Ploegsteert Wood lies some eight miles south of the city of Ypres (Ieper) and therefore, technically, just south of the area known as the Salient. There were no major battles fought here, although the Battle of Messines will loom large in our narrative throughout, and the wood itself remained in British hands for much of the war, but every day, week after week, month after month, year after year, men from both sides fought and died in the trenches and dressing stations within and surrounding the wood.
You will find a trench map to accompany this tour if you click on the Trench Maps link above; likewise a Google map showing the position of the places we shall visit is available by clicking the Tour Maps link, also above.
Our tour begins as we turn off the Ploegsteert-Messines (Mesen) road, where CWGC signposts point the way towards the British cemeteries on the northern edge of, and within, Ploegsteert Wood. Prowse Point Military Cemetery, our first port of call, was originally in use between November 1914 and April 1918, although the last burial, that of Australian private Alan James Mather, took place as recently as July 2010.
The road to Prowse Point, with the northern edge of Ploegsteert Wood on our right.
The classic view of Prowse Point Military Cemetery, with Ploegsteert Wood in the background. If you look carefully you can just see the second cemetery we will visit, Mud Corner, in the distance to the left of the Cross of Sacrifice. They say the pond is on the site of what was once the British front line, and I see no reason to believe that this wasn’t part of a trench system at some time, but the front line proper was actually some yards into the field behind us, as you can see if you peruse the trench map that I have thoughtfully provided to accompany this tour.
An information board (we will encounter many of these on our travels) outside the cemetery tells us a little about Major (later Brigadier General), C. B. Prowse DSO of the Somerset Light Infantry, after whom the cemetery is named. Prowse displayed great heroism during the fighting here in October 1914, but was later killed commanding the 11th Infantry Brigade on the first day on the Somme in 1916, and is buried at Louvencourt Military Cemetery. Prowse Point is the only cemetery in the Salient named after an individual.
The cemetery entrance, with Plot II Row C visible in the centre of the photograph.
Plot II Row C with Plot III in the background. The cemetery plan, by kind permission of the CWGC, can be found here: Prowse Point Military Cemetery Plan.
Plot II Row C contains some of the earliest graves in the cemetery, all of men killed in late 1914 during the weeks following the first battle of Ypres. Those pictured are, right to left:
|PRIVATE W. DUNNE||ROYAL DUBLIN FUSILIERS||u/k||20/11/1914||II C 6|
|PRIVATE J. McGUIRE||ROYAL DUBLIN FUSILIERS||44||20/11/1914||II C 6|
|PRIVATE J. GALLAGHER||ROYAL DUBLIN FUSILIERS||19||20/11/1914||II C 6|
|A SOLDIER OF THE GREAT WAR|
|PRIVATE C. ROUSE||ROYAL WARWICKSHIRE REGIMENT||u/k||25/11/1914||II C 4|
|PRIVATE G. BRADLEY||ROYAL WARWICKSHIRE REGIMENT||u/k||23/11/1914||II C 3|
|A SOLDIER OF THE GREAT WAR|
|PRIVATE T. A. LAVERACK||ROYAL DUBLIN FUSILIERS||u/k||28/11/1914||II C 1|
Headstones of Plot III. Mud Corner Cemetery can this time be clearly seen beyond.
Looking west at Plot I.
View looking north from near the south eastern edge of the Cemetery, with Plot III in the foreground and the Cross of Sacrifice on the skyline. It is worth noting that British troops operating in this area behind the front line (beyond the top of the hill) would at least have been safe from the guns of German snipers.
View across Plot IV at the south western edge of the cemetery, looking north east towards the Cross. At the time of writing, and with the exception of Tyne Cot, this is the only occasion I can remember encountering a coach load of visitors at any of the cemeteries I have visited. I have no idea whether this is a good thing or not.
View from Plot I of the Cross of Sacrifice.
Plot I. Front row, left to right:
|PRIVATE J. CARTWRIGHT||WORCESTERSHIRE REGIMENT||u/k||12/11/1915||I A 1|
|PRIVATE L. ROSENBERG||WORCESTERSHIRE REGIMENT||27||09/12/1915||I A 2|
|LANCE CORPORAL J. E. W. COLLETT||WORCESTERSHIRE REGIMENT||21||11/12/1915||I A 3|
|CORPORAL R. H. G. STOREY||OTAGO REGIMENT, N.Z.E.F.||23||15/06/1917||I A 4|
Plot II also contains the graves of men killed early in the war. Left to right:
|PRIVATE W. RAY||ROYAL WARWICKSHIRE REGIMENT||u/k||17/12/1914||II A 1|
|PRIVATE H. T. DAVIS||ROYAL WARWICKSHIRE REGIMENT||35||09/12/1914||II A 2|
|PRIVATE F. E. LONG||ROYAL WARWICKSHIRE REGIMENT||32||03/12/1914||II A 3|
|PRIVATE T. KEOGH||ROYAL DUBLIN FUSILIERS||25||29/11/1914||II A 4|
Beautiful Prowse Point Military Cemetery.
Looking north across the cornfields towards Messines church from the entrance to Prowse Point, in effect the British front line from late 1914 until June 1917. The German front line crossed the fields a couple of hundred yards away before turning south down the eastern edge of Ploegsteert Wood; these are the very fields where some of the famous 1914 Christmas truce photographs were taken. The 1st Battalion the Royal Warwickshires took part in the truce here; poignantly, a number of the graves in the previous photos are of 1st Battalion Warwickshire men killed just before Christmas. It makes you think.
Messines itself was in German hands for much of the war; consequently, by 1917 the church had been reduced to rubble by British artillery. And not just because Hitler served as a runner in the trenches hereabouts. The rebuilt church of St. Nicholas is a prominent and useful landmark when touring the area.
Immediately to the east of Prowse Point, CWGC signposts point us down the road towards Ploegsteert Wood.
Now, before we move on, if you wish to view a further series of photographs taken on a more recent visit, you might like to click on the following link: A Return to Prowse Point .
If not, our tour continues in ‘A Tour of Ploegsteert Wood – Part Two’, as we head down the track in the picture above towards our next stop, Mud Corner Cemetery.