We retrace our steps down the path, before turning left to go south into the heart of the wood.
The main communication trench running in an east/west direction through the wood, and which followed the course of one of the pre-war rides, was known as the Strand. Actually, due to the nature of the terrain, much of it consisted of a planked track rather than a trench as we know it, but it was still considered a reasonably safe way to transport equipment up to the lines, or evacuate wounded to the dressing stations in Ploegsteert village. Today the Strand still exists, as this photograph shows.
By the way, the proliferation of names connected to areas of London (as well as the Strand, if you look at the accompanying trench map of the wood, you will find Regent Street, Charing Cross, Oxford Circus, Piccadilly Circus, Haymarket and others) given by the troops to various landmarks, trenches and so on within the wood was entirely due to the men of the London Rifle Brigade, one of the wood’s first occupants in late 1914.
Deeper into the wood, another ride crosses the track.
In time we arrive at Ploegsteert Wood Military Cemetery, made up of the enclosure of a number of small regimental cemeteries situated in this part of the wood. The cemetery was mainly in use between December 1914 and December 1915, although there are some burials from 1916 and the New Zealand Division did bury a small number of their dead here in July and August 1917.
As we enter the cemetery, lo and behold, the sun breakes through! You really did need to be there, but Ploegsteert Wood, unsurprisingly, is a strange place to take a stroll in if you know its history, and you can’t help but feel the ghosts of times past watching you as you pass by. Walking along the wood’s tracks and paths, you know that you really are walking in the very footsteps of the men who fought and died here, the men who are still here, in the cemeteries, or perhaps beneath your very feet when you stray from the path. It’s a dark wood at times too, so to arrive at this little clearing at the same time as the sun was a magical moment for old Balders and me. You’ll just have to take my word for it.
The cemetery plan, by kind permission of the CWGC, can be found here:
Looking back at the left hand side of Plot IV, with the cemetery entrance behind and darkness beyond (I told you it can be a dark wood). Row A, nearest camera, left to right:
|PRIVATE W. STONES||THE LOYAL NORTH LANCASHIRE REGIMENT||30||30/12/1915||IV A 1|
|PRIVATE T. HASLAM||THE LOYAL NORTH LANCASHIRE REGIMENT||u/k||30/12/1915||IV A 2|
|PRIVATE R. ARNOLD||THE LOYAL NORTH LANCASHIRE REGIMENT||u/k||30/12/1915||IV A 3|
|LANCE SERJEANT S. KAY||THE LOYAL NORTH LANCASHIRE REGIMENT||u/k||31/12/1915||IV A 4|
Above left: Behind the North Lancs men in Plot IV are Ox & Bucks graves. Front row, left to right:
|PRIVATE C. T. COOPER||OXFORD & BUCKS LIGHT INFANTRY||u/k||09/05/1915||IV B 1|
|PRIVATE L. POWELL||OXFORD & BUCKS LIGHT INFANTRY||u/k||16/05/1915||IV B 2|
Above right: The right hand side of Plot IV, with the cemetery entrance again in the background. Front row, left to right:
|LANCE CORPORAL W. CLEGG||THE LOYAL NORTH LANCASHIRE REGIMENT||25||21/01/1916||IV A 5|
|PRIVATE J. T. BUSTARD||THE LOYAL NORTH LANCASHIRE REGIMENT||36||21/01/1916||IV A 6|
Looking across the cemetery from the edge of Plot III, with Plot I in the background. Plot IV (previous photos) is out of picture to our right. The Wiltshires buried a handful of their men here in late 1915 and early 1916. The two headstones nearest the camera in Row J are, right to left:
|PRIVATE G. J. MAHONEY||WILTSHIRE REGIMENT||19||30/10/1915||III J 3|
|PRIVATE L. GREENHALGH||THE LOYAL NORTH LANCASHIRE REGIMENT||22||31/10/1915||III J 2|
Looking down the length of Plot I. Plot II is just visible in the left background. The five New Zealand graves in Row G nearest the camera are, left to right:
|PRIVATE C. W. DODDS||CANTERBURY REGIMENT, N.Z.E.F.||28||16/08/1917||I G 1|
|PRIVATE J. M. MATHIESON||CANTERBURY REGIMENT, N.Z.E.F.||23||31/07/1917||I G 2|
|PRIVATE F. A. SMITH||CANTERBURY REGIMENT, N.Z.E.F.||u/k||31/07/1917||I G 3|
|PRIVATE E. J. WAY||CANTERBURY REGIMENT, N.Z.E.F.||u/k||31/07/1917||I G 4|
|PRIVATE R. HANNAH||CANTERBURY REGIMENT, N.Z.E.F.||28||31/07/1917||I G 5|
Still life with butterfly.
Another New Zealand headstone, another Belgian butterfly.
Two machine gunners in Plot I, left to right:
|A SOLDIER OF THE GREAT WAR||MACHINE GUN CORPS|
|PRIVATE A. J. GREEN||MACHINE GUN CORPS (INFANTRY)||34||10/02/1917||I E 2|
The Cross of Sacrifice viewed across the headstones of Plot I.
Shadows and light. Looking from Plot II towards Plot I and the Cross of Sacrifice beyond. In case you’ve lost your bearings the two brick pillars on either side of the cemetery entrance can be clearly seen to the left of the Cross. Got them? Good.
Plot II was started by the Somerset Light Infantry in December 1914 and contains the earliest burials in the cemetery, all the headstones in this and the next few photographs being from the Somersets. In the foreground is Row B, in the right background Row C.
Row B continues to the right of the previous photograph, with Row C behind.
The final headstone in Row B, that of Captain C. C. Maud DSO.
|CAPTAIN C. C. MAUD D.S.O.||SOMERSET LIGHT INFANTRY||39||19/12/1914||II B 2|
Many of the Somerset men (including Captain Maud) buried in Plot II were killed on the 19th December 1914 during the unsuccessful attack on the German strongpoint known as the Birdcage, the site of which, just beyond the eastern boundary of the wood, we shall visit towards the end of our tour. The attack on the Birdcage was intended to prevent the Germans from moving troops further south, where a French offensive was taking place near Arras. On 19th December 1914, men from the Rifle Brigade, the Hampshire Regiment and the Somerset Light Infantry left the confines of the wood to cross No Man’s Land. An hour later, 74 of them were dead and a further 150 had been either wounded or were missing. Only the Somersets had succeeded in capturing the enemy trenches facing them, and they continued to take casualties, not only from German machine guns, but also from their own artillery, which was still firing on the German positions. The attack was called off, and the Birdcage would remain in German hands for a further three and a half years.
This is Row C, right to left:
|PRIVATE G. JAMES||SOMERSET LIGHT INFANTRY||39||19/12/1914||II C 2|
|PRIVATE A. G. EVANS||SOMERSET LIGHT INFANTRY||u/k||19/12/1914||II C 2|
|PRIVATE C. BLIGHT||SOMERSET LIGHT INFANTRY||25||19/12/1914||II C 2|
|CORPORAL T. J. BENSON||SOMERSET LIGHT INFANTRY||u/k||19/12/1914||II C 2|
|PRIVATE J. E. HILL||SOMERSET LIGHT INFANTRY||u/k||31/12/1914||II C 1|
|PRIVATE W. J. DURMAN||SOMERSET LIGHT INFANTRY||19||31/12/1914||II C 1|
New Zealand soldiers in Plot I Row AA. Left to right:
|PRIVATE L. G. ARNOLD||CANTERBURY REGIMENT, N.Z.E.F.||29||10/08/1917||I AA 1|
|PRIVATE A. HARRISON||OTAGO REGIMENT, N.Z.E.F.||22||06/08/1917||I AA 2|
Men of the New Zealander Rifle Brigade buried in Plot III. All killed on the same day, all given the same Plot number. Headstones nearly touching. You work it out. Left to right:
|RIFLEMAN F. STEVENS||NEW ZEALAND RIFLE BRIGADE||29||20/06/1917||III A 9|
|RIFLEMAN H. D. PUCKRIDGE||NEW ZEALAND RIFLE BRIGADE||24||20/06/1917||III A 9|
|RIFLEMAN R. MAWHINNEY||NEW ZEALAND RIFLE BRIGADE||23||20/06/1917||III A 9|
|CORPORAL H. J. JEFFERY DCM||NEW ZEALAND RIFLE BRIGADE||26||20/06/1917||III A 9|
One of just three King’s Liverpool Regiment men buried in Plot III in 1915.
|PRIVATE C. BIRKENHEAD||THE KING'S (LIVERPOOL REGIMENT)||u/k||18/10/1915||III A 7|
A final view of Plot III, this time of Canadian graves, also from 1915, before it’s time to leave.
Maybe a shell hole, but more likely a collapsed dugout. Ok, so this is a blurred photograph of some uneven ground. Ok, if you complain loud enough I shall remove it. Ok? Let’s head for Rifle House, shall we?