Battlefield crosses

A century ago hundreds of thousands of simple wooden crosses marked the graves of Commonwealth soldiers along the Western Front in France and Belgium. When they were replaced with headstones many were given to churches.

Some are cracked and water damaged. Many have woodworm. Some even have the original Somme mud varnished on to them. Others are ornate, made in the field by comrades from scrap wood and bearing personal inscriptions. Aviators graves were often marked by propellers.


Glorious glass

Major GFM Mongomerie
3rd Battalion, Grenadier Guards
22nd October 1915

The flags above the wooden war memorial in the chancel are said to have come from the medical post where George was treated for the head wound that killed him. George was 46 when he died. He was married to Sybil Mary Blanche Somerset they had two daughters. He is buried at Vermelles British Cemetery.

The Victorian and early 20th century stained glass is exquisite and includes a window commemorating George Montgomerie. There is also a brass plaque to all the men of the parish who died.

St John the Baptist, Garboldisham

Brothers in arms

Captain CAG Hodgson
The Devonshire Regiment
20th March 1918

The simple cross is situated outside the church, near the south door. Cyril was 33 years old when he died from malaria contracted in Palastine. He is buried at Cairo War Memorial Cemetery. Cyril was one of two sons to Sir Charles and Lady Hodgson. His brother Charles died of wounds received, also in Cairo, ten days after his brother.

The church has a beautiful stained glass window given by the family. It was split into three as work was needed in the church.

Christ Church, Shamley Green

A stretcher & a stallion

Lieutenant Raymond Asquith
Grenadier Guards
15th September 1916

Lieutenant EW Horner
Queen Mary's Own Hussars
November 1917

‘The end for Asquith came quickly: as he led his company forward into the hail of shell and machine gun fire, he was hit in the chest. Raymond knew his wound was fatal, he casually lit a cigarette as he was carried on a stretcher’

The church was restored by the Horner family in the 1880s. There is a huge equestrian statue to Edward, by Sir Alfred Mannings (the plinth by Sir Edwin Lutyens). Edward is buried at Rocquigny-Equancourt Road British Cemetery, Manancourt.

St Andrew, Mells

An unknown soldier

Unknown British Soldier

Standing near the front of the church, surrounded by a hedge, is a replica cross along with the remains of the original cross in a case. There is also a stone cross remembering those who died in the first and second world wars.

Inside are two beautiful stained glass windows. One shows a soldier receiving medical treatment, the other is of a Tommy in action advancing through enemy trenches. On the wall is an article about William Hughes, killed on 3rd march 1916 in France. Perhaps William’s mother was responsible for the cross of the unknown warrior.

Christ Church, Rossett

Two local men

Private CE Leate
Somerset Light Infantry
10th July 1917

Lieutenant Colonel FGG Morris DSO
Border Regiment
16th August 1917

Claude was 23 when he was killed. He is buried at Messines Ridge British Cemetery. Morris was 48 and is buried at Canada Farm Cemetery.

St Michael was ‘blowen up with powder Febr ye 16th Anno 1645 and rebuilt AD 1651’. During the Battle of Torrington the Royalists had stored 80 barrels of gunpowder in the church. The Roundheads locked prisoners in the church and somehow the explosion happened. A cobbled mound is said to contain the remains of 60 Royalists.

St Michael & All Angels, Great Torrington

The mud of Flanders

Lieutenant CR Bayly
Royal Fleet Auxiliary
29th March 1918

Charles was born in Peru in 1894. He was 24 when the observation post he was in at Fampoux Lock received a direct hit. The cross originally stood in Anzin-St Aubin British Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France and still has some mud under the varnish. He was related to the village doctor, possibly explaining why the cross is here.

St Mary’s is a beautiful and airy space, plain and simple, no stained glass but with a barn like roof. The church also features rood screen with two pre-reformation panels.

St Mary, Great Snoring

The Returned

Battlefield Crosses and grave markers exist across the whole country. They can be found in churches, memorial halls, chapels, museums and private dwellings.

The Returned project aims to provide an online database, with locations and as much detail as possible about the stories surrounding the people whose graves they marked and the people they left behind. We will also be able to link the markers back to the original burial sites on the Battlefields of The Great War.

Find out more from The Returned website