Aug 04

In Search of the Past – A visit to the Somme by Penny Gerrard Part 2

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2nd Lieutenant Robert Charles Hodson

As I told you in the introduction to my story, we, the Gerrards and the Hodsons, had arrived safely in Lille and had prepared for our long awaited Somme expedition in May 2016.   Finally we were on our way on the first day of our exploration, and were off to find the first of our destinations – the grave of 2nd Lieutenant Robert Charles Hodson of the Royal Engineers 279 Railway Company who was killed in action on 8 May 1917 aged 29.  We knew that Robert was buried at Nine Elms Commonwealth War Grave cemetery at Thelus near Arras. Robert was Richard’s grandfather’s second cousin. He went out to India as an assistant Engineer in the East India Railway but returned to England in November 1915.   The detailed circumstances of his death were unknown.  It was likely though that he was a casualty of the battle of Arras which took place between 9 April and 18 May 1917 and was a diversionary attack in support of the main French offensive at the Chemin Des Dames.

In Search of the Past – A visit to the Somme by Penny Gerrard Part 21 “The simple sign for the Nine Elms Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery”  

Finding it was another matter of course and we were close to despairing until I was commissioned to try to explain what we were looking for in a local fruiterer, then to a motorist unloading his boot and finally at a chiropodist’s clinic.   Finally we were steered in the direction of La Marie – one of the small town halls which feature in every French town and village.   My French was being stretched well beyond its capacity by the time I realised that help was on its way in the shape of Monsieur Jean-Pierre Comblet and his friend who were lifelong experts in the local area and arrived ready to lead us to the Nine Elms Cemetery (easily identifiable by its eight elm trees by the way).

In Search of the Past – A visit to the Somme by Penny Gerrard Part 22 “The well-tended graves of Nine Elms Cemetery with today’s traffic passing by”

Soon we were rattling along a gravel track way out in the back of beyond, realising we would never have found it on our own and were finally inside the little military cemetery which strangely, sat right next to a major road but without any access from it.   Like all  those we saw it was beautifully kept – the rows of headstones white against the clipped green grass while low growing flowers softened each stone – lavender, roses, forget me nots.   The outer walls were sheltered by the elm trees and a book listing all those buried there sat waiting for visitors in a little cubbyhole by the gate.   We felt a sense of peace and tranquillity as we walked along the rows, reading the heart-breaking inscriptions until at last we found Robert’s grave.  On it were the simple details of his name, regiment, the date he died and, at the bottom, above some purple primulas, the words “Romans VI:23 – The Gift of God is Eternal Life”.   I could imagine his twin sister Marjorie, who had already lost her parents, choosing those words to remember her brother.

In Search of the Past – A visit to the Somme by Penny Gerrard Part 23The grave of 2nd Lieutenant Robert Charles Hodson in Nine Elms Cemetery


We were so grateful to our “Good Samaritans” for leading us to find this grave and their kindness was not finished.   They insisted on our following them back to the village of Thelus where they presented us with a bullet and a piece of shrapnel (a small round ball) which Jean-Pierre had dug up in his garden over the years.    I also left with a copy of his book on the history of Thelus wishing I could actually do justice to reading it.

The first stage of our journey had been a great success and we looked forward to the next stage, finding the memorial to Richard’s grandfather’s second cousin – Captain Walter Basic Haddon-Smith.


In Search of the Past – A visit to the Somme Part 1 by Penny Gerrard is here.