Registered Charity

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

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Chief Electrical Artificer Charles Thomas Stringer remembered 100 years on from sinking of HMS Hampshire

Stringer family grave in Brockley & Ladywell Cemeteries.   Photo courtesy of Billion Graves

Amidst the untidy contours of meadow grass close to the Brockley Road boundary lies the modest headstone of the Stringer family. It was a serendipitous discovery that led to the realisation that Charles Thomas Stringer with the rank of Chief Electrical Artificer, Second Class was aboard HMS Hampshire on its fateful voyage to Russia when it sank in fifteen minutes after hitting a German mine off Orkney on 5th June 1916.

Postcards of HMS Hampshire
 The 141 year old Royal Navy rank of Artificer, dating from 1868 and endorsed in 1903 by First Sea Lord Sir John Jackie Fisher, worried at the time at Germanys advances in naval technology, a rank nicknamed tiffs or tiffieswas only recently replaced in 2010 by the term Engineering Technicians!

Last photograph taken of Lord Kitchener on board HMS Iron Duke before transferring to HMS Hamsphire- 5th June 1916.

The name of arguably one of Britain's greatest war heroes, Field Marshall Earl Kitchener, Minister of War, will forever be inextricably linked with Orkney.  For it was here off the bleak 200 foot high cliffs of Marwick Head on the west coast that the 10,850 ton armoured battle cruiser Hampshire, carrying Lord Kitchener on a voyage on a top secret diplomatic mission to Archangel, North Russia, struck a mine and sank with the loss of 736 officers and men including Lord Kitchener who names are all listed here.  

HMS Hampshire (which had been present at the Battle of Jutland but not engaged directly in the action) had set out from Scapa Flow, earlier that fateful day with two destroyer escorts.  Because of severe north easterly gales the route for the voyage was switched at the last minute away from an easterly passage up the Orkney's to a westerly and more sheltered route up the west side along a route not regularly swept for mines.  It was thought that no German mine layer would dare to operate this close to the mighty naval base of Scapa Flow.

The storm centre however passed overhead and the wind backed to the northwest. Far from a sheltered passage Hampshire and her escorts now found themselves battling high winds and heavy seas.  The two destroyers struggled to keep up with the heavier Hampshire and soon were falling far behind.  They were ordered to return to base and Hampshire went on a lone pitching and rolling in the Force 9 winds, but maintaining a speed of 13.5 knots.

When she was about one and a half miles offshore between Marwick Head and the Brough of Birsay a rumbling explosion shook the whole ship tearing a huge hole in her keel between her bridge and her bow after she hit a mine believed to have been from the mine laying German submarine U-75.  The helm jammed and the lights gradually went out as the power failed.  She immediately began to settle into the water and clouds of brown suffocating smoke poured out from below decks. The crew streamed aft away from the explosion.  A call went out "Make way for Lord Kitchener" and he passed by, clad in a greatcoat and went up the after hatch.  He was never seen again and it is assumed that he went down with the ship.

The wreck of HMS Hampshire now lies in 70 metres, upside down and largely intact bar the bow section which has been devastated by the mine explosion and the more recent attention of salvage hunters.  For more information on the ship and her last fateful voyage go to

Mike Guilfoyle
Vice-Chair FOBLC

Battle of Jutland centenary: Able Seaman Arthur Mark Lane ( 1893-1916)

Destruction of the British Armoured Cruiser HMS Black Prince during the night of 31st May 1916 at the Battle of Jutland: painting by German artist Willy Stower.

On the boundary between the two cemeteries aside a roughly trodden pathway lies a faded headstone inscription that reminds the onlooker of one of the last fateful engagements during the greatest naval battle of the Great War fought in two main phases over 36 hours in the North Sea 60 miles off the coast of Denmark at Jutland ( also known as the Skagerrak) on Wednesday 31st May/ Thursday 1st June 1916  (the clash is also referred to as Der Tag-The Day) between the British Grand Fleet under Admiral Sir John Jellicoe aka 'Hellfire Jack' and the Imperial German Hochseeflotte (High Seas Fleet) under Vice Admiral Reinhard Scheer, involving a total of almost 250 ships and 100,000 men which is in terms of combined tonnage the largest naval battle in history. The defining sea battle of the war, its intense ferocity resulted in the deaths of 6,092 sailors of the Royal Navy and 2,551 German seamen. Both sides claimed victory in what was an indecisive action, but though numerically a German success,  the fact was that the Grand Fleet was ready for action the following day and the High Seas fleet having returned to port never again seriously threatened British naval supremacy.  Jutland was undoubtedly a strategic British victory, but for many at home it came to be viewed as a missed opportunity to annihilate the enemy.  Winston Churchill' made the famously barbed observation on Admiral Jellicoe's tactics at the battle, 'the only man who could have lost the war in an afternoon', 

Able seaman Arthur Lane served on HMS Black Prince which was launched at the famous Thames Ironworks at Blackwall in 1904 and was a 13,550 ton Armoured Battle cruiser. At the outbreak of war she was stationed in the Mediterranean. At the Battle of Jutland whilst under the command of Captain T P Bonham RN she lost contact with the rest of the British Fleet. At 08.48 pm she wired that she had sighted a submarine. No one in the British Fleet witnessed her catastrophic end but it was presumed that she had either been torpedoed or struck a mine. A German account however reports that “Black Prince” headed towards their lines at around mid-night and her crew did not realise their mistake until too late. In attempting to turn the vessel round it presented a broadside to the German Fleet gunners and the battleship “Thuringen” opened fire. With several German ships within 1,000 yards the “Black Prince”was sunk within 15 minutes, after burning for a few minutes and at 12.10 am she exploded with the loss of all hands. A total of 37 officers, 815 men and 5 civilians were lost in the grey waters of the North Sea including Able Seaman Lane of Lower Sydenham who is also remembered on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial.  This clash of the Dreadnoughts will also feature prominently as one of the Governments six iconic landmark battles of World War One (the only naval conflict) in its centenary year.

Mike Guilfoyle
Vice-Chair FOBLC

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.