St. Omer is a large town 45 kilometres south-east of Calais. Longuenesse is a commune on the southern outskirts of St. Omer. Longuenesse (St Omer) Souvenir Cemetery is approximately three kilometres from St Omer to the left of the D928 Abbeville road. As you leave St Omer towards Longuenesse drive up the hill for about 600 metres and the cemetery is on your left. There is a large car park to the rear of the cemetery.
The civilian cemetery is known as the : Cimetière des Bruyères.
St. Omer became on the 13th October 1914, and remained until the end of March 1916, the General Headquarters of the British Expeditionary Force.
Lord Roberts died there in November 1914.
It was a considerable hospital centre, more especially in 1918; the 4th, 10th, 7th Canadian, 9th Canadian and New Zealand Stationary Hospitals, the 7th, 58th (Scottish) and 59th (Northern) General Hospitals, and the 17th, 18th and 1st and 2nd Australian Casualty Clearing Stations were all, at some time during the war, quartered in St. Omer.
It was raided by aeroplanes in November 1917, and May 1918, with serious loss of life.
At Elnes, 11 kilometres to the South-West, the 8th Casualty Clearing Station made a small cemetery in the summer of 1918; and the four graves from Elnes, with three others, were brought into the Souvenir Cemetery after the Armistice.
There are now over 3,000, 1914-18 and nearly 450, 1939-45 war casualties commemorated in this site.
Special Memorial headstones are erected to 23 men of the Chinese Labour Corps whose graves could not be exactly located and an airman of the Royal Air Force, buried at the time in Merckeghem churchyard, whose grave is now lost.
The British portion of the Cemetery covers an area of about 5,541 square metres.
3697 Lance Corporal Cecil Noble VC
2nd Bn The Rifle Brigade
Died on 13th March 1915 aged 23
Son of Hannah Noble
of 172, Capstone Rd., Bournemouth
and the late Frederick Noble
Grave: I A 57
London Gazette No. 29146
27th April 1915
For most conspicuous bravery on 12th March 1915, at Neuve Chapelle, when their battalion was impeded in the advance to attack by wire entanglements, and subjected to a very severe machine-gun fire, these two men voluntarily rushed in front and succeeded in cutting the wires.
The other soldier was : CSM Harry Daniels VC MC
who survived the war. He was commissioned shortly after this action and would achieve the rank of Lieutenant Colonel by the time he finally ended his military days for good in 1942.
He become the manager of the Grand Theatre Leeds.
He died on his 69th birthday : 13th December 1953.
Lance Corporal William Godley 46335
3rd Bn Auckland Regiment
Died on 3rd April 1918 aged 31
Son of Robert and Lena Godley
of Brighton, England
Private Thomas Lloyd 2683
60th Bn Australian Infantry
Died on 4th April 1918
Son of T and Emma Lloyd
of 9, Wilkison St., Brunswick, Victoria, Australia
Born Lindenow, Victoria, Australia
Rifleman Arthur Underwood 6912641
The Rifle Brigade
Died on 23rd May 1940 aged 28
Husband of Rose Frances Underwood
of Bourne End, Buckinghamshire
Special Memorial: IX B 3
In loving memory
of a very dear husband.
He would not wish for tears
but to be remembered
Private Walter Smith 29600
16th Bn Canadian Infantry
Died on 29th May 1915 aged 18
Son of the Hon. Vernor W. Smith
(Minister of Railways and Telephones)
of Edmonton, Alberta
Native of Camrose, Alberta.
Grave: I A 142
Private J Cuthbert 28719
9th Bn Scots Cheshire Regiment
Died on 6th April 1916 aged 20
Son of Mrs. Edith Cuthbert
of 61, Webster Street, Oldham, Lancs
Grave: V F 71
Shot at dawn for disobedience
In April 1916 Cuthbert was one of a group of soldiers detailed to carry out wiring duties in no man’s land near the Ferme du Bois sector at Richebourg (Part of the ground taken in 1915 during the Battle of Festubert).
It was a clear night and talk amongst the group suggested that it would not be wise to carry out the mission. Ultimately the soldiers refused to go over the top with their officer and NCOs. The Company Commander was called and he explained quite clearly the consequences of refusing to go out and in a show of leadership said he would take the party out himself.
Cuthbert stated that he would rather be shot than go out. His subsequent court martial for disobedience to orders granted his wish. The wiring mission led by the Company Commander was completely successful and without casualties.
Private Charles Nicholson 32559
8th Bn York and Lancaster Regiment
Died on 27th October 1917 aged 19
Twin son of Alexander and Catherine Nicholson
of 11, Leven St., Middlesbrough
Grave: IV E 66
Shot at dawn for desertion
The private, from Middlesbrough, had joined the 8th Yorkshire and Lancaster Regiment aged 16, lying about his age.
Nicholson had a number of confrontations with the military system. On 4th June 1917 he had deserted and been sentenced to 90 days Field Punishment No1 (Where he would have been tied up in full view of others). Deciding to forego that punishment Nicholson went absent on the 18th July 1917. As a result of that he was given two years with hard labour (All of these prison sentences were suspended during the war so that the soldier was sent back to his unit).
On the 25th August 1917 Nicholson was warned for front line duty and deserted again. He was arrested the following day and this time the court martial showed no clemency to the soldier.
Whilst his platoon had been waiting near Dikkebus there had been a bombing raid with a number falling near the men forcing them to take cover. When they fell in again Nicholson was gone.
In his defence Nicholson simply stated: “When the bomb dropped, I got nervous. I can’t say anything else.”
Nicholson’s Court Martial took place on the 8th October 1917, by chance two days later his twin brother John was killed near Ieper whilst serving with the 2nd Bn Essex Regiment. He is buried in Poelcapelle British Cemetery (Grave: XLVI D 6).
Guardsman Isaac Reid 8752
2nd Bn Scots Guards
Died on 9th April 1915
Grave: III B 26
Shot at dawn for desertion
Private Reid deserted during the Battle of Neuve Chapelle on the 11th March 1915. He was arrested a few hours later and admitted that he had lost his head in the midst of battle. Although found guilty a recommendation was made for mercy. Such was not forthcoming from higher command and Reid was executed on the 9th April. Originally buried in Laventie Communal Cemetery his body was later transferred to St Omer (along with the other CWGC burials) as the communal cemetery was in need of the space.
Private Edward Reynolds 404436
3rd Bn Canadian Infantry
Central Ontario Regiment
Died on 23rd August 1916 aged 20
Shot at dawn for desertion
An interesting case in that on 25th July 1916 Reynolds fell out from the ranks whilst his battalion was on its way to the front. When told to fall back in again he refused to do so.
Then on the 27th he reported to his transport lines stating that he had got lost. He was sent back to his Company the following day but never actually arrived, returning back to the transport lines. He was later charged with desertion and despite previous shows of bravery failed to receive a commuted sentence.
Private A Clever 25845
17th Bn Royal Welch Fusiliers
Died on 18th August 1916
Brother of Mr. T. J. Clever
of 33, St. Nicholas Rd., Brighton
Grave: IV A 39
Lance Serjeant William Walton 7552
2nd Bn King’s Royal Rifle Corps
Died on 23rd March 1915 aged 26
Son of Mrs. H. Walton
of 5, Pelham Street, Hanley, Staffs
Grave: I A 68
Shot at dawn for desertion
A veteran of Mons, Serjeant Walton had gone absent immediately after the First Battle of Ypres at the end of 1914. He managed to find his way back to St Omer where he took refuge with a family. He managed to evade capture until March 1915 when his presence became known to the authorities.
At this stage of the war Shell Shock was not understood and although Walton exhibited many of the symptoms they were not taken into account in the decision to have him executed. Later in the war he may have been treated with more leniency – though it has to be said that whilst few of those sentenced to death were actually executed, it was often a lottery as to just who was or wasn’t put before a firing squad.
Born the 15th July 1864
Died at Longuenesse
3rd February 1926
A token of remembrance
From his fellow employees
Soldaat Emiel Vandecaveye
Born at Lichtervelde on 18th April 1890
Died for Belgium
On 8th November 1914 aged 24
Soldat Félix Jean Wiscart
Croix de Guerre
8e Régiment d’Infanterie
Born at St Omer 9th March 1895
Died for France at La Croix (Aisne)
On 21 July 1918 aged 23
The 8e RI were the local regiment to St Omer. In November 1920 they provided the Guard of Honour at Boulogne sur Mer for the United Kingdom’s Unknown Soldier during his last night on French soil.
As an aside, it was the 8e RI that lost their Eagle during the Battle of Barossa in 1811 to the 87th (The Prince of Wales’s Irish) Regiment of Foot. That regiment would eventually become the Royal Irish Fusiliers whose standard is adorned with the Napoleonic Eagle.