I’ve written previously about a single First World War grave located near to where I live, but they do occur on the continent as well. ‘Meteren isolated grave’ is the description on the CWGC website of the lone grave of Lieutenant Anthony George Atwood Morris. Located just off the D642 south west of Meteren, I suspect he receives few visitors due to the location – certainly fewer than the average CWGC site. However how he came to be here is an interesting story.
Morris was originally from Rugby. He was educated at Winchester and went on to enlist in the Royal Lancaster Regiment prior to the war. On 17 September 1914 he went to France where he joined the 1st Battalion King’s Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment), which was at that time on the Aisne. A few weeks later the battalion entrained for Hazebrouck, which it reached on 12 October – part of the move by the BEF to support the French and try and outflank the Germans.
On 13 October reports were received that the Germans were holding Meteren, and the battalion was ordered to attack. The war diary contains a brief description of events:
“Brigade attacked this village – 400x each side of R. Croix Les Ormes Meteren road. King’s Own and Essex Regt in front line Lan. Fusiliers and Inniskillings in second line. King’s Own allotted front of 400x on right of road.
Reached outskirts of Meteren about 2pm. Heavy machine and rifle fire opened on us from village. Enemy had excellent field of fire. About 4pm we were shelled at close range by guns just south of village. There was a large gap between our right and VI Division. Lan Fus were sent to fill in gap but at nightfall they had not reached position.
After dark King’s Own Regt started to entrench and at 9pm Lan Fus marched into village from right and found enemy had evacuated it. King’s Own stayed in trenches all night.”
The regimental history provides a bit more detail about the attack and the fate of Lieutenant Morris:
“The companies were to advance with Major Jackson’s ‘D’ Company on the right of the front line and Joiner’s ‘C’ Company on the left. Keith’s ‘B’ Company followed ‘D’ and Hodgson’s ‘A’ Company followed ‘C’. Morris was to follow ‘B’ Company with his machine-gun section. The companies deployed in artillery formation and the advance began at about noon. The fog developed into a Scotch mist and in the enclosed country Meteren was no longer visible. The dividing line between the two leading companies was a track which enabled them to keep direction, but although 6th Division was supposed to be on the right, ‘D’ Company was never in touch with it and as the advance continued the gap became wider. On the other hand, even from his excellent observation post on the top of Meteren church tower the enemy was unable to see through the haze.
About a mile short of Meteren as the country became more open and the mist lifted slightly it became possible to check the position. In front of ‘D’ Company was a farm in some enclosures running across the line of the advance; on its south side was a lane about a thousand yards from the southern outskirts of Meteren; about two hundred yards further east another road ran in a northerly direction into the eastern outskirts of the village. There was still no serious opposition, only a few odd shots from small arms, and the battalion steadily advanced in extended order, four paces between each man. The officers wore their swords, and the first casualty was Lieutenant A. Waterhouse, who had joined ‘A’ Company only two days before and was killed by a bullet as he walked over the quiet fields. It smashed his sword and entered his body. When the first shots were fired the men doubled forwards to take cover in the lane short of the farm. On the right a small German party was seen near the road into Meteren, but it was soon dispersed by rapid fire. Morris took his machine guns into the enclosures to cover the right flank.
Between this lane and the outskirts of the village there was first a field to cross, on the far side of which was a wire fence and a ditch which, while dry on the left, was full of water on the right. Beyond this fence the ground was open to the southern outskirts of the village; the enemy was posted in the houses with an excellent field of fire, but on the right there was a hopfield which afforded some cover. As soon as the battalion emerged from the lane it came under machine-gun and rifle fire, but there was no hesitation and the men continued to advance in perfect order by the orthodox method of the time, in short rushes. The plan was for the machine guns to cover the advance by engaging with fire the enemy on the southern outskirts of the village, but no sooner did Morris emerge from the farm enclosures than he was seen from the church tower. He took up a position behind a scanty hedge, where he and his team were later found in a tidy row of eight, all dead and their gun out of action.”
Morris’s body was originally buried in Meteren churchyard; however his family reportedly travelled to France after the war, exhumed his body and tried to repatriate it, only to be stopped at Calais. The family then received special dispensation from the Secretary of State for Defence to re-bury his body close to where he fell in action. The plot of land where he is now buried was purchased by the family and the structure above his grave built, incorporating a Derby-made clock from the stables of their house.
Anthony Morris is also commemorated on Pailton war memorial, Warwickshire, Winchester College war memorial and Elford war memorial, Staffs.