Joining up the dots – linking people and locations

During a recent tour of the Cambrai battlefield I began by taking my group to the memorial to those missing during that fighting. It was a few years since I had last visited the memorial, and quite a few more since I had ventured down the steps into the adjacent cemetery (Louverval Military Cemetery, Doignies). Before setting off with my group, I thought I would take a look through the cemetery register on the off chance that something of interest might jump out.

One grave that I thought might be worth further consideration was that of Surgeon-Lieutenant Frank Pearce Pocock, DSO, MC, Drake Battalion, Royal Navy, who died on the 29th September 1918, aged 27 (A.35). The cemetery register also told me that he had been the medical officer aboard HMS “Iris II” during the famous raid on Zeebrugge, which took place on St. George’s Day, 23rd April 1918.

The story behind the raid was already familiar to me and I had also been to Blankenberg Town Cemetery where Lieutenant-Commander George Nicholson Bradford, VC, is buried. It was during that raid that Bradford won his VC, making him the second brother in the family to win that award. Of course, it’s no secret that Brigadier General Roland Boys Bradford, VC, MC, is buried at Hermies British Cemetery, a short distance from Louverval on the other side of the Bapaume-Cambrai road (F.10). Both brothers feature briefly in my book, “Visiting the Fallen – Arras North”, by virtue of the fact that a third brother, 2nd Lieutenant James Barker Bradford, MC, is buried in Duisans British Cemetery, just north of Arras (IV.G.33).

Roland fell in action on the 30th November 1917 during the Battle of Cambrai, and for that reason I had already decided to include his grave in the round of cemetery visits with my group. As it happened, there was now a link to Pocock via Roland’s elder brother, George, which meant that I could also tell my group a little bit about the Zeebrugge Raid.

When I looked at Pocock’s gallantry awards it became clear that he had been awarded his DSO for his splendid actions during the raid itself. The citation reads: “ By his devotion to duty, he undoubtedly saved many lives. When “Iris II” was hit he at once commenced tending the wounded, and as all the sick-berth staff were killed, had all the work to do alone. After the dynamo was damaged he had to work by candle and torchlight.”. The Gazette dated Tuesday 23rd July 1918, which lists all the honours and awards relating to the Zeebrugge and Ostend operations, is well worth a read.

The other thing about Pocock’s grave is that it only shows the award of the DSO and MC, whereas he was actually awarded a bar to his MC before he died. (I have since notified the the CWGC, though I am aware that I’m not the first to have noted this omission). Just for the record, and for anyone who may want to visit his grave, the citation relating to his MC is as follows:

“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He displayed great courage and determination in dressing the wounded and leading stretcher parties. He worked continuously under heavy fire.”

The citation for the bar is as follows: “He attended to the wounded under very heavy fire in most adverse circumstances during operations lasting several days. His courage and self-sacrificing devotion to duty were a splendid example to his stretcher-bearers, and his skill was instrumental in the saving of many wounded men.”

Pocock began his military service in October 1914. “The London Gazette”, dated the 27th October 1914, includes his name in a list of 210 “Gentlemen appointed Surgeons for temporary service in his Majesty’s Fleet.” With Pocock’s own story, and its link to the Bradford one, I’m sure I’ll be taking others to Louverval Military Cemetery during future visits to the Cambrai battlefield, whether in connection with November/December 1917 or late September/early October 1918. On a more personal note, there was the added bonus of discovering that Pocock’s brother, 2nd Lieutenant Charles Arthur Pocock, was killed in action the previous year just north of Arras. He and three other officers of the 14th Royal Warwickshire Regiment lost their lives on the 8th May 1917 in trenches near Arleux. All four are now buried in Orchard Dump Cemetery and are mentioned in “Visiting the Fallen – Arras North”, though at the time of writing the book I was unaware of the connection between the Pocock brothers.

One of the defining elements of the “Visiting the Fallen” books is the attempt, wherever possible, to link one person, be it a brother, friend, acquaintance, or family member, with another, just like in this piece. It was a very deliberate choice, partly because I like filling in gaps and making those links, but also because I think it works well when visiting the battlefields with others. Having an itinerary is one thing, but when it comes to stories, those who travel with me never quite know where we’re going to next. It’s something I’ve always done and I think it brings added value and interest to the trips.