Wrong place, wrong time

A topical photograph!

Moving to an unpleasant note, noted by another chaplain, on 22nd March 1917 a private of 36th (Ulster) division was similarly employed in the military barbers at Locre (Ypres Salient) when a stray shell found its mark, with disastrous consequences for him.  Although well behind the front line, long range guns did occasionally penetrate the area around Mount Kemmel, including Locre, and the barber became a fatality that day. There are three burials at Kemmel Chateau Military Cemetery recording date of death as 22nd March 1917 (the military cemeteries at Locre have no burials prior to June 1917) which is the date the battalion war diary for 8th Royal Dublin Fusiliers records: “About 20-30 5.9s were sent into Locre during the afternoon between 2 and 3pm.”  Unfortunately, the private was killed by a shell fragment that came through the window as he was cutting the hair of an officer.  During 1917 16th (Irish) and 36th (Ulster) Divisions served side by side in the Ypres sector, mixing behind the lines, and two officers of the former division wrote about this incident.  The chaplain attached to 8th Royal Dublin Fusiliers wrote home on the day it occurred and included the details of it in his letter.  It was also recalled post-war by a Second Lieutenant of the same battalion in his memoirs, albeit neither was in the barber shop at the time.

I believe that two of the 22nd March 1917 burials could be discounted as the barber i.e. a skilled rifleman attached to a trench mortar battery and someone else was with another specialist unit, the Machine Gun Corps.  But it’s only a hunch on my part.  That leaves Private A. Graham, twenty-two year old son of Charles and Jane Graham of Ternascobe, Armagh.  Private Graham served with 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers, 108th Infantry Brigade, 36th (Ulster) Division.  They were located at a camp near Locre that day and had paraded at 8.30 a.m. for platoon training, a day of snow and sleet.

Second Lieutenant Frank Laird remembered:-

“Two officers were there, one waiting and one having his hair cut by the private who officiated as barber, when a stray shell fell just outside the window, through which a piece came and took the barber’s head off.  Some days later I met the two officers who had had a few days in hospital to recover from shell shock.  The one who was being barbered said he put his hand up, and finding his head covered with blood and brains, concluded they were his own, a fact which he found difficult to reconcile with his being able to stagger out from the hut.”

Fr Willie Doyle, SJ, MC described something more dramatic, which was typical of the engaging letters he wrote home.

“… this morning an officer was sitting in the barber’s shop having his hair cut, not a thousand miles from where I am sitting now. Everything had been quiet for days, when suddenly the scream of a shell was heard from the enemy’s lines.  The officer had just remarked ‘That beastly shell is coming jolly near’ when he was flung to the other side of the hut and saw the barber’s head lying on the ground beside him; the shell had come smashing through the wall, killing the unfortunate man, taking his head off and only slightly wounding the officer”.

One assumes Second Lieutenant Laird’s version of a shell fragment, rather than the whole shell, is the correct version of events, otherwise there would have been more fatalities than just the one unfortunate man in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Here are the CWGC records for the three men who died that day and were buried in Kemmel Chateau Military Cemetery.

When we are at last free to travel to Belgium I shall visit Kemmel Chateau cemetery to pay the three men a visit. Also unluckily killed, in a similar manner to the barber, on 4th June 1917, whilst in Clare Camp close by, are two officers of 9th Royal Dublin Fusiliers, resting in Loker Churchyard, mentioned by Second Lieutenant Laird in his memoir:-

“One unlucky shell in the daytime fell near an old farmhouse at our corner of the camp, and caught Cooney and Marchant, two 2ndLieutenants of the Dublins, killing both. They were the only casualties I think.  Marchant had been in the next cubicle to me at Divisional school, and Cooney had come out with me from Dublin, two decent chaps.”

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