War Graves of Wallasey

Rake Lane cemetery in Wallasey is the scene of many war graves, the most recent of which was unveiled in January 2016 when an army medic had a headstone erected by the Commonwealth and War Graves Commission (CWGC).

The CWGC had previously identifiedRake Lane Cemetery War memorial by Rept0n1x 255 casualties of the two world wars buried in Rake Lane cemetery. There are additionally a number of casualties of the Crimean, Boer and there is a war memorial situated near the chapel. The cemetery also contains the graves of a number of others connected with both world wars who did not die on the battlefield.

In May 1915 the sinking  of The Lusitania, bound for Liverpool from New York, turned the tide of public opinion in the United States against Germany. Over 1,200 lives were lost when the liner was sank by a German u-boat. Among the 764 survivors was Captain William Turner, who  had been with Cunard since 1883. Although the Admiralty tried to pin the blame on him, saying he had been in an area where u-boats were known to operate and too close to the shore, he was exonerated at the Board of Trade investigation. In summing up Lord Mersey placed the blame solely at the hands of the German government and said that Turner had exercised his judgement to the best of his ability. Turner was buried in Rake Lane after he died in 1933 and his memorial refers to the fact he captained the vessel.

Much closer to home, there was a disaster in Liverpool Bay on 28th December 1917 when the Liverpool pilot boat Alfred H. Read, which had been commandeered by the War Office, struck a mine and sank in minutes. 39 crew members perished, just two being saved. Seven of those whose bodies were recovered are buried at Rake Lane.

As war clouds gathered over Europe in 1939, the Cammell Laird built submarine HMS Thetis went on dive trials on 1st June but sank off the coast of North Wales, leading to the deaths of 99 of the 103 men on board from carbon dioxide poisoning. Most of the victims were buried in Anglesey but two engine fitters, Cornelius Smith and John Griffiths, were brought back to Wallasey and buried there. The Thetis was intentionally grounded on 3rd September, the day Britain declared war on Germany. After being repaired she was recommissioned as the Thunderbolt and after operating in the Atlantic and Mediterranean she was sunk off the coast of Sicily in 1043.

During the Second World War the Luftwaffe bombed Wallasey on 35 occasions, leading to the loss of 324 lives. The most sustained period of bombing was in March 1941 when 186 were killed over three successive night when parachute mines were used. The last raid took place on 1st November 1941 and a memorial is situated in the cemetery, where the remains of 51 of the victims are buried.

A burial that did not take place until 2005 was that of Flight Sergeant Ray Holmes, who fought in the Battle of Britain. After running out of fuel over London he rammed his plane into a German bomber and bailed out before crashing. After finding himself near the Oval cricket ground it was said he popped into a local pub for a pint and was later feted as the man who prevented Buckingham Palace from being bombed. When he died a simple memorial was put over his grave which states ‘Beloved husband of Anne, devoted father and grandfather. ‘One of the Few.

All these headstones connected with war related deaths have now in 2016 been joined by the CWGC memorial to Staff Sergeant Wilfred Cooke, unveiled on 21st January 2016. Cooke served with the West Lancashire Field Ambulance in France and Belgium. He was awarded the Military Medal and two Distinguished Service medals before being discharged due to wounds illnesses contracted at the Front. When he died of Tubercolosis on 26th July 1920 he was buried in an unmarked grave, but 95 years on his service and bravery have been formally recognised.


Yew Tree Cemetery in Liverpool

Yew Tree Cemetery was the second of the two Roman Catholic cemeteries that were opened in Liverpool in Victorian times. It took its first burials in 1893, more than thirty years after the one at Ford, near Litherland. The cemetery is named after nearby Yew Tree Lane, which itself derives from Yew Tree Hose, so named as a large yew tree was in the garden.

Yew Tree Cemetery is administered by the Archdiocese of Liverpool and  every July an outdoor mass by the Archbishop of Liverpool is held in the cemetyewtree priest graveery, when hundreds attend to pray for those who are buried there. The cemetery contains the graves of numerous priests and nuns, buried either near the chapel or alongside the main roadway.

There are 35 First World War graves at Yew Tree Cemetery, thirteen of them marked by two small memorials. There are also the graves of 65 servicemen from the Second World War in various parts of the cemetery.

Mary McCartney, mother of Beatle Paul, is buried in Yew Tree cemetery. She died in 1956 from complications that arose as a result of breast cancer surgery when Paul was just fourteen years old. Another grave with an entertainer connection is the unmarked burial place of Archie O’Neill, a music hall entertainer known as the ‘one legged dancer’ who died in 1959.

A heartbreaking grave is that of Nigel Pickup, who at eight years old was the youngest victim of the Ibrox Stadium tragedy on 2nd January 1971, when 66 football fans were crushed to death on a stairway at the end of a Rangers v Celtic match in Glasgow. He had been taken to the match by his grandfather who was visiting relatives there and in 2010 his grave was rededicated in a special ceremony attended by many Rangers fans who had come to Liverpool specially for the service.

Yew Tree Cemetery contains the grave of a heroic survivor of the Lusitania disaster, James Dyer. He had only been a trimmer on the liner for three weeks when it was torpedoed by a German u-boat on 7th May 2015. After being flung into the sea by the explosion he managed to get hold of a piece of wreckage and also help two American children cling  onto it for three hours before being rescued and taken to Queenstown. He was given a financial reward by the boy’s father and then got a heroes welcome in Liverpool. He later married and had five children, dying in 1959 aged 69. His gravestone, which also marks the burial place of other family members, makes no mention of the tragedy. In relation to James it simply says ‘In loving memory of James Dyer and family.’

Yew Tree cemetery chapel

Next to the chapel at Yew Tree Cemetery is a headstone marking all those buried in the cemetery whose graves are unmarked. The chapel, dating from 1893, closed two years ago and has sadly become a magnet for anti social behaviour including alcohol and drug misuse, leading to complaints from local residents. This is despite security being in place and with the Archdiocese saying they cannot keep it safe and secure Liverpool City Council has granted planning permission to demolish it.

The wider community has expressed concern at this decision, fearing graves may be disturbed. Claiming that it is an essential part of the West Derby Catholic community, and an important part of local heritage, an online petition has been set up which has so far attracted over 1,200 signatures.