Dolphinholme war memorial mystery solved

Commonwealth Graves volunteer Shaun Corkerry investigates why French officer Guy de Puyfontaine is commemorated locally in Lancashire

Thursday, 2nd September 2021, 3:45 pm
Guy de Puyfontaine in the uniform of the 9th Regiment of Cuirassiers.
Guy de Puyfontaine in the uniform of the 9th Regiment of Cuirassiers.

haun Corkerry is a volunteer for the Commonwealth war graves commission living in Galgate, and he monitors the condition of some local war graves including those at Dolphinholme.

When you look at the War Memorial there is a “Guy de Puyfontaine” listed on it.

There has been speculation in the pages of the Grapevine (which is the Dolphinholme village magazine) in 2006, which correctly identified Guy as ‘Capitaine Guy Eugene Antoine August Conte Roy de Puyfontaine’.

Guy de Puyfontaine as a Captain in his Regimental Uniform.

At the time though, it could not be established what his link to Dolphinholme was. To recap a little first, the relevant facts are as follows:

Guy was born on August 24, 1877, to an aristocratic family, he was a professional soldier graduating from the French military Academy at St Cyr in 1899.

He graduated with the “Bourbaki” class (all St Cyr classes choose a name for themselves, General Bourbaki being a hero of the Franco-Prussian War.)

Guy was then commissioned into the French Cavalry, we know he was married on November 24 1904, to Fernande Louise Francoise Elisabeth Balny d’Avricourt and his wedding guest list was a stella catalogue of the French nobility.

French Dragoons in dashing mounted action- a somewhat optimistic view!

Guy’s father Antoine (1841-91) had been an ambassador. At the time Guy was a lieutenant in the 4th Hussars. Notably there were a couple of English names on the guest list as well.

Now for the Dolphinholme connection!

In February 1912 the “Sketch” a popular magazine of the day, ran a feature on international golf courses, particularly in the Paris Area.

The reporter wrote: “I took tea at Fontainbleau with M. Le Comte de Puyfontaine who exercises a kind of governorship of the course and he told me he learned his golf 25 years ago at a place near Lancaster…”

Guy de Puyfontaine is commemorated on a memorial in Avricourt, a small village of about 220 people in Picardy.

Lancaster Golf Club in the 19th century moved around a bit: Caton Road Dolphin Lee was the third Lancaster Golf Club being preceded by Sand Villa Cockerham (1889-1901) then Scale Hall (1901–1905). Of course, the family could have played at one or all of these courses.

In the 2006 Grapevine one elderly resident was said to have connected the name with Wyreside hall, which sounds very likely.

The golf fanatic Comte (who may in the interview be Guy’s elder brother) and his family may have been frequent visitors and well known to the villagers.

Guy continued with his military career, (overseas service was not common in the metropolitan French Army of the day, nor was frequent move of garrison) he seems to have also served in the 9th Regiment of Cuirassiers (Dragoons have white collars) as a first Lieutenant according to his Kepi rank insignia in the picture.

A French Dragoon of 1914.

By 1914, Guy was commanding the 4th Squadron of the 5th Dragoon Regiment, based at Compiègne (a squadron was around 170 men-there were four squadrons to a regiment).

The regiment went into action immediately to meet the German invasion.

On July 31, 1914, the regiment was assigned to the Sordet cavalry corps, brigaded with the 21st Dragoons in General Lastour’s 5th Division. From August 23 to September 4, the regiment covered the retreat of the French Army after the defeat at the Battle of Charleroi.

In the “Race to the Sea” from September 14, the 5th Dragoons crossed the Somme at Péronne, fighting in the First Battle of Arras, Picardy, in Lens on October 4, an attack by foot in Riez-Bailleul where it pushed the enemy back several kilometres.

Guy was evidently a brave and efficient soldier, winning the Legion d’honneur, as well as the Croix de Guerre with Palm (an army citation) and silver gilt star (étoile vermeil-an army corps citation). His citation reads:

“Very energetic under fire, where he showed real leadership qualities, he particularly distinguished himself on the August 26 and September 21.

Lancaster Golf Club (pictured 1905-32).

“Maintained his squadron on foot in support of artillery, under an intense heavy bombardment. Killed in the middle of his skirmishers 2 October 1914.”

Guy was killed in action at Athies in North-Eastern France (the town is east of Arras near Monchy-le-Prieux) As well as at St Cyr, he is commemorated on a memorial in Avricourt, a small village of about 220 people in Picardy. This was his wife’s village and birthplace.

His death was legally registered in 1916 at Compiègne. He appears to have no known grave.

In his youth Guy may have dreamed of leading his men to battle on horseback fighting with l’Arme blanche

(the traditional sabre and lance of cavalry) but like so many other Dragoons he

met his end fighting as infantry.

Of his class at St Cyr 575 cadets were appointed as officers and 172 died for France (a loss rate of 30%) and of course many more would be wounded to varying degrees.

His wife remarried in 1918. It is a marvellous thing that Guy is commemorated here in Lancashire and that he was so popular with the villagers of Dolphinholme to be listed as one of their own.