MARK GARDINER (with help from Neil  Mackenzie)

A Tour of the Ypres Salient - May, 2007


Day Nine - Sunday 27 May

After a lazy morning doing some light shopping in Ypres and a light lunch on the market square, we departed Ypres heading North West to capture the remaining cemeteries on our schedule.

First was Solferino Farm Cemetery which is well off the beaten track, according to the visitors' book being lightly called upon, mostly by those with family connections. The cemetery is under renovation, and there are weeds in the lawn, and many rows of graves devoid of flowers, making it seem rather colourless. We were visiting: -

Acting Bombardier Albert Pickles of 'B' Bty. 159th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, who died on 24 October 1917 and is commemorated on the Accrington War Memorial.

Pioneer George Eames of 303rd Road Construction Coy. Royal Engineers, a labourer from Cranleigh near Guildford, Surrey, who had 1 daughter and 4 sons when he died on 15 November 1917 aged 49. On7 December 1916 he received a letter from Surrey County Council Surveyors Office encouraging him to enlist as men were urgently wanted, and he did so for the duration 12 days later. CWGC records originally had him recorded as "C Eames" but this has been corrected following Neil's intervention and with the help of Terry Denham from the Great War Forum.

Bleuet Farm Cemetery is sited in the middle of a field on the road from Boezinge to Elverdinge and can only be reached via a grass path. Formerly an Advanced Dressing Station, unsurprisingly this is another cemetery that is little visited, but the flowers add a little colour; there are quite a few casualties from Guards regiments buried here. We were visiting: -

Private Edgar Kay of 7th Bn. York & Lancaster Regiment, a greengrocer from early near Colne, Lancashire. He had enlisted in November 1916, arriving in France in February 1917, before being killed in action aged 26 on 17 August 1917.

Private Thomas Ricketts of 2nd Bn. South Wales Borderers, who died on 16 June 1917, and is commemorated on the Accrington War Memorial.

Passing through Elverdinge and heading towards Poperinge we came to Ferme-Olivier Cemetery, sited close to dressing stations for several field ambulances. The cemetery looks a little unkempt and the grass needed cutting. We were visiting an officer and other rank of 299th Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery, who both died on 24 June 1917: -

Second Lieutenant R E Everitt, the son of a lieutenant-colonel who was educated at Winchester and Worcester College, Oxford, and was a schoolmaster at King's School, Canterbury (possibly teaching George Juckes). He had enlisted in January 1916, seeing service in France with 141st Siege Battery, before being transferred to a cadet School at St. John's Wood in September 1916.

Gunner John Hogan, who had been born in Dublin, and was a pressman in Liverpool docks with four children (the youngest a daughter he never saw in the flesh). He enlisted in July 1916 after drinking in a pub with a friend - he was accepted but the friend rejected! He joined the 299th Siege Battery in France in April 1917, and was killed by a shell aged 33. His wife Mary, a bag mender, never forgave him for joining up and never remarried and died in 1978 aged 94. His daughter Winifred visited his grave for the first time when she was in her 80's.

Canada Farm Cemetery is another where the grass needs a mow and weeding; another site of a dressing station, surprisingly there were three artillery officers all from the same school buried here. We were visiting: -

Second Lieutenant Norman Kimpton of 1st (London) Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, from Streatham, South London, who had attended Whitgift Grammar School 1907-13 and was employed as a bank clerk. He joined the 5th (City of London) Bn. Rifle Brigade as a rifleman in September 1914, and landed in France in January 1915 where he was quickly discharged as unfit for duty following a bout of influenza that affected his heart. In May 1916 he joined 'B' Reserve Brigade Royal Field Artillery at St. John's Wood for a course of instruction as an officer cadet, and was commissioned in September 1916. In January 1917 he volunteered to work with trench mortars and was posted to 56th Divisional Ammunition Column, attached Z/56 Trench Mortar Battery. On 14 July 1917 he was injured by shell fire at Boesinghe and died of his wounds aged 20 at No.3 Field Ambulance. His Colonel advised that, although young: "This officer showed the qualities of a man twice his years, and by his absolute fearlessness, his thought for his men, and his thought for his 'job', endeared himself to all."

Private Stafford Hargreaves of 4th Bn. Coldstream Guards, who died aged 34 on 20 July 1917, and is commemorated on the Great Harwood War Memorial.

Second Lieutenant Colin Wise of 'A' Bty. 74th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, born in Sutton, Surrey but a native of Haywards Heath , who had also attended Whitgift Grammar School 1901-04, before being employed by AM Rothschild and the Royal Mail Steam Packet Co. He had enlisted as a territorial for four years in February 1910, and was mobilised on 5 August 1914 and joining the Honourable Artillery Company, eventually rising to the rank of Serjeant. Sent to Egypt in 1915 he saw service in Macedonia and was appointed Temporary Second Lieutenant By G.O.C. Egypt in March 1916. He suffered a Pott's Fracture (break & dislocation) of his left ankle whilst exercising horses in Salonika on 4 July 1916, and when he arrived at a military hospital in Malta he had also contracted Malaria, and it was recommended he be invalided to England. He returned to active service in France in January 1917, and on 31 July 1917 was killed when a shell exploded on his dugout at Boesinghe, aged 25. He was mentioned in despatches, and was highly esteemed by his commanding officers in both Macedonia and France, being recommended by both for promotion.

Lieutenant Reginald Hill MC of Royal Army Medical Corps attached to 1st Bn. Coldstream Guards, from Purley in Surrey (he was a member of the local Freemasons' Lodge) who attended Whitgift Grammar School 1902-04 and whose qualifications were: M.B, B.S., London. M.R.C.S., L.R.C.P., Eng. He had been a house physician at Barts Hospital, London, where he had won various prizes; house surgeon at Great Northern Hospital; the first surgeon to attend the Red Cross hospital attached to the Ottoman forces in Tripoli during war with Italy in 1912. He travelled from Brisbane to join up in January 1915, obtained a commission in Royal Field Artillery and went to France, thence Egypt until 1917. He had joined Royal Naval Air Service & was injured in a crash. Transferred to R.A.M.C. & attached to Coldstream Guards, he was awarded the Military Cross for conspicuous bravery and a fine devotion to duty during an attack on Pilckem Ridge on 31 July 1917. He was killed by a shell on 11 October 1917 aged 30, leaving a widow & one daughter. His chaplain said "he was very much loved and admired," whilst his Colonel stated "the men admired him."

Back on the road towards Poperinge is Gwalia Cemetery, another set in the middle of fields well away from the roadside. We were visiting: -

Second Lieutenant Percy Collis of 12th Bn. Hampshire Regiment from Southampton, a time-expired soldier from the 5th Battalion, who attested to the Dorset Regiment in December 1915, before transferring to the 2nd Reserve Casualty Regiment in February 1917 and joining an officer cadet battalion in April 1917. His unit were working on trenches and shelters on 31 July 1917 when they were shelled, and he died of wounds at 134th Field Ambulance.

Gunner Frederick Lees of 112th Bty. 24th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, on the anniversary of his death on 27 May 1918 aged 19.

After traversing the Poperinge ring road we commenced our run North, heading for home. The penultimate cemetery we were planning to visit was the large Dozinghem Military Cemetery, but the Belgians seemed determined to stop us achieving our aims.

The cemetery is accessed via a track through woods, but when we arrived the entire width of the track had been dug up, and was impassable even on foot. Refusing to be cowed, we made our way to the next turning, and tramped on foot across soaking fields to arrive. A huge trench had been dug from the road to inside the cemetery, passing in front of the Second World War graves, to the foundations of what seems to be planned as a permanent structure in one corner. The cemetery seems much improved since our last visit, with plants now visible in all but one plot, but this place does seem to have a gloomy air, surrounded by trees on two and a half sides. We were visiting: -

Second Lieutenant Stanley Veysey of 119th Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery from Croydon, who had attended Whitgift Middle School, been a chorister at St. Matthew's Church in Croydon, and was a master at Ware St. Mary's School in Hertfordshire. He had enlisted in 20th (County of London) Bn. London Regiment in September 1914 before transferring to 2/2nd London Division Cycling Coy. attached to 47th Division in March 1915 and going to France. In November 1916 he was sent to cadet school and was later commissioned into the R.G.A. On 20 September 1917 he suffered shrapnel wounds in thigh, hand, back and arm, and died the following day at 4th Casualty Clearing Station aged 27.

Lance Corporal Ernest Dickinson of 10th Bn. Royal Welsh Fusiliers from Harrogate, who died on 27 September 1917.

Private Albert Hawkins of 7th Bn. The Buffs (East Kent Regiment) from Gravesend, Kent, who died on 30 September 1917 aged 19.

Private Ernest Smith of 12th Bn. King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry - the Pioneer Battalion - from Wakefield who was working on the railway between Pimmern and Forest Hall near Passchendaele on 8 November 1917 when he was wounded by the same shell that killed the Kent & England cricketer Colin Blythe, and later died at 4th Casualty Clearing Station on 14 November 1917 aged 27.

Not to be outdone, the Belgians had decided to dig up the road to Westvleteren, and it took us some time to locate our last stopping place, Westvleteren Belgian Military Cemetery. The only Belgian military cemetery we were to visit, it is smartly kept although for some reason the flowers were not in bloom.

There is one British casualty buried here: Gunner Lewis Kennedy of 22nd Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery, and his plain headstone is hidden at the end of one row amongst the more unusual Belgian grave markers. The War Diary of 24th Heavy Artillery Group advised that in June 1916 the 22nd Siege Battery were attached to Group for tactics and administration and placed in the French area. On 17 June 1917 the Battery was near Vlamertinghe and amidst much hostile shelling one 12" Mk II howitzer was slightly damaged. Gnr. Kennedy was listed as being killed that day, and one wonders why his body was not later moved to another CWGC cemetery.

It was raining heavily now, and we were glad that somehow we'd managed to get fair, if not good, weather for almost all of our excursion. We set course for Calais and Blighty, arriving home in pouring rain and to the coldest May Bank Holiday for some years!

And finally....... what conclusions did we draw?

Copyright Mark Gardiner, March, 2008

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