Far from Home, Not Forgotten CWGC

When the First World War came to an end in November 1918, hundreds of thousands of servicemen and women from across the world remained in uniform.

Some were involved in conflicts which continued around the world: from the Arctic Circle in northern Russia to the deserts of modern Iraq. Others were performing vital duties, from peacekeeping to military logistics. Thousands of labourers from as far as India and China continued to work to rebuild the devastated battlefields. Many were housed in military camps, eagerly awaiting their demobilisation.

They all looked forward to returning home but, for some, that moment would never come. Among them were soldiers killed in combat. Others succumbed to wounds, sickness, or even tragic accidents.

Those who died after the Armistice might be buried far from home, but they are not forgotten.

Around the World

Here are just six of the thousands of people who lost their lives in the aftermath of the First World War, and whose graves and memorials lie across the world.

Sepoy Bhader Khan

59th Scinde Rifles (Frontier Force), Died 6 January 1919

From: Dhiot, India, Commemorated: Copenhagen, Denmark, Distance from home: 3,216 miles

Bhader Khan was a regular soldier with the 59th Scinde Rifles (Frontier Force), a diverse regiment made up of Pathans, Sikhs, Dogras and Punjabi Muslims. He came from the village of Dhiot, near the town of Rawalpindi in modern-day Pakistan, then in Undivided India.

Following heavy losses in the opening months of the war, the British Army brought the professional soldiers of the Indian forces to Europe in September 1914 – Bhader Khan among them.

They were soon in the thick of the fighting, holding the line in northern France and Belgium during one of the harshest winters on record. Bhader Khan saw action in October Bhader Khan at the battles of La Bassée & Armentieres in France. He was likely captured on 20 December 1914, when German troops attacked the British front line near the village of Givenchy. Attacking at dawn, the Germans managed to capture the forward British lines either side of the village. The 59th Rifles suffered nearly 100 casualties of which nearly 50 were missing.

After the Armistice of November 1918, British and Empire prisoners of war in camps in north-eastern Germany were transported back to Britain via Denmark, in what became known as the Danish Scheme. Bhader Khan was on-board the hospital Ship Formosa when, on 6 January 1919, he died of a suspected heart condition.

Along with two other soldiers who died around that time – Private Moody of the Australian Imperial Force, and Private Patience of the Wiltshire Regiment – Khan was given a military funeral at Copenhagen Western Cemetery.

Every effort was made to abide by the burial traditions of his Muslim faith and so, as his coffin was lowered into the grave, a passage from the Koran was read and he was buried facing towards Mecca. At the end of the service the Danish guard of honour fired a salute and sounded the Last Post.

After the war, the local people raised a memorial over the small plot of war graves, with a dedication text:

“To the Glory of God and in loving memory of nineteen British Soldiers who died in Denmark 1918-1919 on their journey home from captivity. This monument has been erected by Danish friends of the British Empire.”

Context – Prisoners of War

An estimated 192,000 British and Empire servicemen were taken prisoner during the First World War. The majority would survive their captivity to return home, but some did not. In Germany alone, the CWGC commemorates some 6,500 Commonwealth servicemen of the First World War, most of whom died in captivity as prisoners of war.

Private Richard Ernie Wilde

Otago Infantry Regiment, Died 15 January 1919

From: Marton, New Zealand, Commemorated: Cologne, Germany, Distance from home: 11,500 miles

Richard Wilde was born on 18 November 1896 and lived at Marton in New Zealand – where he worked on the family farm before enlisting in December 1916, shortly after his 20th birthday.

He served in France with the 2nd Battalion of the Otago Infantry Regiment, arriving in October 1917 as a replacement for casualties the battalion had suffered during the Third Battle of Ypres. After the Armistice of 1918, the New Zealand Division was chosen to form part of the Allied occupation force in Germany – reaching Cologne just before Christmas.

On the evening of 15 January 1919, Richard returned from guard duty to his billet, where one of his friends was practicing with a rifle. After some boisterous banter, Richard grabbed the rifle and his friend worked the bolt and pressed the trigger, thinking that it was unloaded. The rifle went off, Richard was hit in the chest and fell to the floor. He was taken for urgent medical care, but was found to be dead on arrival.

The Court of Enquiry ruled that Richard’s death was caused by carelessness – a tragic accident. Richard was buried in Cologne Southern Cemetery.

Transcript of the court of enquiry

Context – The British Army of the Rhine

The Armistice of 11 November 1918 was intended to halt the fighting while peace negotiations took place. Until the Treaty of Versailles came in to force in January 1920, Britain and Germany were officially still at war. The Armistice terms included the German evacuation of the Rhineland, which would be occupied by Allied troops, who arrived in late 1918. Based in the city of Cologne, the British Army of the Rhine initially numbered around 250,000 men, but gradually reduced and finally withdrew in December 1929. The CWGC commemorates 1,289 Commonwealth servicemen who died in Germany between December 1918 and August 1921.

Corporal John David Gale MM

13th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force, Died 13 May 1919

From: Taree, New South Wales, Australia, Commemorated: Cape Town, South Africa, Distance from home: 7,032 miles

John David Gale was born in 1888, in Taree, New South Wales, Australia.

A driver for North Coast Railways before the war, he took part in some of the fiercest battles of the war – the Somme in 1916, Bullecourt and Messines, then the Third Battle of Ypres in 1917. During the Battle of Villers-Bretonneux in March and April 1918, he worked as a runner, braving enemy fire to relay orders and information – an extremely dangerous job for which he was awarded the Military Medal.

After the Armistice, John was earmarked for early demobilisation, thanks to his long service. He left England on 14 April 1919 on-board HMAT Commonwealth, bound for Australia via South Africa.

On 28 April, while off the coast of west Africa, John suddenly fell ill with pneumonia. By 9 May, the ship had reached Cape Town and John was transferred to a hospital ashore. He died three days later. John was buried, with full military honours, in Cape Town (Plumstead) Cemetery.

Context - Demobbed

In November 1918, there were 5,300,000 British and Empire servicemen in the army and many thousands more in the navy. Of these, nearly 2,000,000 were in France and Belgium, over 400,000 in Mesopotamia and over 180,000 in Salonika. Servicemen from the Dominions and Empire were often brought to camps in Britain before returning home. In September 1919, some 10,000 Australian servicemen were still in Britain. Official policy was that those who had served longest were to be demobilised first. In practice, this was not always the case.

Private Edwin Howard Stephenson

Canadian Army Medical Corps, Died 24 April 1919

From: Tillsonburg, Ontario, Canada, Commemorated: Vladivostok, Russia, Distance from home: 6,138 miles

Edwin Howard Stephenson was born on 20 April 1886 in Tillsonburg, Ontario, Canada. The eldest of seven children, he was ordained as an Anglican deacon before becoming a priest in May 1918. That same month he enlisted in the Canadian Army as a non-combatant, joining the Canadian Army Medical Corps.

Following the Russian Revolution in 1917, Allied forces were sent to Russia – initially to guard war supplies before they were gradually drawn in to the conflict on the side of the anti-Bolshevik, or “white” forces.

In August 1918 the Canadian Expeditionary Force (Siberia) was formed and Edwin was attached to the 11th Stationary Hospital – sailing with an advance party to Vladivostok in October 1918.

In December, Edwin travelled to Omsk. A keen amateur photographer, he documented his experiences along the Trans-Siberian Railroad. He spent the winter of 1918-19 in the city before returning to Vladivostok in January as the Canadian government reconsidered its intervention in Russia.

On 18 May Edwin was admitted to hospital with a suspected case of measles. The measles turned out to be a more serious case of smallpox and, on 24 May, Edwin succumbed to the disease. He was buried in Churkin Russian Naval Cemetery in Vladivostok.

Context – The Allied Intervention in Russia

In March 1917, political discontent in the Russian capital of Petrograd turned to revolution. Tsar Nicholas II abdicated and centuries of autocratic rule in Russia came to an end. A new ‘provisional government’ was formed but, in November 1917, Bolshevik forces staged an armed insurrection which overthrew the provisional government and plunged Russia into civil war.

From January to March 1918, Allied forces landed in Russia to guard the vast quantities of war material at the ports of Archangel, Murmansk and Vladivostok. They were soon drawn into the conflict and the Allied governments, eager to keep Russia in the war, decided to back the anti-Bolshevik ‘white’ forces, who ostensibly supported the continuation of the war, as opposed to the anti-war Bolshevik ‘red’ forces.

After the end of the fighting on the Western Front in November 1918, the Allies began to disengage from Russia – the last British forces leaving in July 1920.

The CWGC commemorates some 614 servicemen and one woman in what is today the Russian Federation, while a further 166 are buried or commemorated on memorials in Azerbaijan (47), Estonia (16), Georgia (68), Latvia (32), Lithuania (2) and Ukraine (1).

Lieutenant Charles Campbell Wood

Royal Air Force, Died 10 January 1920

From: Bloemfontein, South Africa, Commemorated: London, UK, Distance from home: 5,796 miles

Charles Campbell Wood was born on 8 December 1891 in Bloemfontein, South Africa, and worked as a coachbuilder, designer and draftsman for the South African railways before the war.

He served with the South African Medical Corps and took part in the campaign in German South West Africa (now Namibia), before making his way to England, where he joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) and qualified as a pilot.

Charles served on the Western Front and was Mentioned in Dispatches in April 1918. By the war’s end he had flown over two dozen different types of aircraft.

At Christmas in 1919, Charles went to London on leave. On 27 December he was crossing Hammersmith Bridge when he heard cries for help from a woman whose mother had leapt into the River Thames after an argument.

Without a moment’s hesitation Charles removed his jacket and dived into the water. He hauled the woman to safety but, bleeding from a cut to his head where he had struck the riverbed, he fell unconscious. The police and an ambulance arrived and Charles was taken to hospital.

Although the wound looked minor, Charles contracted tetanus and lockjaw and died on 10 January 1920.

At the inquest into his death, the coroner and police remarked on Charles’ bravery, fortitude and regret that the fatal mishap had occurred to this “very gallant officer”. Charles was buried at East Finchley Cemetery and St. Marylebone Crematorium. A plaque on Hammersmith Bridge records his gallant actions and tragic death.

Captain George Stuart Henderson

VC, DSO and BAR, MC, Manchester Regiment, Died 24 July 1920

From: East Gordon, Berwickshire, Scotland, Commemorated: Basra, Iraq, Distance from home: 2,980 miles

Born on 5 December 1893 in East Gordon, Berwickshire, Scotland, George Stuart Henderson was a professional soldier.

After attending Sandhurst, he served in India before the war, and was decorated for his actions on the Western Front in late 1914 and early 1915. An officer in the 1st Battalion the Manchester Regiment, part of the Indian Army’s 3rd (Lahore) Division, Henderson went on to serve in Mesopotamia (Iraq), where he received further awards for gallantry, and Palestine.

During the war George was mentioned in dispatches no less than five times. He decided to remain in the army. In May 1920, he was back in Mesopotamia with the 2nd Manchesters to reinforce the British military presence during growing unrest which eventually became armed revolt in protest at the occupation.

On the evening of 24 July 1920, his company came under attack near the town of Hillah. After steadying and organising his men, Henderson led them in an attack with bayonets. Amid a desperate situation, he eventually fell wounded. He asked one of his comrades to hold him up on an embankment, saying, "I'm done now, don't let them beat you." He died fighting.

Over 130 Manchesters were killed during the action. Their bodies could not be recovered and they, along with George, are commemorated on the Basra Memorial.

Context – Continuing Conflict

Although the First World War came to an end on 11 November 1918, the bloodshed was far from over. The aftermath of the conflict saw uncertainty and conflict in many regions of the world, from Iraq to Afghanistan and Ireland. We commemorate those who died until 1921 – when the British Parliament officially declared the war over: a total of 75,832 servicemen and women who lost their lives between 11 November 1918 and 31 August 1921.

Around the United Kingdom

During the First World War, hundreds of thousands of servicemen and women from across the British Empire came to the United Kingdom. They trained for battle, cared for the sick and wounded, or performed often unsung tasks from administration to forestry. Even after the fighting had ended in 1918, many remained.

The stories of those who died in the UK after the Armistice demonstrate the extraordinary diversity of the British Empire’s war effort: from the Canadian maple leaf inscribed on hundreds of graves in a churchyard in North Wales, to the Australian and New Zealand headstones across Wiltshire.

Visit your local cemetery and discover your own story – sharing it with us on social media by using the @CWGC tag and the hashtag #FarFromHomeNotForgotten

Places to Visit

West Indians in Sussex

When war was declared, Britain was in desperate need of manpower and vast numbers of servicemen were recruited from across the British Empire.

In the Caribbean, the British already maintained a West Indies Regiment (WIR) formed of soldiers from Britain’s Caribbean colonies. In 1915, the British West Indies Regiment (BWIR) was formed to meet the new demands. It was made up of volunteers, primarily from Jamaica, along with others from Grenada, Barbados, British Guiana, Trinidad and St. Vincent, but also from the small West Indian and African communities in the United Kingdom.

BWIR at Seaford

A camp was set up at Seaford, Sussex on the English south coast, where the volunteers began to muster and in September 1915, the 1st battalion, British West Indies Regiment was formed. In all 11 battalions would be raised, and over 15,000 men would serve with the BWIR during the war. The West Indian volunteers formed the rank and file of the regiment, led by white British officers.

The BWIR saw service in France and Belgium behind the Western Front, but also in Italy, Egypt, Palestine and German East Africa (Tanzania). The men of the BWIR faced discrimination, being mostly restricted to labouring duties behind the lines, though this work was still hazardous as they were often in range of the German artillery. In the near east, facing the forces of the Ottoman Turks, the BWIR saw some service in combat roles.

Over the course of the war servicemen BWIR were awarded more than 60 medals for bravery and distinguished service and 49 were Mentioned in Dispatches for their good conduct.

Nearly 1,500 (1,478) servicemen of the BWIR died during the First World War, the majority from disease but also enemy action. 19 West Indian soldiers died while training at the Seaford camp. They were buried in what is now the CWGC plot in Seaford Cemetery – commemorated in death with an equality of treatment many were denied in life. Today, the cemetery is a place of pilgrimage and remembrance for many West Indian families.

St. Mary’s Churchyard, Harefield

No. 1 Australian Auxiliary Hospital was set up in the house and grounds of Harefield Park, owned by Mr and Mrs Charles Billyard-Leake, a wealthy Australian couple living in Britain. Of some 50,000 patients treated at Harefield, 112 did not recover. These men, and one female nurse, were buried here in the parish churchyard. Uniquely, their graves are marked by scroll shaped headstones, chosen by the staff and patients at the hospital before the Commission came into existence in 1917.

St John’s Churchyard, Sutton Veny

Wiltshire was home to tens of thousands of Australians during the war, many of whom were garrisoned at Sutton Veny, near Warminster and the Salisbury Plain. Ten camps were quickly established around the village, as well as medical facilities. Local women took in soldiers’ laundry and ran tea huts and snack shops to cater for their guests. Over 140 never left, and their graves can be found in the churchyard.

St Margaret’s Church, Bodelwyddan

Alongside the ‘Marble Church’ in this quiet corner of North Wales are more than 80 headstones inscribed with a maple leaf. A military camp at nearby Kinmel Park housed Canadian soldiers and a dedicated Canadian general hospital during the war, and in 1919 a devastating outbreak of influenza struck troops waiting to return home.

Indian Forces Cremation Memorial, Patcham Down

On the South Downs, overlooking the seaside city of Brighton and Hove, the Chattri is an evocative reminder of the presence of Indian Army soldiers during the war. The Brighton Pavilion was used as a hospital, along with several other buildings nearby, and thousands of Indians were treated here. Unveiled in 1921, the Chattri marks the site of the funeral pyre where 53 Sikhs and Hindus who died at Brighton were cremated in accordance with their faith. The CWGC’s memorial alongside it lists their names.

Cannock Chase War Cemetery

There was a large military camp at Cannock Chase which became the base for the New Zealand Rifle Brigade. Many of those based here trained for battle on the Western Front, using model trenches to practice infantry tactics. At nearby Brocton was a prisoner-of-war hospital with 1,000 beds, where German servicemen were treated. Both camp and hospital used the burial ground which became Cannock Chase War Cemetery, and today the graves of nearly 100 New Zealanders and over 280 Germans can be found here.

Hollybrook Memorial, Southampton

Named here are almost 1,900 servicemen and women who served with land and air forces who were lost at sea during the war. Almost one third of them, were officers and men of the South African Native Labour Corps, who died when the troop transport SS Mendi sank in the Channel following a collision on 21 February 1917. It was one of the worst ever maritime disasters in British waters, and among the darkest moments of South Africa’s war.

Been inspired?

Why not seek out your local Commonwealth war graves and say a simple thank you to those who came from so far and gave so much? Take a photo and share it with us on social media using the hashtags #FarFromHome #CommonwealthDay and tagging in the Commission using @CWGC.

The CWGC would like to thank the following for their help with this article and for permission to reproduce images.

Marjorie Ann Jones & Dorothy Jones of www.thedanishscheme.co.uk; the Stephenson Family and www.siberianexpedition.ca; the South African War Graves Project www.southafricawargraves.org; Museum Europäischer Kulturen; Virtual War Memorial Australia; Rossall School; Royal Aero Club Trust; Auckland Museum; Imperial War Museums.