During WW I Etaples called "Eat Apples" by the British was notorious because 100.000 troops were camped in the area as wel as 16 hospitals which could deal with 22.000 wounded or sick. It was close to the harbours of Le Havre and Boulogne, remote from attack, except from aircraft, and accessible by railway from both the northern or the southern battlefields.
Actually it was a detested base camp. Discipline was strict. Both raw recruits from England and battle-weary veterans were subjected to intensive training in gas warfare, bayonet drill, and long sessions of marching at the double across the dunes. The camp was therefore called the "bull ring".
In September 1917 a mutiny broke out at the camp.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission maintains over a million war graves as well as hundreds of memorials honouring the 750,000 war dead who have no known grave.
An important task of the CWGC is to keep the inscriptions on headstones and memorials legible. The commission has set criteria for the legibility: the inscriptions should be legible at a distance from two paces; if not the inscriptions are re-engraved without moving the headstone.
When we visited the Etaples cemetery a team of a dozen French workers was sanding the headstones and re-engraving the inscription. The position of the workers was not the most comfortable. As it was very sunny weather they were working under parasols.
I stopped at this headstone because it was the first time in my visits to Commonwealth War Cemeteries that I saw the badge of the Army Cyclist Corps.
My interest results from the fact that I did my military service as a "Carabinier Cycliste" (armoured infantry in my time).
During WW I this regiment belonged to the Belgian Cavalry Division which protected the retreat of the Belgian army during the German offensive of August, 1914. At Halen, they resisted triumphantly to several attacks of Uhlans, German cavalry. (ref. my tip Brussels Army museum).
The things were different with the British Army where the cyclist battalions were territorial units serving in the UK. Formed units of the Cyclist Corps were not sent on the continent; this was done in small groups of men.
I suppose therefore that Private James Clark was somewhere a liaison cyclist.
He died on 2nd April 1916, where and how I don't know.
At the bottom of his headstone is written:
"He died that we might live
his mother and father"
I can only imagine that he was a young man, single, probably the only child of the family Clark.
A search on CWGC.org made me find that James Clark was serving at the Cyclist Company of the 9th (Scottish) Division. He was a native of Cupar, Fife and died at the age of 21.
9, rue du Rivage, Etaples Sur Mer, 62630, France
Satisfaction: Very Good
Good for: Couples
Just a few words for the admirable work the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) did by constructing about 2500 war cemeteries and numerous memorials worldwide of which a large number in France and Belgium for the two World Wars.
The Commission was founded by Sir Fabian Ware and officially established by Royal Charter on 21 May 1917. The six current members are United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, and South Africa.
The Commission's principles are the following:
Each of the dead should be commemorated by name on the headstone or memorial.
Headstones and memorials should be permanent.
Headstones should be uniform.
The CWGC under the guidance of architects like Edwin Lutyens and others enacted a number of cemetery features.
In any cemetery with over 40 graves, stands the Cross of Sacrifice, designed by the architect Reginald Blomfield to represent the faith of the majority. Cemeteries with over 1.000 burials have a Stone of Remembrance, designed by Lutyens to commemorate those of all faiths and none.
For the uniform graves and headstones see my specific tip.
A horticultural environment was created to give to the visitors a sense of peace in a beautiful and serene setting.
For details see www.cwgc.org
During WW I the Commonwealth authorities (i.e. Australia, Canada, India, New-Zealand, South-Africa & United Kingdom) had decided that bodies should not be repatriated and that uniform memorials should be used. At the end of the WW I started the production of uniform headstones most made of Portland stone. The headstones were engraved by hand. They are all rectangles with rounded tops.
At the top British headstones bear the regimental badge, those from the other countries are marked with their national emblem.
Just below the badge or emblem is engraved the rank (with a distinction for infantry "Private", artillery "Gunner", engineers "Sapper"), name, number, unit, date of death and eventually age.
Most headstones are inscribed with a Cross, a few with a Star of David or no religious symbol for those deceased known to be atheist.
At the bottom there is often an epitaph chosen by the soldier's family.
Many gravestones concern unidentified casualties; these headstones bear the inscription "A Soldier of the Great War, Known unto God". There are very few at Etaples.
The names of the fallen soldiers whose rests were not identified are engraven on the walls of the various memorials.
The cleaning and eventual re-engraving of the 800.000 First World War headstones worldwide is a mission of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
At Etaples this is done by a French team who were at work during our visit.
For details see www.cwgc.org
I'm not surprised to be the first to write something on VT about Etaples at a few Km from Le-Touquet-Paris-Plage. It is a little port at the estuary of the river Canche with nothing really interesting or typical to visit at first sight.
On the other hand I'm surprised because a few Km north of the centre is the largest Commonwealth war cemetery in France.
During WW I as many as 100.000 commonwealth soldiers were housed just outside Etaples which was the main Allied base camp.
We visited the cemetery with 12.000 graves with the same feelings we had when visiting Ypres and the Field of Flanders cemeteries in Belgium.