From the Archives: WWI Artefact

POST BY RSomerset

Dark wood T shaped cross with an ivory appearing Christ carving nailed to it inside a wooden framed box with glass front and enclosed brown paper note and attached to the frame is a plaque
WW1 crucifix

We have discovered the following artefact in the archives. It is a crucifix with an enclosed note inside a wooden frame with a plaque. The note enclosed reads:

O H M S [On His Majesty’s Service] 23.10.15 Richebourge-St Vaast

Dearest Mater

I know you will value this, it is genuine, & I found it among the ruins of a poor deserted village. I dare say it is worth much. Handmade but a little the worse for wear; you ever in my thoughts at the moment. Hugh

The plaque on the frame states:

Found by Capt A H Bainbridge MC in the mud at a deserted village as dated 23.10.15. Richebourg St Vaast. And sent by him to Mrs Garden Nicol. Newton House, Dalkeith Road, Bournemouth West

How this item discovered 100 years ago came to be in the Jesuit Archives is a mystery and if anyone can shed any light on this please contact the archivist.

Intrigued I took a look online to see what background information I could discover. It would appear that the original finder may have been Anthony Hugh Bainbridge, who served with the 8th North Staffordshire Regiment, and as he does not appear to be listed on the Commonwealth War Graves commission website it would appear he survived the Great War. Captain A H Bainbridge was mentioned in despatches and is listed in the London Gazette on 25 May 1917.

The 8th Battalion of the North Staffordshire Regiment was formed at Lichfield on 18 September 1914, moved to Salisbury Plain, went into billets in Bristol in December 1914 and after a few more changes landed in France in July 1915. (Source: http://www.1914-1918.net/nstaffs.htm)

With regards to Richebourge-St Vaast I learnt that miliary operations began in the area in September 1914, when the two sides tried to outflank each other to the north during the Race to the Sea. Other actions to be seen here were the Battle of La Bassée (October-November 1914), the Battle of Neuve Chapelle (10–13 March 1915) and the Battle of Festubert (15–25 May 1915). An attack was planned to capture the Boar's Head, a German salient near Richebourg-l'Avoué, on 30 June 1916, as part of the effort made by the armies north of the Somme to support the offensive, by harassing the Germans. Raids continued to be made on the German lines from July to November 1916. A map of the front line in the area can be seen here, on wikipedia commons.

I also learnt from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website that during the Battle of Festubert in May 1915, the fallen British soldiers were buried in an old orchard near a forward dressing station which was located at the terminus of a trench tramway between the hamlet of Richebourg St Vaast and La Croix Barbet. The cemetery was used by fighting units serving at the front and field ambulances until July 1917. It is the final resting place of over 70 men of the South Downs Pals battalion who were killed at the Battle of Boar’s Head on 30 June 1916. In April and May 1918, the Germans buried 90 of their dead in the south-east end of the cemetery and in September and October 1918, 18 British soldiers killed during the final Allied advance were laid to rest in Plot V. There are now almost 800 soldiers of the First World War buried or commemorated at St Vaast Post, including over 90 German burials. Special memorials have been erected to three British soldiers buried in the cemetery whose graves cannot now be traced.

Rebecca Volk, Archivist