The Malta Independent 18 August 2019, Sunday

Remembering the fallen: CWGC launch cemetery tours, story sharing platform

Albert Galea Sunday, 27 January 2019, 11:00 Last update: about 8 months ago

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) have launched a new heritage tourism initiative to encourage tourists and Maltese alike to visit historical sites around Malta and to learn the stories of those who are buried in Malta.

The project, which is held in collaboration with the Malta Tourism Authority, Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna and the Malta Aviation Museum, will see new guided tours run by volunteers introduced at the Hemsija Military Cemetery on the outskirts of Mtarfa and the Pieta Military Cemetery.  Tours at the Capuccini Naval Cemetery will also commence next month. 


In conjunction with this project, the CWGC has also recently launched a crowd sourcing project called ‘Stories from Malta’ which is an appeal for information on the men and women whom are commemorated on Malta.

The Commission was the brainchild of one Sir Fabian Ware.  At 45 years of age he was too old to fight in the war, but nonetheless served as the head of a mobile unit within the British Red Cross.  Saddened by the sheer number of casualties, he felt driven to find a way to ensure the final resting places of the dead would not be lost forever.  In 1917, the CWGC was recognised by Royal Charter and now operates in 23,000 locations across more than 150 countries commemorating a total of 1.7 million Commonwealth servicemen.

Addressing a press conference at the Hemsija Military Cemetery on Thursday, Director General of CWGC Victoria Wallace said that as time has passed and new generations were brought up, the commission had noticed that its mission was changing.  No longer were they just commemorators, but they were also historians and communicators; the vessels to share the stories of those that have passed.  She said that this was the first time that they were launching a tourism-related initiative, but were doing so in tandem with local authorities to embrace the unique heritage that Malta holds.

Mario Farrugia from Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna meanwhile said that the foundation had written to the CWGC some three years ago in the hope that such an initiative would be taken up, and was pleased with the immediate positive feedback and the results presented. “Each grave is a story”, Farrugia said before adding that he was pleased to see that commission was taking steps and doing all it could to tell those stories.

There are around 10,000 people buried in the CWGC’s graves on Malta, with people from far and wide finding their final resting place on the island.  Those buried within these cemeteries in fact have various origins; British, Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans, Greeks, Poles, Indians, Maltese and even Germans.  Each gravestone commemorates two or three soldiers, with their name, service number, regiment, regimental insignia and rank. Those graves without a regimental insignia signify that a civilian who worked in close quarters with the British forces – Max Dutton, one of the CWGC’s historians, points me in the direction of the grave of a Maltese plumber who was killed in August 1942, the midst of the blitz in Malta, as one such example.  Each grave remembers everyone’s sacrifice equally, Dutton explains.  Each grave also holds a story, and within this article are just three of those such stories. 


Hugh Alexander Pollock

Born on 29 July 1888, Hugh Alexander Pollock (above) was a Scotsman from Ayr who saw an extended military career.  Having been educated at Ayr Academy, he joined the army in May 1912 and took the rank of Second Lieutenant in the 5th Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers.  He got married in October 1913 to Marion Atkinson, with whom he had two children, but when war broke out in 1914 he was moved to front, serving in Gallipoli, Palestine and France.  He was promoted to captain in September 1915 and took command of the regiment’s 6th Battalion between December 1915 and May 1916 on the Western Front.  In 1919 he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his wartime exploits, but left the army soon after.

Come the 1920s, he joined the publishers George Newnes in London and worked with Winston Churchill in editing the future Prime Minister’s six-volume narrative history called The World Crisis, which was published between 1923 and 1931.  It was at this workplace that he met one Enid Blyton, who had at the time been commissioned to write a children’s book about London Zoo.  Blyton would later become one of the most well-known children’s writers, and her books have to date sold over 600 million copies. In 1924, Pollock divorced his first wife to marry Blyton, with whom they would have two daughters.  As the years passed however, Pollock became a heavy drinker – possibly due to the trauma he had been through during the war – leading to a strain in their marriage.  World War Two came about and Pollock re-enlisted with the Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps where he was appointed as a Commandant with the Instructors of the Home Guard.  In the meantime, he had met Ida Crowe – 19 years his junior – and when he was injured in a training accident, he decided to divorce Blyton and marry Crowe.  They got married in October 1943, six days after Blyton had married her own lover, Darrell Waters, a London surgeon.  Pollock and Crowe had one child, Rosemary, who turned out to suffer from asthma – which was the reason that the family settled in Malta, believing that the island’s fresh air would do wonders for their daughter’s health.  In the end, Pollock passed away on 8 November 1971, aged 82, and was buried at Hemsija Military Cemetery.  Rosemary survived and wrote a dozen romance books, and is still alive today.  Ida meanwhile moved back to the UK soon after her husband’s passing, and was 105 years old when she passed away in 2013.


Thomas Andrew Beaudoin

Born in 1884 at Dunolly, Victoria in Australia, Thomas was not only a farmer but a renowned local football player.  Max Dutton, one of the CWGC’s historians, explains that Beaudoin was one of the very first Australians to join the forces upon the onset of the First World War.  He sold his farm, left his local community, married his girlfriend and shipped out only to never make it back home.  Beaudoin was one of the many ANZACs who took part in the Gallipoli landings in April 1915 and had to be evacuated to Malta after he fell ill with typhoid.  In fact, he died on Malta on 4 June 1915 aged 31.


Henry Ernest Wild

Born 10 August 1879, Wild was one of eight brothers and was pretty much a born sea-man. He joined the navy with his older brother Frank in 1894, and served there for 20 years before he left to join the Ross Sea party. The Ross Sea party was a component of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition – which his brother Frank was on – and supported them by setting up supply depots along Shackleton’s route. The party was however not used to the demanding conditions at the pole, and Wild suffered frostbite to the point that part of one of his toes and the top of an ear had to be amputated.  On 7 May 1915 however further tragedy befell the party as their ship, the SY Aurora, was blown out to sea during a gale and unable to return leaving some of the party, including Wild, marooned.  Subsequently, Wild and Ernest Joyce – who was the only member of the party who did have previous experience in the conditions – used their resourcefulness to fabricate clothes and other materials which were left over from the faithful Terra Nova mission of Robert Scott some years prior (who had used the party’s location as a base as well).  The party found Wild as a universally popular figure, with Aeneas Mackintosh, the party’s captain, writing that Wild was a “cheerful and willing soul”.  Two three-man teams made the long march from "Rocky Mountain depot" at 80°S to the foot of the Beardmore Glacier. Wild was initially teamed with Mackintosh and Arnold Spencer-Smith, the party's Chaplain and photographer. Ernest Joyce, Richard W Richards and Victor Hayward formed the other team. As the two parties moved south, conditions worsened and the men's physical condition weakened. Eventually the two groups combined into a single unit. Close to the glacier Spencer-Smith collapsed, and thereafter had to be carried on the sledge. After the last depot had been laid Mackintosh also lost strength and was unable to pull any further, whilst the entire team, including Wild, developed scurvy. The stricken party, having fulfilled all its depot-laying duties, struggled back towards its base in awful weather, with Wild nursing Spencer-Smith who had become helpless. Spencer-Smith died before the base was reached.  The remaining five reached the safety of Hut Point and slowly recovered their strength. On 8 May 1916 Mackintosh and Hayward risked walking on the sea ice in an attempt to reach Cape Evans, from here they could be rescued, but disappeared during a blizzard and were never seen again. Wild and the other survivors were rescued in January 1917. 

After the expedition, Wild rejoined the British Navy on the HMS Pembroke.  He was then transferred to the HMS Biarritz, but contracted typhoid and died at the Royal Naval Hospital in Malta on 10 March 1918.  He is buried at the CWGC’s Capuccini Cemetery, and he was posthumously awarded the Albert Medal in 1923 for his exploits with the Ross Sea party.  His brother Frank took part in five Antarctic expeditions, and had to take command of the Shackleton-Rowett Expedition of 1921-22 after Shackleton died of a heart attack on the ice.  Frank Wild is one of just two people – Ernest Joyce being the other – to have been awarded the Polar Medal.


Those who may have information about those buried in one of the CWGC’s cemeteries on Malta are invited to upload their stories to Tours at the cemeteries will run every Monday and Friday between 10am and 1pm and weekends on request. To book tours, one must email [email protected].


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