the two minute silence and wreath laying, proceed via two or three relevant points to the war memorial in the Brockley Cemetery for the laying of another wreath.  Please join us if you can.

Private Graham Charles Hines Bulford (1895-1916): Soldier killed at the Somme

Part hidden by a spangle of dotted vegetation in a grove alongside one of the inner pathways close to the boundary between the two cemeteries lies the Bulford family grave.

The son of Charles and Ada Bulford of 57 Adelaide Avenue, Brockley (lying opposite the green expanse of Hilly Fields) Graham’s name appears in a 1911 London Gazette post as a Temporary Boy Clerk before he enlisted as a private in the 2nd Battalion, Eastern Ontario Regiment, Canadian Infantry (Canadian Expeditionary Force) Service number: 444226. He died in action on the Somme, aged just 21 on 12th October 1916.

Canadian Soldiers Fixing Bayonets Before An Attack On The Somme
The following extract on Canadians on the Somme is from the Veterans Affairs Canada website.
The Battle of the Somme was not a one day affair and the fighting continued, notably with a largely successful dawn attack by the British on July 14, through the summer months. In late August 1916, the "Byng Boys" moved from the muddy fields of Flanders to the Somme, where they took over a section of the front line west of the village of Courcelette. They ran into heavy fighting and suffered some 2,600 casualties before the full-scale offensive even got underway.

In the major offensive which began at dawn on September 15 the Canadian Corps, on the extreme left of the attack, assaulted on a 2,000 metre sector west of the village of Courcelette. Advancing behind a creeping barrage (a tactic which had recently been introduced by the British, a consequence of adequately trained gunners, more and better guns and more reliable ammunition), the infantry was aided by the "new engine of war," the armoured tank. There were only a few of these and they were extremely unreliable and very vulnerable to artillery fire. However, at this early stage of the war their sheer presence often threw the enemy into confusion. The attack went well. By 8 a.m., the main objective, a defence bastion known as the Sugar Factory, was taken, and the Canadians pushed ahead to Courcelette. Numerous German counter-attacks were successfully repulsed and by the next day the position was consolidated. The enemy then brought up reinforcements, the fighting intensified, and gains became microscopic.
Canadian Recruitment Poster

In the weeks that followed the three Canadian divisions again and again attacked a series of German entrenchments. The final Canadian objective was that "ditch of evil memory," Regina Trench. It repeatedly defied capture, and when the first three divisions were relieved in the middle of October, Regina Trench was closer, but still not taken.

When the newly arrived 4th Division took its place in the line it faced an almost unbelievable ordeal of knee-deep mud and violent, tenacious, enemy resistance. However, despite the almost impenetrable curtain of fire, on November 11 the Division captured Regina Trench—to find it reduced to a mere depression in the chalk. A week later, in the final attack of the Somme, the Canadians advanced to Desire Trench—a remarkable feat of courage and endurance. The 4th Division then rejoined the Corps opposite Vimy Ridge.

There were no further advances that year. The autumn rains turned the battlefield into a bog and the offensive staggered to a halt. The line had been moved forward only ten kilometres, though ground of itself was not particularly important except in terms of morale. The Allies had suffered some 650,000 casualties, and both sides had about 200,000 killed. The Germans refer to the Battle of the Somme as das Blutbad—the blood bath. One German officer described the Somme as "the muddy graveyard of the German Army," for the British it turned an army of eager, inexperienced recruits into a fighting machine on a par with those of France and Germany, but at a terrible cost in human life.

The Somme had cost Canada 24,029 casualties, but it was here that the Canadians confirmed their reputation as hard-hitting shock troops. "The Canadians," wrote Lloyd George, "played a part of such distinction that thenceforward they were marked out as storm troops; for the remainder of the war they were brought along to head the assault in one great battle after another. Whenever the Germans found the Canadian Corps coming into the line they prepared for the worst."
Second Canadian cemetery at Sunken Road, Contalmaison ( Somme, France) in which Private Bulford whose death age 21 was recorded as 12th October 1916 lies buried. He is also remembered on the Memorial Chamber of the Peace Tower in Ottawa, Canada.