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Lance Corporal Debenham, killed in action 100 years ago at the Battle of Loos

On the pathway adjacent to Ivy Road in Ladywell cemetery, mournfully cradled by wreaths of ivy, lies the family grave of Lance Corporal Frederick Ernest Debenham -1894-1915 (1/20th London Regiment) killed on the first day of one of the most intense and bloody battles fought by the British Army in 1915 namely the Battle of Loos on September 25th.

The Battle of Loos was part of a joint allied offensive on the Western Front - dubbed the 'Big Push' which began on the 25th September 1915 and engaged 54 French and 13 British divisions, including many of Lord Kitchener's New Army units, on a front of 90 kilometers in Northern France from the small town of Loos in the north to the famed Vimy Ridge in the south. Casualties were simply appalling - 60,000 of whom died on the first day (the names of those killed in the opening fighting filled four pages in the London Times) in an attempt to breakthrough German lines (8,000 yards of enemy trench were captured) but the failure to exploit these gains has been the subject of much subsequent bitterly contested commentary. The battle also marked the first time that the British Army used poison gas as part of its military offensive.
Battle of Loos
Lance Corporal Debenham who worked as an Accounts Clerk before the outbreak of the war lived at the family address on Stanstead Road , Catford. He was killed on September 25th in the intense fighting that characterised the opening days of the battle and his name is remembered on the Old Dunstonian RFC Roll of Honour 1914-1918 
Lance Corporal Frederick Ernest Debenham1/20th London Regiment

An outline of the contribution made by Old Dunstonians RFC who fought in G Company 20th London Regiment at the Battle of Loos notes the following significant information :
When the unit went to France in March 1915 the Old Dunstonian Platoons went with it, and this is the only recorded example of a single unit of Old Boys from one school serving overseas together. The Platoons went through fighting at Festubet and Givenchy with only light casualties, but on 25 September 1915 the unit attacked Loos as partof the 47th (London) Division and were almost destroyed. During the initial attack the Platoons led the attack through Loos village, and had further casualties in the following days of fighting as the Germans counter attacked. Most of the survivors were of officer standard and were commissioned into other units, and by the end of 1915 G Company had lost its unique Old Dunstonian character.

Rudyard Kipling, perhaps best-known for his classic children’s novel The Jungle Book (1894), wrote a haunting elegy to his son, and all those young men like LC Debenham who was aged 21 years when he was killed, who where lost in the great war, Second Lieutenant John Kipling who was killed in action on the 27th September at Loos :

That flesh we had nursed from the first in all cleanness was given…
To be blanched or gay-painted by fumes – to be cindered by fires –
To be senselessly tossed and retossed in stale mutilation
From crater to crater. For this we shall take expiation.
But who shall return us our children?

LC Debenham whose body was never recovered is also remembered on the Loos Memorial
Loos Memorial, France 

Welcome To Hell: The battle for Lone Pine


On the pathway heading away from the Ladywell Chapel just before the wall of remembrance (Heroes Corner) lies the family grave of Private Harold John Greenaway who was killed in action on Saturday 7th August during the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign of 1915. Born in Catford in 1893, Harold worked as a storeman before enlisting in Victoria, Australia in August 1914 in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) serving in Egypt before falling in action during the iconic engagement with Turkish forces at the Battle for Lone Pine which occured on the Gallipoli peninsular between the 6th and 9th August. 

The battle for Lone Pine has gone down in Australian military history as one of the toughest and most brutal ever fought by Australians in any war. A contemporary account captures something of the sheer hellishness of the battle: 'Just after midnight , the Australians launched their attack. It was a slaughter- the Turks were prepared and waiting. Australian dead and wounded covered no-mans-land, while others completely blocked the tunnel openings. Another attack was organised, and just before 4am the men charged again, but the end result was never in doubt and a fresh pile of dead and wounded Australians soon lay scattered in front of the Turkish trenches.'
Welcome To Hell: The battle for Lone Pine
In four days of intense often hand to hand fighting with Australian and Turkish trenches only yards apart. Almost 2,800 Australians became casualties in this battle ( with Turkish losses close to double that number) Of the nine Victoria Crosses awarded to Australians for the Gallipoli campaign, seven were awarded for outstanding acts of bravery over those four days. It is perhaps fitting that each Anzac Day (25th April) is conducted in the Lone Pine Cemetery , which is the largest Australian cemetery on the peninsula

With the centenary of the battle of Lone Pine fast approaching perhaps visitors who light upon the Greenaway family headstone will stay their step and in a silent moment reflect on the sacrifice of one local family whose two sons now lie buried on foreign soil. Private Harold Greenaway lies buried in Shrapnel Valley Cemetery . His brother Charles Frederick (East Kent Regiment-The Buffs) whose name is also remembered on the headstone in Ladywell cemetery was killed the following year in 1916 at Beersheba also fighting against Turkish forces during the Sinai and Palestine campaign.

Harold John Greenaway headstone: courtesy of Billion Graves


Jeff Hart leads a walk on the 2014 FOBLC Open Day

Please join us for our 8th anniversary Open Day on Sunday 12th July, from 11am to 4:30pm.

There will be FREE guided walks of the Cemeteries visiting the graves of sportsmen, poets, war veterans and local figures as well as flora and bird life.

In addition there will be a photographic exhibition of monuments and wildlife in the Ladywell Chapel, refreshments and a plant stall.

We look forward to seeing you there!

2014 Open Day Expo in Ladywell Chapel

Getting there:
Ladywell Cemetery, Ladywell Road, SE13 7HY Ladywell station (short walk up hill), Bus P4 
Brockley Cemetery, Brockley Road, SE4 2QY Crofton Park station (short walk), Buses 122, 171, 172

Elizabeth Watkins, Waterloo veteran

With the 200th anniversary of Waterloo it is time to celebrate the incredible life of Elizabeth Watkins, the last survivor of the battle who died aged 94 and is buried in the Brockley & Ladywell cemeteries.

Elizabeth Watkins, Waterloo veteran and last survivor
Elizabeth Watkins, photo taken 1904, 89 after the Battle of Waterloo
Elizabeth was only 5 years old when she accompanied her mother to help care for the British wounded in the Waterloo campaign. She was one of many women and children on the battlefield, often related or married to soldiers, who acted as unpaid nurses, cooks, and stretcher-bearers.

You can read more about her on the Waterloo 200 website and in this account by John Luke for the FOBLC.

Elizabeth died in 1904, aged 95. Her tombstone describes her as a “Waterloo veteran”


The departure of the Lusitania on her last fateful voyage, New York, New York, May 1915. (Photo by PhotoQuest/Getty Images) Photo: Library of Congress

It was with a considerable frisson of excitement that I chanced, when looking at unrelated family headstones, upon the overgrown lettering at the foot of a family grave in Brockley cemetery (close to the former Catholic section) which identified two victims of the 1,198 (of 1,959 passengers and crew) who perished in one of the twentieth centuries greatest maritime disasters, the sinking of the Luxury Cunard Passenger Ship RMS Lusitania eastbound from New York to Liverpool off the coast of South East Ireland 11 miles from the Old Head of Kinsale on the afternoon of Friday 7 th May 1915. 

Launched in 1906 she was briefly the worlds largest and fastest passenger ship and was sunk by a torpedo(a controversial claim that a second torpedo was fired remains one of the many enduring conspiracy myths surrounding the sinking) when she crossed the path of the German submarine U-20 commanded by Kapitan-Leutnant Walther Schwieger,  at a point in the Great War when a U Boat exclusion zone was operational around Great Britain and Ireland meant that she was deemed to be a ' legitimate target'. 

The ship had sailed under Captain William Turner, in spite of advanced warnings in the American press from the German Embassy of the potentially deadly threat of U-Boat action and sank in the staggeringly fast time of just 18 minutes. Amongst the victims there were a 128 Americans including the tycoon Alfred Vanderbilt (whose body was never recovered). The international outrage that the loss of the Lusitania precipitated, resulted in a sequence of diplomatic and political events that would eventually lead to the USA entering the war on the allied side in 1917. At the hastily convened Inquest in Kinsale on May 10 th the Jury recorded a verdict of 'Wilful and Wholesale Murder'  for what was considered ' An appalling crime contrary to international law and the conventions of civilized nations'

Chastina Grant aged 43 was travelling aboard the Lusitania with her husband Montague, to visit his three sisters in Liverpool, whom they had not seen in years.  The Grants were British citizens living in Chicago, Illinois, United States. She and Montagu lived at 1412 Hyde Park Boulevard in Chicago. The Grants were in cabin D-39 for the last voyage of the Lusitania.

On the day of the Lusitania disaster, 7 May 1915, Chastina and Montague Grant were on the sun deck , when they saw James Brooks on the boat deck below and called out to him. Brooks climbed the companionway to join the Grants.  They made plans to play shuffleboard and were waiting for a fourth to join them when Brooks noticed a white streak approaching diagonally from the starboard side.  Brooks said flatly, “That’s a torpedo.”
A solid shock went through Lusitania and, in Brooks’ words, “instantly up through the decks went coal, debris of all kinds . . . in a cloud, up in the air and mushroomed up 150 feet above the Marconi wires.”  This was accompanied by “a volume of water thrown with violent force” that knocked the Grants and Brooks flat on the ground.
Chastina weakly called for her husband, “Oh Monty.”

Brooks got up and ran between the second and third funnels to find Montague and Chastina lying on the deck on the starboard side.  Then came “a slight second shock” that enveloped him in steam.  He felt that he was going to suffocate.  When the steam cleared, the Grants were gone.  Both Chastina and Montague Grant were lost in the Lusitania sinking. Chastina’s body was also recovered, identified as “age 36 years, 1st Class passenger,” interred in Common Grave, Queenstown (Cobh) Old Church cemetery.  Montague’s body was also recovered as of Thursday, 20 May 1915. Following a funeral service at St Paul's Deptford he was interred in Brockley cemetery.

The centenary of the sinking on May 7th will be marked by a number ofseparate events.

Appreciation extended to Mike Poirier for information on Montague and Chastina Grant - he is the co-author of 'Into the Danger zone : Sea crossings of the First World War'

Mike Guilfoyle