Aftermath - when the boys came home

Thursday 12 May 2011

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We will remember them

On the Isle of Grain...
far from the battlefield

There is something very melancholy about discovering individual soldiers' graves in churchyards. We're so used to the notion of the massive silent cities of the Western front that we forget that many soldiers died in this country, having come home to die, or as a result of accident or illness while serving in Britain.

They are all recorded in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Debt of Honour register and have the same type of headstone as those buried overseas. Elsewhere I've written about Private Sydney Bone who is buried in St Paul's churchyard in Withington, Manchester.

Private Harry Pullen's graveOnce you've started noticing these solitary graves it is hard to ignore them. On Boxing Day, 26 December 2002, we drove out to the rather bleak peninsula on the Medway Estaury in Kent known as the Isle of Grain. Close to the ancient little church of St James we found two graves.

The first headstone (seen on the left) commemorates Private Harry Pullen of the Suffolk Regiment who died on 10 July 1918 at the age of 31. He was the husband of Harriet Pullen, of 42, St. Paul's Rd., Camden Square, London.

The second grave , seen below with a wreath of poppies which must have been laid there on Remembrance Day 2002, belongs to Driver W G Allen of the Royal Field Artillery who died on 7 August 1916. That's all I know about him.

Driver Allen's graveThere are two other war graves in this churchyard (an unidentified airman of the Royal Air Force and an unidentified seaman of the Merchant Navy).

If anybody knows why Private Pullen and Driver Allen might be buried in this lonely, out-of-the-way spot I'd be very pleased to hear from them. And if you're ever out that way do pay a visit to the church.

St James Isle of Grain
St James Church


Footnote: Jon Hart, who lives on the Isle of Grain writes:

The Isle of Grain may give the impression of being a quiet backwater now, but in WW1 was a hive of military activity. Grain Fort and its supporting batteries and searchlight posts were manned by the Army. The Navy maintained an airfield and facilty for the development of seaplanes, a refuelling depot and an ammunition dump. It is perhaps more surprising there are so few military graves in our little cemetery.

Another possibility is the two graves may have been of local men who died of accident or disease while on service in the UK.

Final thought .... In 1918 Grain was host to the last known epidemic of malaria in the UK. This was caused because the army chose to station already infected men here despite the presence of the anopheles mosquito in the surrounding marshes.
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