Start: Cenotaph – The Esplanade
Finish: Weymouth Cemetery – Westham
Distance: Approx 1.5 miles
The 4th of August 2014 marked the 100th anniversary of the day Britain entered the First World War – with fighting continuing until the 11th of November 1918. It claimed the lives of over 16 million people across the globe and had an impact on the lives of everyone.
This walk will explain the part Weymouth and its suburb Westham played in the Great War, and will recount a few details of some of the soldiers who are buried at Melcombe Regis and Weymouth Cemeteries.
On the 28th July 1914 sailors on shore leave in Weymouth were suddenly summoned to their ships. The following evening these Battle Squadrons secretly, with no lights or radio, sailed discreetly out of Portland Harbour to join the rest of the fleet in preparation for war.
Troop movements in and around Weymouth increased, and there was a feeling of anxiety as the inevitably of war became apparent.
War was declared on the 4th August 1914.
Within days there were changes. With all vestiges of holiday spirit destroyed most holiday makers tried to return home, but due to the withdrawal of railway facilities thousands of holiday makers were temporarily stranded. Cosens of Weymouth (Paddle Steamers) were soon put into Government Service. Sporting and entertainment fixtures were cancelled. In autumn 1914 Blackout began.
Civilians were encouraged to ‘Do Your Bit’ and ‘Carry On.’
Government appeals for volunteers ready to enlist began almost immediately. Great recruiting rallies and campaigns brought hundreds of local volunteers ready to enlist. Some poster campaigns urged or shamed men to enlist while others encouraged women to persuade their men to join. Many local men joined the Dorsetshire Regiment (known as the “Dorset’s”), which was an infantry regiment for Dorset.
It was not long before the columns of the Southern Times began recording the long lists of names of Dorset men killed.
More than 4,500 of Dorset’s young men were killed in World War I. This Cenotaph commemorates around 385 local men who died in World War One.
This 17 and a half foot Cenotaph was designed by the sculptor Doyle Jones in Portland Stone and was dedicated in 1921.
Nearby is the Anzac Memorial.
This memorial was unveiled in 2005 in recognition of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) soldiers who convalesced in Weymouth during World War One.
In June 1915, 200 wounded Anzac soldiers arrived at Monte Video Army Camp near the village of Chickerell in Weymouth. These wounded soldiers were the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps – and most of them were survivors of the disastrous Gallipoli campaign. They had come to Weymouth to convalesce. The Southern Times, the local newspaper claimed “they are set down in a very pleasant place at Monte video ….and the men who have been used to a thousand miles to stroll around in appreciate the great expanse of country and the sweeping landscape and seascape views which their camp commands.”Within days a local group of ladies organised a strawberries and cream tea for the soldiers and within a few weeks’ concerts, picnics and other entertainment was arranged for the men.
As war continued more arrived, almost on a daily basis, so more camps had to be built at Westham, Littlemoor and Portland. By the end of the war 120,000 Anzac soldiers had recuperated in Weymouth. It was a common sight to see the soldiers taking the sea air in their light blue hospital uniforms.
Each year Weymouth observes Anzac day on the 25th April with a service at this memorial.
Note the slouch hats at the base of the memorial. At Armistice celebrations, jubilant Anzac soldiers placed a slouch hat on top of King Georges Statue.
Hotel Prince Regent (Burdon Military Hospital)
Opposite the ANZAC Memorial you will see the Prince Regent Hotel. During World War One this hotel was leased by the War Office and became Burdon Military Hospital. This was the parent hospital for Dorset’s voluntary institutions.
Its first patients, in 1915, were hundreds of wounded Indian Sepoys, following fierce fighting in Ypres. They were brought to England by the hospital ship the Glengorm Castle, and then transferred by five Australian motor ambulances.
Later in the war it had a provisional limb ward which supplied amputees with artificial limbs and trained patients to use them.
Keep walking down the esplanade towards the Kings Statue. In the decade following the Great War, it was a common belief that it had been “the war to end all wars”. Unfortunately as you pass the Cenotaph for commemorating the Americans in World War Two we know that it was not so.
Carry on past the Kings Statue and use the crossing. Pass over St Mary’s Street and Thomas Street. Cross over to Westham Road. At the end of this road cross over Commercial Road onto Westham Bridge and walk across.
The original bridge predates the development of Westham but provided access to Melcombe Regis Cemetery which opened in 1856. It was originally known as Backwater Bridge Road.
In 1921 it was decided to build a new dam to control the water levels of Radipole Lake and hopefully prevent flooding. Thus a new Westham Bridge was built with four automatic and four hand controlled sluices. If you walk to the middle of the bridge you can see this sluice mechanism. This building project created jobs for ex soldiers after the 1st World War had finished.
Turn right through the subway, turn left and follow the path to Abbotsbury Road. Carry on along Abbotsbury road, past St Josephs Church.
You will see the entrance to the Rodwell Trail.
This follows the track bed of Weymouth and Portland Railway, which closed in 1965. During World War One it was a busy route. Many of the passengers were employed at the Whitehead Torpedo Factory in Wyke Regis. At the outbreak of war the British Admiralty took control of the factory with production round the clock (For more information on the Rodwell Trail please look at my Rodwell trail walk).
This area is known as Old Westham. Building began in the late 1870s on what was a very much rural area. The only resident was a Mr Stagg who lived in a wooden hut on wheels with an attractive garden and greenhouse. But by 1880 the first bricked house was built.
Carry on along the road until you come to the Rock Hotel.
This hotel opened in 1881 and is the first and oldest pub in Westham. It became a focal point for the rapidly expanding community. A general meeting was convened at the pub in 1882 in order to agree a name for the area which was being built up around the pub. The name decided on was West Ham, now shortened to Westham. It was nearly called Washington as nearby was a large steam laundry (demolished in 1970).
Much of the original building has survived. This was a popular pub with some of the Anzac troops that were camped nearby.
Cross the road carefully and turn right into Newstead road. Continue till you reach Melcombe Regis Cemetery.
Melcombe Regis Cemetery
Melcombe Regis Cemetery opened on 31st march 1856. At the entrance, on the right, is Cemetery lodge, now a private house.
Follow the path to the right until you come to the Cross of Sacrifice.
Cross of Sacrifice
The Cross of Sacrifice is a Commonwealth war memorial designed in 1918 for the Imperial War Graves Commission (now the Commonwealth War Graves Commission). It is made of white Portland stone like the headstones.
There are three information boards near the graves which inform you about Australians in Weymouth.
In this cemetery there are 142 World War One graves.
The youngest soldier buried here is Corporal Maurice Frederick Scammell aged just 16.
Below are the stories of four soldiers buried here.
Private Hapi Christe
On February 14th 1915 Hapi Christie sailed from Wellington, New Zealand aboard the SS Warrimoo with the First Native Contingent (Maoris) to their destination of Egypt.
The First Native Contingent in New Zealand before sailing to Egypt and onto Malta
Due to concerns about natives fighting for the Empire the contingent was intended as a garrison force and was stationed on Malta. But mounting casualties and the need for reinforcements on the Gallipoli Peninsula forced a change in imperial policy on ‘native peoples’ fighting. The Native Contingent landed at Anzac Cove (Gallipoli) on 3 July 1915. Writer James Cowan described the Maori attack on a hill called Table Top at Gallipoli: ‘The Maoris went into that splendid attack, their first battle with the bayonet, in a mood of savage determination and delight. This was their chance for fame. They went grimly for those Turks, bayoneted them in their lines, they burst into a tremendous haka when they had cleared the trenches – “Ka mate, ka mate, ka ora, ka ora!” – then silence as they pressed on to the next point.’
Hapi Christie, due to illness, was sent to Weymouth where he died of phthisis on the 17th February 1916 – almost one year to the day he left New Zealand.
Sapper Karny Chabuck
Between 1899 and 1914, thousands of Russians settled in Canada. One of these was Karny Chabuck who found work as a labourer and settled in Winnipeg which had an established Russian community.
In May 1916 Britain requested another thousand troops for the Canadian railway Troops. Karny Chabuck answered the call. According to his attestation papers he volunteered on the 8th November 1916. These papers describe him as 21years old, with height of 5foot and 8.5 inches. He had dark complexion with blue eyes and dark hair. His next of kin was his mother Dora who still lived in the Podolak province of Russia.
Chabuck arrived in France in spring 1917 where he went straight to work having to construct, repair and maintain the rail networks often during artillery shelling. It was a dangerous job.
At some point he was either injured or became sick and was shipped to England where he survived the war. Unfortunately like so many others he succumbed to the 1918 – 1920 influenza pandemic.
Private Albert Robert Blackmore
Albert was working as a teacher in Tasmania when he enlisted in May 1916. He had published a book of poems called Shade & Echo and was deeply interested in politics.
In 1916 Australia had held a referendum for conscription to raise the numbers of soldiers needed to maintain Australian Army. It was voted against. It was decided to hold a second referendum which also failed. When Albert wrote to his sister Suzannah from the Front in 1917 he poured out his feelings about conscription to Suzannah declaring that the whole things was too late. He ended his letter with his love of life
“Yes one’s birthday sets one thinking as the years increase behind. What a beautiful thing youth should be and how it is starved and marred. I’m ever so much more in love with life than I was ten years ago. Don’t want Heaven and all its dazzling spiritualities a bit; just the dear old Earth and youth eternal. The miserable, blasphemous slanders of the pious with their “gross matter” and “vile flesh”. If they ever get to Heaven they would end by finding it unworthy of their “higher selves”. Ah well! My love and good night.”
He was wounded three times during action in France and was sent to Weymouth to recuperate. He died of pneumonia just days before the Armistice.
Private Alfred Henry Carter
Alfred was the eldest son of Clara and Alfred Carter. He was born and lived in Jersey. He joined up as soon as possible as he was keen to follow in his father’s footsteps, who was a Pioneer Sergeant serving in India.
On the morning of the accident Private Carter had been standing with other new recruits at Weymouth Rifle Range. Nearby a Lance Corporal accidentally fired a rifle which had live cartridge in it. The bullet hit Private Carter and he died shortly after.
When you have finished at the cemetery return to Abbotsbury Road and turn right.
On the right is:
St Pauls Church
Romance between local women and the soldiers camped nearby was fairly common and several war weddings took place in St Pauls.
Carry on down the hill until you reach Adelaide Court on the corner of Longcroft Road.
These flats have been converted from the Royal Adelaide Hotel that was bombed during the Second World War. During World War One it was known as Adelaide Arms (named after Queen Adelaide, wife of King William IV) and would of been a popular watering hole with the soldiers camped very near by.
We have now entered “New Westham.”
In 1915 the Anzac troops were sent to Monte Video Camp in Chickerell to convalesce, so they could be made fit again to return to their units. Unfortunately not all men could be restored to fighting fitness and another camp needed to be built to accommodate them. It was built here and both Monte Video Camp and this new Westham Camp came known as AIF No 2 Command Depot.
Accommodation consisted of barracks with shower blocks. There were stables for the horses and vehicle storage. On the outskirts of the camp was the YMCA where refreshments, concerts and lectures took place.
This camp closed in 1919 and most of the troops who were here went home.
Houses have since been built but the Anzac presence is remembered in the street names. If you wander up Perth Street you will find road names such as Adelaide Crescent, Melbourne Road and Sydney Street.
Look out for 190 and 192 Abbotsbury Road. These were originally built as police houses.
Just past the old camp is the entrance to Weymouth Cemetery which opened in 1898.
Weymouth Cemetery Chapel
There are 62 World War One graves, including the only woman – FML Hook who was a nursing Assistant with Queen Alexandra’s Military nursing Service. She almost survived the war but unfortunately died the day before Armistice.
One soldier buried here is:
Corporal Wilfred Da Cunha Brookes
Wilfred enlisted on the 30th April 1916 in the Tank Corps and was drafted to France in August 1916 as a Corporal.
He was one of the crew of “Male” Tank – D6. His first action was during the battles of the 15th/16th September 1916 on the Somme. This was the very first time that tanks had been used in battle, and most of them broke down or took direct hits.
D6 tank put several enemy gun emplacements out of action and made it behind enemy linesBut then his tank took a direct hit with a high explosive shell and 4 of his crew were killed.
Wilfred fled passing through both enemy and British barrages.
He volunteered to drive another tank and was back in action on the 1st October 1916 at Eaucourt L’Abbaye, France. his tank was put out of action by becoming entangled with barbed wire. After being given the order to abandon it by his officer, he set fire to it and whilst escaping, he was shot in the right forearm sustaining a compound fracture.
He was invalided home to the Bangor Hospital at Edinburgh.
When recovered he re-joined his unit at Worgret Camp, Wareham and it was there that he was seized by illness and died of Meningitis at the Weymouth Isolation Hospital.
As you wander through the cemetery you will notice many of the soldiers were part of the Dorsetshire Regiments. Many of these soldiers lived within a stone’s throw of this cemetery.
It is here that the walk ends.
You can retrace your steps back into town or catch the No 8 bus at the stop outside the cemetery.
By Fiona for weymouthwalks.co.uk
Photo by Hotel Prince Regeant