04 July 2022

Summer evening walks
through scenes from
‘Wind in the Willows’

Walking through Tombs Meadow in Stony Stratford on a summer evening (Photograph: Charlotte Hunter, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

During these balmy summer evenings, one of our favourite places to walk is Tombs Meadow, on the northern fringe of Stony Stratford and by the banks of the Great Ouse.

The ‘Tombs Meadow Route’ is a 2.2 km walking route by the meadow-fringed river as it winds lazily through the ‘Wind in the Willows’ scene of the Ouse Valley Country Park.

When I post photographs of these walks, I am sometimes asked about the unusual name of Tombs Meadow. I have been told the name comes from the name of the Tombs family, who once farmed this land between the town and the river.

William Arthur Tombs is one of the many names on the War Memorial in Horsefair Green in Stony Stratford.

He was born in 1898, a son of William Joseph and Ellen Tombs, of 20 Park Road, Stony Stratford. His father was a horseman on a farm, probably in Tombs Meadow.

The Roll of Honour for Buckinghamshire shows that William Arthur Tombs enlisted in Bletchley. He was Private 29008 in ‘B’ Company, 7th Battalion, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. He was 20 when he died in Thessaloniki on 15 October 1918, and is buried in Doiran Military Cemetery, north of Thessaloniki, close to the border of North Macedonia.

Doiran Cemetery, originally known as Colonial Hill Cemetery No 2, was formed at the end of 1916 as a cemetery for the Doiran front.

The graves are almost entirely those of officers and men of the 22nd and 26th Divisions and largely reflect the fighting of April and May 1917 and the attacks on the Petit-Couronne, and 18-19 September 1918 and the attacks on Pip Ridge and the Grand-Couronne.

In October and November 1918, after the final advance, a few burials took place from the 25th Casualty Clearing Station. After the Armistice, graves were brought into the cemetery from the battlefields and from by some small burial grounds, the most important of which was Strumnitza British Military Cemetery, north-west of Doiran, made by the 40th Casualty Clearing Station in October and November 1918.

Doiran Military Cemetery now contains 1,338 Commonwealth burials of World War I, 449 of them unidentified. There are also one French and 45 Greek war graves. The Doiran Memorial, which stands near the cemetery, was designed by Sir Robert Lorimer with sculpture by Walter Gilbert. It serves as both the Battle Memorial of the British Salonika Force and the place of commemoration for more than 2,000 Commonwealth servicemen who died in Macedonia and whose graves are not known.

My attention was drawn to William Arthur Tombs’s war record because my grandfather, Stephen Edward Comerford (1869-1921), also fought on the Macedonian Front, also known as the Salonika Front, during World War I.

My grandfather was with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, and was sent home from Thessaloniki on sick leave on 3 May 1916. He received all the appropriate war medals and decorations at the end of World War I, but instead of dying on the Macedonian Front, he had a slow, sad and lonely death, dying in hospital on 21 January 1921 with the after-effects of malaria.

The Salonika Front was formed as a result of an attempt by the Allied Powers to aid Serbia, in the autumn of 1915, against the combined attack of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria. The expedition came too late and in insufficient force to prevent the fall of Serbia, and was complicated by the internal political crisis in Greece known as the National Schism.

Eventually, a stable front was established, running from the Adriatic coast of Albania to the Struma River, pitting a multinational Allied force against the Bulgarian Army. The Macedonian front remained quite stable until the great Allied offensive in September 1918, which resulted in the capitulation of Bulgaria and the liberation of Serbia.

William Arthur Tombs from Stony Stratford died on in Thessaloniki on 15 October 1918, just 26 days before the end of World War I.

Walking through Tombs Meadow in Stony Stratford on a summer evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

No comments: