The photograph is a standard 134 x 85mm postcard with a divided back. It shows a young man, in uniform and with his cap in hand, kneeling next to two graves, both with cross-shaped grave markers, in a cemetery which is somewhat overgrown with weeds. More grave markers are visible in the background, as are several wooden fences and a line of trees. Enlargement of the detail of the crosses shows enough of the writing to make out the soldiers' names.
I have used the Debt of Honour database of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) to identify the soldiers, and the Library & Archives of Canada two online databases, War Diaries of the First World War and Soldiers of the First World War to find out more about them and the events leading up to their deaths.
The grave marker on the right has a freemason's mark (square and dividers/compasses) and the following text:
KILLED IN ACTION, JULY 7th 1915
5th BATTN. 2nd BGDE.
CANADIAN CORPS WESTERN CAVLY.
George Pigrum Bowie was born in Upper Holloway, London on 29 March 1881, and was the eldest son of a clerk in the civil service. The 1911 Census shows him living in Vancouver and working as an architect. Presumably he was also a Freemason. At the time of his enlistment at Valcartier in September 1914, he had already served for three years with the 20th Middlesex Rifles, and was an active member of the 31st British Columbia Horse, a militia regiment. His attestation paper shows that he was granted a temporary commission.
The CWCG database entry confirms his date of death, give his age as 34 and states that he was serving with "A" Company, 5th Battalion at the time. It also states that his grave lies in Plot III. D. 10. of the Berks Cemetery Extension, located 12.5 kilometres south of Ieper (Ypres) town centre, 3 kilometres beyond Mesen (Messines) and opposite Hyde Park Corner Royal Berks Cemetery. These two cemeteries lie between Ploegsteert Wood (Bois de Ploegsteert) and Bois de la Hutte.
Examination of the 5th C.I.Bn. War Diaries for that period show them to have been in the forward trenches. The entry for 7th July refers to work being done to deepen and improve trenches, the need for refurbishment of the wire in no-man's-land, the dispersal of enemy working parties with rifle fire, and trouble with enemy snipers, including the killing of Capt. C.P. Bowie by a sniper's bullet.
The other grave marker reads,
KILLED IN ACTION AUG 30th 1915
There is more text around the lower edges, but it is difficult to make out. Albert Gustave E. Gabbe was born on 11 October 1891 at Dover, Kent, where his parents were hotelkeepers. He also enlisted at Valcartier on 24 September 1914, having previously served for 3½ years with the Royal Field Artillery. The CWGC database also has 30 August 1915 as his date of death, but provides no further information apart from his plot number, III. D. 9., also in the Berks Cemetery Extension.
The War Diary entry for that day only shows, "Casualties:- 1 killed, 1 wounded."
There are two other grave markers visible, but the text on these is even more difficult to decipher. I thought the one closer to the camera could be "W. McFARL(ANE)," and I found a list of the 873 graves in Berks Cemetery Extension on Pierre Vandervelden's In Memory web site, including the following entry:
MACFARLANE WILLIAM JAMESThe CWGC database entry for this soldier provides further information:
United Kingdom Lance Corporal 2244 Seaforth Highlanders 02/04/1915 Age: 23 III. C. 28.
Unit: "B" Coy. 2nd Bn. Seaforth HighlandersUnfortunately, the name on the cross behind Macfarlane's is just too difficult to decipher.
Son of William and Alice Maud Macfarlane, of Lewisham, London. Born at Dingwall, Ross-shire.
Alan Jennings has an interesting page, Plugstreet, about the area around Ploegsteert Wood on his excellent World War One Battlefields web site. This includes two old photographs of the Royal Berkshire Cemetery Extension taken c. 1919, which show similar cross-shaped grave markers. However, it is clear from the the CWGC history of the Berks Cemetery Extension, and from Alan's explanation, that the current graves of Capt. Bowie, Pte. Gabbe and L/Cpl. MacFarlane must have been moved there from elsewhere:
The extension was begun in June 1916 and used continuously until September 1917. At the Armistice, the extension comprised Plot I only, but Plots II and III were added in 1930 when graves were brought in from Rosenberg Chateau Military Cemetery and Extension, about 1 kilometre to the north-west, when it was established that these sites could not be acquired in perpetuity. Rosenberg Chateau Military Cemetery was used by fighting units from November 1914 to August 1916. The extension was begun in May 1916 and used until March 1918. Together, the cemetery and extension were sometimes referred to as 'Red Lodge'.Alan Jennings adds the following:
... the Rosenburg Chateau Military Cemetery and Extension stood in the grounds of the chateau of that name, and the owner felt that, as he rebuilt his house, the cemetery would stand too close to it. Despite pleas from the British and Belgian authorities, he remained firm, and eventually the 475 men buried there were exhumed and moved the half mile distance to this, their final resting place. In March 1930 The Times reported that "each body, as it was reverently taken from the earth, was placed in a coffin draped with the Union Jack and removed by motor ambulance to the Royal Berkshire Cemetery Extension".Thanks to Alan's reference, I was able to find the image of the article very easily in the Online Newspaper Archive of The Times from 1785-1985. A transcript of the full article is provided here.
This extract of a 1:40,000 Ordnance Survey map of Belgium and Part of France (Sheet 28, Edition 3, published in February 1917 from data corrected to 23-12-16) shows the western part of Ploegsteert Wood, now commonly referred to as Bois de la Hutte. The area now occupied by the Berks Cemetery Extension is situated immediate to the south-west of Hyde Park Corner. Red Lodge is shown approximately a kilometre (each square has sides of 1000 yds, which approximates to a kilometre) to the north-west of Hyde Park Corner. This is roughly in the area that Alan Jennings' map refers to as the "Report Centre," now consisting of a large concrete structure which he believes may have been the entrance to the "Catacombs," beneath Hill 63. Immediately to the north of the "o" of "Red Lodge" on the OS map is a rectangular plot which I believe may have been the Rosenberg Chateau Military Cemetery and Extension.
On the reverse there is little of much use in the identification - only the words, "CANADIAN WAR GRAVES BELGIUM" written in ink, in my aunt's handwriting. My grandfather Leslie Payne (1892-1975) served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) during the Great War, so it seemed very likely that the photograph had something to do with his war service. One of the gravestones has what appears to be a Canadian maple leaf, the emblem of the CEF, at the top. The soldier in the picture was definitely not my grandfather, but he looked familiar. After some deliberation I realized that I had seen him in another photograph belonging to my grandfather, one of a group that had been passed down to my father.
This snapshot of three soldiers seated outside a dugout or revetment fortified with corrugated iron and sandbags, accompanied a letter sent to Leslie Payne, then living in Derbyshire, England, by his friend Ed Pye in Ottawa, Ontario (Canada). The letter is dated 26 June 1936 - in it my grandfather's old pal Ed recalls making, "... in the summer of 1916, occasional visits from Ploegsteert to your camp east of Bailleul" and refers to the snapshot thus, "Have dug out another war photo taken in 1915; Hill 63, Ploegsteert Wood, you may recognize the Clown Prince at left."
The clown prince was, of course, Ed himself, confirmed by another photograph I found illustrating an article which he had written for the Legionary magazine. This clearly shows his C/5 collar tag which shows that he served with the 5th Canadian Infantry Battalion. A few years ago, learning that Ed Pye had been a friend of my grandfather's since they worked together for the CPR in Saskatchewan before the war, and then throughout the war, I ordered Ed Pye's full CEF Service Records from the Library & Archives of Canada. From these, I was able to piece together an outline of his movements during the war. Subsequently, I have also been in touch with Ed's son Brian Pye and grandson Robert Edge, who have kindly provided further information.
Arthur Edwin Pye (1893-1960) originally enlisted in the 60th Rifles at Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan on 12 August 1914, and five weeks later was attested into the 11th Battalion at Valcartier. He sailed over to England from Canada with the First Contingent on the SS Royal Edward in October 1914. After training, during which time he was transferred to the 5th Canadian Battalion (Western Cavalry), he went over to France in February 1915, being sent straight to the front as part of the First Canadian Division. He was wounded in March 1916, and spent some time at No. 1 Convalescent Depot in Boulogne, but appears to he recovered sufficiently to have been sent back to the front again after some time at "Base". He probably spent much of summer 1916 at the front - the service records only show that he was promoted twice in June - but was wounded for a second time on the Somme at the Battle of Flers-Courcelette on 26 September, which got him his "Blighty".
I believe, therefore, that this photograph must have been taken in the spring or summer of 1916. I presume that Ed Pye visited and had his photo taken next to these particular graves because they were of men that he had served with the previous year. I don't know if they had particular relevance to my grandfather. If the deceased soldiers were living in Saskatchewan prior to their enlistment in the CEF, then I suppose it is possible he knew them. However, it's more likely that Ed sent the postcard to him as a photograph of himself, rather than of the graves.