A Tour of Ploegsteert Wood Part Four – Ploegsteert Wood Military Cemetery

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:

Ploegsteert Wood Military Cemetery Plan

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 REGIMENT3030/12/1915IV A 1
PRIVATE T. HASLAMTHE LOYAL NORTH LANCASHIRE REGIMENTu/k30/12/1915IV A 2
PRIVATE R. ARNOLDTHE LOYAL NORTH LANCASHIRE REGIMENTu/k30/12/1915IV A 3
LANCE SERJEANT S. KAYTHE LOYAL NORTH LANCASHIRE REGIMENTu/k31/12/1915IV 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 INFANTRYu/k09/05/1915IV B 1
PRIVATE L. POWELL OXFORD & BUCKS LIGHT INFANTRYu/k16/05/1915IV 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. CLEGGTHE LOYAL NORTH LANCASHIRE REGIMENT2521/01/1916IV A 5
PRIVATE J. T. BUSTARDTHE LOYAL NORTH LANCASHIRE REGIMENT3621/01/1916IV 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. MAHONEYWILTSHIRE REGIMENT 1930/10/1915III J 3
PRIVATE L. GREENHALGHTHE LOYAL NORTH LANCASHIRE REGIMENT2231/10/1915III 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. DODDSCANTERBURY REGIMENT, N.Z.E.F.2816/08/1917I G 1
PRIVATE J. M. MATHIESONCANTERBURY REGIMENT, N.Z.E.F.2331/07/1917I G 2
PRIVATE F. A. SMITHCANTERBURY REGIMENT, N.Z.E.F.u/k31/07/1917I G 3
PRIVATE E. J. WAYCANTERBURY REGIMENT, N.Z.E.F.u/k31/07/1917I G 4
PRIVATE R. HANNAHCANTERBURY REGIMENT, N.Z.E.F.2831/07/1917I 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 WARMACHINE GUN CORPS
PRIVATE A. J. GREENMACHINE GUN CORPS (INFANTRY)3410/02/1917I 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 INFANTRY3919/12/1914II 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 INFANTRY3919/12/1914II C 2
PRIVATE A. G. EVANSSOMERSET LIGHT INFANTRYu/k19/12/1914II C 2
PRIVATE C. BLIGHT SOMERSET LIGHT INFANTRY2519/12/1914II C 2
CORPORAL T. J. BENSONSOMERSET LIGHT INFANTRYu/k19/12/1914II C 2
PRIVATE J. E. HILLSOMERSET LIGHT INFANTRYu/k31/12/1914II C 1
PRIVATE W. J. DURMANSOMERSET LIGHT INFANTRY1931/12/1914II C 1

New Zealand soldiers in Plot I Row AA.  Left to right:

PRIVATE L. G. ARNOLDCANTERBURY REGIMENT, N.Z.E.F.2910/08/1917I AA 1
PRIVATE A. HARRISONOTAGO REGIMENT, N.Z.E.F.2206/08/1917I 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. STEVENSNEW ZEALAND RIFLE BRIGADE 2920/06/1917III A 9
RIFLEMAN H. D. PUCKRIDGE NEW ZEALAND RIFLE BRIGADE 2420/06/1917III A 9
RIFLEMAN R. MAWHINNEYNEW ZEALAND RIFLE BRIGADE 2320/06/1917III A 9
CORPORAL H. J. JEFFERY DCMNEW ZEALAND RIFLE BRIGADE 2620/06/1917III A 9

One of just three King’s Liverpool Regiment men buried in Plot III in 1915.

PRIVATE C. BIRKENHEADTHE KING'S (LIVERPOOL REGIMENT)u/k18/10/1915III 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?

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12 Responses to A Tour of Ploegsteert Wood Part Four – Ploegsteert Wood Military Cemetery

  1. James McArthur says:

    I visited this area a few years ago and as I’m from Somerset decided to investigate what the Somerset LI had been doing in the area – I got a copy of the War Diary and it states that some of the men they buried in Ploegsteert Wood Cemetery (Including CC Maud) were actually recovered during the Chrismas Truce 1914 having being killed during the attack on the Birdcage on the 19th December and are still in the same place. Great site you’ve created and Ploegsteert is a great place to visit.

  2. Magicfingers says:

    As I mention in the post, quite a few men buried here were killed in the Birdcage attack, so it makes absolute sense to me that they were recovered during the truce a week later. Glad you’re enjoying the site James. You’ll find plenty of stuff about the Birdcage, if you haven’t already, in Part Eleven of the Ploegsteert Tour.

  3. Neil Shardlow says:

    I visited in March 2016, to pay my respects to prvte John Collett who died May 9th 2015. My Great Grandad xxx His remains were never found but I managed to get there in the 100 year of his death. Royal Bershire Regiment Privat Collett 6017 xxxx

    • Magicfingers says:

      Hello Neil. Thanks for commenting, and good for you for visiting. I see his name is on the Ploegsteert Memorial; have you visited the Ploegsteert Memorial pages on this site?

      • Neil shardlow says:

        Hi,
        I visited and seen the memorial, and thank you yes I’ve just visited the memorial pages. I’m fascinated by the First World War, and felt quite emotional walking through those woods. I stayed the night opposite the memorial in a motorhome near the restaurant. Very thought provoking and emotional.

        Neil

        • Magicfingers says:

          Hello Neil. Ploegsteert Wood was one of the very first places I ever visited on the Western Front – walking through those woods, as you say, is a most emotional experience. The complete Tour of Ploegsteert was the first ‘tour’ I posted on this site. Did you meet Claude at the restaurant, by the way; he follows this site, or he used to. Whether he still does who knows?

  4. Steven Oliver says:

    So happy to see the picture of the Canadian Graves. Perhaps you can capture a story or two from ones you come across in the future……thanks Mat.

  5. Bob Grant says:

    Thank you for giving me the chance to see where my Great Uncle – Private 7592 George Andrews, Hampshire Regiment served and sacrificed his life for the cause on 7th November 1914. I have recently found his Army Issue bible which he was given when he signed up on 30th December 1906. He details all of his postings with the regiment on the fly sheet, sadly “Plug Street” was the last posting. His body has not been found to date, but after speaking with someone from the Hampshire Regiment, it seems that bodies are still being found, identified and buried even now. I still hold out a hope that he may be properly laid to rest with his comrades from the campaign. I will make the trip to pay my respects not just to Uncle George but to all of the men who served with him. We can never repay the debt we owe to so many of that generation for the sacrifices they made. God bless you all, rest in peace Uncle George.

  6. Magicfingers says:

    Beautifully said, Bob. You are more than welcome. And yes, men are still being found – look at the Fromelles mass graves that were found a few years back, resulting in a brand new cemetery (put Pheasant Wood in the search box if you are interested). Men have been found around Ploegsteert in the last twenty years too, which you will also find out about if you read the whole Tour of Ploegsteert (apologies for all this shameless self-publicising). So you never know. I checked to see if his name is on the Ploegsteert Memorial, which of course it is.

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