French graves in Alresford cemetery

At the time of the Napoleonic Wars with France, the naval battles, many in the West Indies, resulted in many French prisoner of war being brought back to England. Most of the lower ranking sailors and soldiers were incarcerated in the ships known as Prison Hulks, moored in Portsmouth harbour. Some of the sailors volunteered to serve on board British ships, rather than being left to rot in these prisons, according to many of the novels of the time.

But the higher ranking officers were allocated to one of the eleven parole towns around Hampshire, one of which was Alresford. The Hampshire History website tells us that they were billeted around the town at what was considered suitable housing. They were allowed certain freedoms but their movements were restricted. They could not venture more than a mile from the centre of town, nor could they go out after dark. Local residents were rewarded for informing upon the prisoners should they break their restrictive conditions. It was in the interests of the prisoners not to break their parole as the alternative was to be incarcerated on the prison hulks that lay in Portsmouth Harbour.

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There are five marked graves in Alresford, opposite the West door of St John’s Church, under the cherry tree and against the wall of the Swan Hotel extension, where some of these soldiers who died in Alresford are buried: all the gravestones have black outlining at the edge, and have black print. In fact one grave is of the wife of a Captain in the Imperial Artillery Corps, who accompanied him on his assignment. The French army did not discourage women from accompanying their lovers and husbands into war. Some found their way onto the battlefield itself and were found wearing uniform jackets and trousers. The grave in Alresford is that of Marie Louise V Fournier, who died 11th April 1812, aged 44 years. She was the wife of Francois Bertet.

 

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The other four prisoners whose graves can be seen are as follows:

  • Joseph Hypolite Riouffe, died 12th December 1810, aged 28 years. Serving as Marine in the Imperial and Royale.

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  • Pierre Garnier, died 31st July 1810. Serving as a Lieutenant in the French Infantry 66th Regiment.

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  • C Lavau, died 23rd December 1811, aged 29 years. An officer of commerce.

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  • Jean de Thiulle, died 6th April 1812, aged 51 years. A Lieutenant in the Artillery.

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The parish registers record further unmarked burials of other prisoners, not all of them Napoleonic soldiers:

  • 1794: St Aubin, a French prisoner on parole.
  • 1796:  July 11th,  Baptiste Guillaume Jousemme, aged 21 years, born in Castillones, a prisoner on parole.
  • 1803:  June 27th, Thomas Monclerc, 42 years, a French servant.
  • 1809:  December 12th, Jean Charbonier, a French prisoner.

A plaque positioned in front of the marked graves above explains the history of the prisoners.

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It also points out the crucifix engraved in the wall above the West entrance to the Church, which is dated at around 1050.

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