MARK GARDINER (with help from Neil  Mackenzie)

A Tour of the Ypres Salient - May, 2007


Day Two - Sunday 20 May

This took in cemeteries to the immediate South of Ypres as far as Wijtschate and Kemmel, on a day which stared in bright sunshine but rapidly clouded over and ended in rain.

Our first stop was at Bedford House Cemetery which of all the large scale cemeteries we have visited is by far the most beautiful and well-laid out with a series of enclosures. It does raise the question of why the graves in some enclosures were moved out post-war to other cemeteries, whilst graves from other cemeteries were concentrated here. We were visiting: -

Private Ralph Cropper of 9th Bn. Cameroonians (Scottish Rifles) who died on 3 November 1915 and is commemorated on the Great Harwood War Memorial.

Rifleman Herbert Buckworth of 18th Bn. London Regiment (London Irish Rifles) who was an old boy of Whitgift Grammar School 1892-96 and served in the South African War with the Royal Fusiliers. He died aged 36 on 26 February 1917.

Private Edmund Barlow of 2nd Bn. East Lancashire Regiment who died on 18 August 1917 and is commemorated on the Great Harwood War Memorial.

Jemadar Muhammed Khan of 57th Wilde's Rifles (Frontier Force), whose date of death is given as 29 October 1914, although the war diary indicates he was among a number of casualties the following day in action with 5th Cavalry Brigade at Wytschaete. He is also listed on the Menin Gate as he was originally listed as missing, but CWGC are unsure if it is the same man, so have him listed twice rather than risk omitting a casualty.

Next to Spoilbank Cemetery which is a standard rectangular cemetery with red-brick retaining walls. We were visiting: -

Private William Simmons of 1st Bn. Lincolnshire Regiment on the anniversary of his death (20 May 1915).

Second Lieutenant Lewis Dickinson of 6th Bn. Sherwood Foresters (Notts & Derby Regiment) who had been a Company Serjeant major pre-war, held a long service medal, was a crack shot (won an award at Bisley in 1909) and was commissioned in March 1915. He was killed along with 12 men when a German mine was exploded under Dead Man's Trench at St. Eloi on 30 September 1915.

Chester Farm Cemetery is a short distance away from Spoilbank Cemetery and is of the same design. We were visiting: -

Private John Hart of 2nd Bn. Manchester Regiment on the anniversary of his death (20 May 1915).

Private Alfred Hollingshead of 1st/6th Bn. Sherwood Foresters (Notts & Derby Regiment) who may well have been killed in the same action as Second Lieutenant Dickinson (see above) on 30 September 1915.

We reverted to foot for the next three cemeteries which are on The Bluff. First was Woods Cemetery which was a front-line cemetery in the shade of a wood, and the ground is under renovation; this action is badly needed possibly due to the location and shade. We visited the grave of Lance Corporal Frank Duke of 4th Bn. Middlesex Regiment, who was a labourer in pre-war life and was killed by German trench mortar fire whilst in trenches around Hooge on 14 August 1915.

First D.C.L.I. Cemetery (The Bluff) is a short walk way, and is visually very disappointing as, uniquely among the 170 cemeteries we were to visit, there are no flowers or shrubs present; there is also no registry box. (We later learned that this cemetery was in the process of renovation, although this was not obvious during our visit.) We visited Private Michael O'Keefe of 1st Bn. Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, who was 1 of 3 men killed on 20 May 1915 by enemy bombardment and machine-gun fire (the two others, W Parkes and C Mitchell, are buried next to O'Keefe). On our return to England we did enquire as to whether we could help fund the planting of flowers and shrubs in this cemetery but, while CWGC do accept donations, they go into a central pot and you cannot specify what the funds are to be used for.

Hedge Row Trench Cemetery is an unusual design, with special memorials arranged in a circle. We visited the memorial to Second Lieutenant John Hawkins of 22nd Bn. London Regiment, who enlisted in the Honourable Artillery Company in November 1915 and was commissioned in January 1917. He was killed in action on either 23 (according to service record) or 24 (according to CWGC) July 1917.

Back on four wheels, with what seems to be the only golf course in Belgium (or at least the only one we've ever seen!) behind its rear wall, Oak Dump Cemetery is another traditional red-brick walled burial ground. We visited: -

Rifleman Herbert Carver of 1st/8th Bn. London Regiment (Post Office Rifles) who lived in Brighton Road, Coulsdon, and is commemorated on both the Purley & Coulsdon and Coulsdon war memorials. He died on 19 July 1917 aged 28.

Corporal William Francis of 10th Bn. Army Cyclist Corps from Ulster with a chequered disciplinary record in 36th (Ulster) Division Cyclist Corps. He was killed in action on 6 July 1917.

Bus House Cemetery contains several graves of men of the B.E.F. who died trying to hold the Ypres - Comines Canal in May 1940. The grave of Gunner John Ashhurst (Australian Field Artillery) had recently been visited by pupils from his former school. We were visiting Lance Corporal Thomas Thurtle of 11th Bn. Royal Sussex Regt. who was killed when the trenches around Hollebeke were shelled on the night of 14 August 1917.

A large cemetery (which we sailed blithely past first time!) containing graves concentrated from all over the Salient during the war, Oosttaverne Wood Cemetery contains the grave of Captain Arthur Thomas Chapman of 3rd Bn. East Surrey Regiment. He had joined the army in 1888, was a veteran of the South African War, and had been commissioned into King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment. He lived in Coulsdon and seems to have been a considerable local figure, being chairman of Messrs. Chapman & Sons Builders Merchants, involved in the formation of St. Andrews church district and the building of the Smitham Downs estate. He was also an old boy of Whitgift Middle School (now Trinity School) in Croydon. Capt. Chapman was attached to 1st Bn. Hampshire Regiment and killed in action on 26 April 1915 by enemy enfilade fire on Gravenstafel Ridge. It is reasonable to assume that his body was buried by the Germans and later moved several miles to this cemetery after the war.

Somer Farm Cemetery is a small, narrow cemetery without a registry box. We visited: -

Gunner Charley Lowden of 227th Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery, who died on 9 October 1918 and is commemorated on the Accrington War Memorial.

Private Charles Goodacre of 8th Bn. North Staffordshire Regiment (originally 3rd Bn. Leicestershire Regiment) who joined up in December 1915 and died on 27 July 1917.

After lunch in Wijtschate, we arrived in the rain at Wyteschaete Military Cemetery, which is well laid out on the slopes leading down to Wyteschaete Wood, and contains many men of the 2nd Bn. Loyal North Lancashire Regiment who stormed the village in September 1918. We visited one of these brave men, Private Arthur Aldred, who had enlisted in January 1915 and was killed on 29 September 1918.

Irish House Cemetery is a small cemetery behind a farm reached via a long path; it is typically peaceful and contains several Scots buried by the Irish. One of these is Lieutenant William Dobie of 1st Bn. Gordon Highlanders who had joined the army in 1903, served with both the Royal Highlanders and the Black Watch in the ranks before being commissioned into the Gordon Highlanders in August 1911. During an ultimately unsuccessful attack on the Maedelsteed Spur on 14 December 1914 he was wounded in the thigh, and apparently killed whilst returning to summon up reinforcements. His body lay in front of the German trenches for two & a half years before being found by Colonel Oliphant of the Royal Irish Rifles.

Kemmel Churchyard has a small grass plot containing the majority of the CWGC burials, but the memorial to Second Lieutenant Frederick Harding Turner of 10th Bn. The King's (Liverpool Regiment) is in an isolated plot. Freddy Turner captained Oxford University at rugby, and was capped 15 times by Scotland, becoming captain of the national side in 1914. He was killed on 10 January 1915 in a trench occupied by his platoon of the Liverpool Scottish when overseeing the organisation of a barbed wire entanglement.

Onto Kemmel Chateau Military Cemetery where the flowers are beautiful but it looks so dreary in the rain. Several headstones have been removed for repair or replacement. We were visiting: -

Private Stanley Stewart of 2nd Bn. Royal Scots Fusiliers who had been in France from November 1914, and had already been invalided home wounded and with shell shock. Went absent on 25 July 1917 and was executed aged 21 on 29 August 1917 at Kemmel despite claiming he had been in a lunatic asylum for 4 years before the war.

Lance Corporal Robert Dugdale of 20th Bn. The King's (Liverpool Regiment) who died on 19 October 1917. His wife lived at Clitheroe and he is commemorated on the Great Harwood War Memorial.

When Neil and I had last visited La Laiterie Military Cemetery the grass had been carpeted with leaves from the wood next door. These had been cleared, which shows the amount of work put in by the CWGC. We were visiting: -

Private Joseph Lavender of 13th Bn. The King's (Liverpool Regiment), who as a labourer enlisted at Seaforth in August 1914 and died on 21 May 1918.

Signaller Ernest Grime of "D"Battery, 149th Bde. Royal Field Artillery from Darwen, Lancashire, who died of wounds on 9 October 1918, aged 21; he was standing in a dugout entrance when a gas shell exploded nearby.

Some distance away Croonaert Chapel Cemetery stands in the middle of ploughed fields between Hollandschur Farm and the Bayernwald, and can only be reached by a long chemin. There is no registry box in this small, very isolated spot. We were visiting: -

Private Vincent Wardleworth of 7th Bn. East Lancashire Regiment who died on 7 June 1917; his family came from Clitheroe and he is commemorated on the Accrington War Memorial.

Battery Serjeant Major Charles Thoel of 331st Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery from Everton, Liverpool. He had enlisted in 1915 and was appointed Acting BSM on 26 August 1917 before being killed in action on 24 September 1917.

Elzenwalle Brasserie Cemetery stands on the Kemmel - Ypres road; the brasserie is still opposite, but there is a rural feel thanks to the herd of cows fenced off at the rear of the cemetery. We were visiting: -

Private Nelson Caldwell of 1st Bn. Wiltshire Regiment from Marlborough on the anniversary of his death, 20 May 1915.

Captain Henry Bartram Stokoe of 6th Bn. King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry from Tonbridge, Kent. He was made a Temporary Captain on 5 October 1915, and killed by accident when a rifle grenade exploded upon firing in the trenches on 12 October 1915, severely wounding Capt. Stokoe who died within 5 minutes. A hearing at Watou Rest Camp blamed a defective Hales rifle grenade, but the Head Adjutant of V Corps refuted this on the evidence given, stating that as the officer in command the blame lay upon Capt. Stokoe.

Lieutenant Edwin Winwood Robinson of 5th (Royal Irish) Lancers is the only CWGC burial in a cramped little plot in Voormezele Churchyard, although there are lovely flowering shrubs. One has to ask why the grave was not transferred post war to one of the nearby enclosures. CWGC records give his date of death as 25 October 1914, but his service record states he was "killed in action at St. Eloi on 27 October 1914 (accidentally)". A letter dated 1 February 1915 states Lt. Robinson was "buried close to the Church Wall in the N.E. corner of the Churchyard at Voormezele, Belgium. The grave is marked with a wooden cross bearing his rank & name & the Regiment to which he belonged."

In Voormezeele Enclosures No.1 and 2 Neil has questioned why a number of the special memorials have been moved from their original position (as marked on the cemetery plan) to form a new row in plot II. One of these memorials is to Private Aaron Bailey of 25th Bn. Canadian Infantry (Nova Scotia Regiment) who was killed by shellfire on 27 April 1916.

Our final halt was at Voormezeele Enclosure No.3 where the headstones have weathered remarkably well considering the exposed position of the graves. We were visiting: -

Lieutenant Thomas Warren Purves of 23rd Bn. Middlesex Regiment, who lived at Plough Lane, Purley and is commemorated on the Purley & Coulsdon War Memorial. An old boy of Whitgift Grammar School 1911-12 he enlisted in 14th Bn. London Regiment (London Scottish) in August 1914, saw action at Messines, Ypres and the Somme (earning the Mons Star), and was severely wounded by shrapnel in November 1914. He was commissioned in August 1915 and was killed by shellfire on the night of 7 June 1917, being originally buried at Shelley Farm, Voormezele.

Private Charles Holden of 9th Bn. Royal Welsh Fusiliers, who died on 8 May 1918; his family came from Accrington and he is commemorated on the Accrington War Memorial.

Second Lieutenant Leonard Middleton of 53rd Squadron, Royal Flying Corps who lived at Sanderstead and is commemorated on the Purley & Coulsdon War Memorial. An old boy of Whitgift Grammar School 1908-12. He joined the Royal Engineers Pionerr Corps in September 1914 as a Corporal and was posted to 1st cavalry Division as a despatch rider, earning the 1914 medal, and seeing action at Messines, Ypres, Loos, the Somme and the Ancre. In June 1916 he transferred to 2nd Army HQ Signals Co. On 29 December 1916 commissioned as Temporary Second Lieutenant on probation & appointed to RFC; served next 7 months as artillery observer. On 25 July 1917 ordered to Reading for instruction in aviation & subsequently gained his wings. Reported missing whilst on artillery observation duty on 8 November 1917 he was the pilot of RE 8 A4664 with 2Lt Frederick James McCullough (formerly Royal Garrison Artillery) as observer, who is buried in the neighbouring grave. The aeroplane was hit by a shell while on an artillery observation mission. Death confirmed on 23 November by Lt. Cameron (10th Bn. Loyal North Lancashire Regt.) who reported "close to one of my shell hole posts we came across the remains of an aeroplane and those of Lt. L.W. Middleton RFC (according to the address on an envelope found near him) also a cheque book and small diary. We have laid to rest this gallant officer in a true soldier's grave close to Hollebeke Church." War Office letter later stated: "In the process of exhumation of isolated graves into cemeteries, the grave of 2nd Lt. L.W. Middleton, RFC, was located at a point just west of Hollebeke [map ref. O.11.b.95.70 Hollebeke part of sheet 28] and his remains have been re-interred in Voormezele Enclosure No.3 Extension, South of Ypres. The new grave has been duly marked and registered. The re-burial has been carefully and reverently carried out."

Day Two ended with us having covered 25 miles in 7 hours and we returned to Ypres. John and Alison were now sharing Le Chat Noir with us and a steak dinner at Cyper after the Menin Gate has never tasted better!

Continue reading the Salient Tour Account - DAY 3

Copyright Mark Gardiner, March, 2008

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