Just south of Mud Corner Cemetery, CWGC signposts point the way towards the entrance to Ploegsteert Wood and the three cemeteries within.
To the left of the gate in the previous picture a helpful CWGC board gives information about the role played by Ploegsteert Wood during the War. The photograph at the bottom left of the board, taken in 1914, is of a relatively undamaged Moated Farm, described later in the war as nothing but a “fortified ruin surrounded by ten feet of water”.
Once inside the wood, more CWGC signs keep us on the right track.
The wood itself is criss-crossed by paths, tracks, rides and firebreaks…
…paths, tracks, ditches…
…ditches, old communication trenches? The wood still bears evidence of less peaceful times.
Time to head east, along the northern edge of the wood, towards Toronto Avenue Cemetery.
Toronto Avenue Cemetery, bathed in sunlight at the end of the track.
Tree stump near the cemetery entrance. With apologies to Mallory…because it’s there.
Toronto Avenue Cemetery. Moated Farm was situated just outside the wood near here, and the cemetery was named after a communication trench that led north from there towards the British front line in the fields beyond. The cemetery was only in use at the start of the Battle of Messines, between the 7th and 10th of June 1917. And it contains no Canadians; despite the name, all 78 burials are Australian.
The Cemetery Plan, by kind permission of the CWGC, can be found here:
Rather curious that the cemetery entrance is inscribed 1917-1918, considering it contains no graves at all from 1918.
View looking north east across Row A in the foreground towards the Cross of Sacrifice. Don’t forget that we are still only a few hundred yards from the British front line, which ran in a roughly north westerly/south easterly direction through the fields beyond, and not far east of this point the front lines curved south until they ran in a north/south direction down the eastern edge of the wood. Unlike today, this would not have been a healthy place to hang around in back in 1917.
The Cross of Sacrifice, with Row B in front. Left to right:
|PRIVATE H. SCHIPPER||AUSTRALIAN INFANTRY, A.I.F.||u/k||09/06/1917||B 25|
|PRIVATE J. B. BENTLEY||AUSTRALIAN INFANTRY, A.I.F.||u/k||10/06/1917||B 24|
|PRIVATE C. WRIGHT||AUSTRALIAN INFANTRY, A.I.F.||u/k||10/06/1917||B 23|
|PRIVATE M. McNAMARA||AUSTRALIAN INFANTRY, A.I.F.||30||10/06/1917||B 22|
|PRIVATE P. H. SIEMAN||AUSTRALIAN INFANTRY, A.I.F.||30||10/06/1917||B 21|
The Cross of Sacrifice, with Row B in front and Row C in the background.
To the right of the Cross stands the lone grave of Captain Francis J. Piggott, with the somewhat unusual grave reference of “End of Row C”.
Three headstones in Row B, all killed on the first day of the Battle of Messines, 7th June 1917. Aussies far from home. Someone left the photograph of Private Hennessy at the foot of his headstone. I wonder how far they came to do so?
Row C (with the exception of Captain Piggott), with Row B in the right foreground.
Row A to the right, Row B to the left, with the Land Tablet in the background. Captain Piggott’s grave is just visible in the background beyond the Cross. The fact that we are still near the edge of the wood can be clearly seen through the trees.
One last look over our shoulder at the Cross of Sacrifice before it’s time to head off deeper into the wood to find our next stop, Ploegsteert Wood Military Cemetery.