A Tour of Ploegsteert Wood Detour – Underhill Farm Cemetery & Red Lodge

This post is designed to be read as part of the ‘Tour of Ploegsteert Wood’, so if you are reading it as a stand-alone post I suggest you disregard all references to the ‘Tour’, as they will make no sense.  Alternatively, just read the whole ‘Tour’ anyway.  Which does make sense.

Before we visit the Ploegsteert Memorial I suggest a short detour.  We are standing at what was once known as Hyde Park Corner, with the road from Mesen (Messines), down which we have just come, in the background, and the Memorial itself a few hundred yards behind us.  This CWGC sign points us down a side road that briefly wends its way through the Bois de la Hutte, as the the wood to the west of the Mesen-Ploegsteert road is called, before emerging on the far side where we will find Underhill Farm Cemetery (below), once a burial ground for dressing stations that occupied two buildings situated nearby.

Cemetery entrance and Cross of Sacrifice.

The cemetery was begun in the days leading up to the start of the Battle of Messines in June 1917, and, unsurprisingly, we will encounter more men here whose headstones are inscribed with a date we have seen too many times before on this tour; 7th June 1917.  Left to right:

PRIVATE P. F. DOBBIECANTERBURY REGIMENT, N.Z.E.F.2807/06/1917A 17
CORPORAL J. B. BARTLETTMACHINE GUN CORPS (MOTORS)2907/06/1917A 18
GUNNER T. R. WYATTNEW ZEALAND FIELD ARTILLERYu/k10/06/1917A 19

The cemetery continued in use until January 1918, before being occupied, although not used, by the Germans during the spring and summer.  It was then used again by the British during September and October.  Underhill Farm is essentially made up of just four long rows of headstones, punctuated by gaps; this view, with Row A nearest the camera, looks north east from near the Cross of Sacrifice.  The building in the background is on the site of the original Underhill Farm where one of the dressing stations mentioned previously was situated.

The cemetery plan, courtesy of those kind people at the CWGC, can be viewed here:

Underhill Farm Cemetery Plan

Visible in the previous photograph, these special memorial headstones are to two Yorkshiremen, “Believed to be buried in this cemetery”, and three Australians, “Known to be buried in this cemetery”.  Left to right:

CORPORAL R. E. CRYEREAST YORKSHIRE REGIMENT2814/10/1918Sp Mem 1
PRIVATE L. C. S. SHEARINEAST YORKSHIRE REGIMENT3315/10/1918Sp Mem 2
PRIVATE L. A. BOUGHEN 25th BN, AUSTRALIAN INFANTRY u/k12/01/1918Sp Mem 3
PRIVATE L. V. DEKINS25th BN, AUSTRALIAN INFANTRY u/k12/01/1918Sp Mem 4
DRIVER A. W. FRANKLIN 25th BN, AUSTRALIAN INFANTRY u/k12/01/1918Sp Mem 5

Of the 190 casualties buried or commemorated here, 39 are New Zealanders, and you will notice a number of Maori names inscribed on some of the headstones pictured.  After the Battle of Messines, the New Zealand Pioneer Battalion, to whom the Maoris belonged, were involved in constructing communication trenches from the newly captured Messines Ridge to the front line, during which time they suffered more than 150 casualties, with 17 men killed.  Interestingly, by August 1917 sufficient Maori replacements had arrived for the battalion to be re-named the New Zealand (Maori) Pioneer Battalion.  Left to right:

PRIVATE T. M. TEUANEW ZEALAND MAORI BATTALIONu/k21/07/1917A 26
PRIVATE F. C. O'REILLYWELLINGTON REGIMENT N.Z.E.F.4223/07/1917A 27
PRIVATE C. C. BROWNAUCKLAND REGIMENT N.Z.E.F.2408/08/1917A 28
SERJEANT R. E. HALENEW ZEALAND MAORI BATTALIONu/k14/08/1917A 29
PRIVATE J. TE KAURUNEW ZEALAND MAORI BATTALIONu/k14/08/1917A 30
PRIVATE V. RURUNEW ZEALAND MAORI BATTALION2114/08/1917A 31

On a pedantic note, the Maori headstones should really be inscribed with ‘New Zealand Pioneer Battalion’ or ‘New Zealand (Maori) Pioneer Battalion’, but who’s counting?

“E nga rau e rima”.

More New Zealanders, all killed at the very beginning of the battle. The New Zealand Division had taken over this sector, as far north as Wulvergem, prior to the battle, and had set up Advanced Dressing Stations both here and a mile away at Kandahar Farm; we shall visit the cemetery there another time.  Left to right:

ACTING BOMBARDIER R. E. BEANNEW ZEALAND FIELD ARTILLERY2206/06/1917A 13
RIFLEMAN C. H. ENSORNEW ZEALAND RIFLE BRIGADEu/k06/06/1917A 14
PRIVATE P. LIMPUSWELLINGTON REGIMENT N.Z.E.F.u/k07/06/1917A 15
RIFLEMAN S. S. SARGENTNEW ZEALAND RIFLE BRIGADE1807/06/1917A 16

And yet more New Zealanders, flanking a British Artillery Serjeant, with, on the right, the only Canadian buried here.  Left to right:

PRIVATE L. LEWISWELLINGTON REGIMENT, N.Z.E.F.2104/06/1917A 5
SERJEANT J. SULLIVANROYAL GARRISON ARTILLERYu/k05/06/1917A 6
RIFLEMAN E. PRATTNEW ZEALAND RIFLE BRIGADEu/k07/06/1917A 7
CORPORAL H. J. CLIFFCANADIAN RAILWAY TROOPS2805/06/1917A 8

Looking west from near the Cross of Sacrifice.

Stevenson

Above & below:  Two decorated soldiers in Row A.

Underhill Farm

Corporal Vercoe won his DCM for gallantry near Ypres in January 1915, and just a couple of months later received a Bar for rescuing a seriously injured officer despite being wounded himself, an action later depicted in the publication “Deeds That Thrill the Empire”.  He was killed by a shell whilst sitting reading outside his dugout.

Headstones at the start of Row D in the western corner of the cemetery.  You may have noticed by now that, like the cemeteries we visited earlier within Ploegsteert Wood itself, Underhill Farm is another cemetery enclosed by a simple wire mesh fence (yes, I know, and a hedge too).  Personally, I’m unsure about the almost temporary feel that the fence gives this particular cemetery, and it strikes me that it would feel somewhat different were it surrounded by the usual brick wall.   Discuss.

The little note left at the base of Private Brotherton’s headstone begins “Great Uncle Frank.  We found you after 90 years”.

Looking roughly east down the length of the cemetery.

South easterly view of the Cross of Sacrifice and cemetery entrance.

Final view of the Cross of Sacrifice and the Bois de la Hutte before we begin to retrace our steps towards Hyde Park Corner.

This is the front of the building, visible at the northern end of the cemetery in a number of the previous shots, on the site of the original Underhill Farm.

Just along the road from the cemetery, a CWGC information board is worth perusing (click to enlarge, of course) as not only is the information about Underhill Farm of interest, but we shall also be visiting the Rosenberg Chateau Plots at Berks Cemetery Extension in the next part of this tour.  And unless you’ve read the text on the board you now have no idea what I’m talking about.  Although, of course, being an erudite lot, many of you will probably know all about them anyway.

A few hundred yards up the road we come to Red Lodge, the site of the second dressing station mentioned earlier.  Baldrick’s car is parked in approximately the same position as the wagons in the top left photo on the CWGC information board which, at my excellent suggestion, you have just been perusing.

Abandoned once again.

Continuing our journey back towards Hyde Park Corner to rejoin the main road, there’s one more brief stop we need to make.  Something of interest lurks within the trees.  If we can find it, that is.  Not being in the habit of giving up easily, after a bit of wandering up and down the road and subsequent crashing about in the undergrowth, eventually we do:

This concrete structure was known, it seems, as the Report Centre (although I have yet to see this name appear in any official documents, so if you have any evidence, then I’d be most interested to hear about it), and I have seen it referred to as the entrance to what were called the Catacombs.  I think an explanation is required here.  Much of the Bois de la Hutte stands on a hill (Hill 63 on trench maps) beneath which were constructed, initially by Australian tunnellers beginning in August 1916, vast tunnels large enough to accomodate two battalions in relative comfort.  There were separate cubicles for officers, room for stores, and double tiers of bunks throughout; I have read reports stating that, during the winter of 1917-1918, this was the only place in the area where ‘there was a chance to feel warm in bed’.  This structure is certainly not the main entrance to the Catacombs, which was much nearer Hyde Park Corner, and personally I am not convinced that it is an entrance at all, but it could have been one, or perhaps an exit, and it does appear that there’s some sort of void beneath the now-concreted floor at the rear of the building (below right).  If you visit, DO NOT go any further inside than this.

         

We can see you Balders, we can see you.

Just before we leave, it’s worth noting that not only were tunnellers working beneath ground, but engineers were building dugouts to house officers and men above ground as well.  These were constructed using semi-cylindrical sheets of corrugated iron known as Elephant Iron, covered with spoil from the excavations below ground for extra protection.  And if you look carefully, evidence of these dugouts can still be found among the trees that once again cover this now-peaceful hillside (see photos below).

         

Which brings us to the end of our detour.  A short drive will take us back to Hyde Park Corner, the Ploegsteert Memorial, and its adjacent cemeteries.

A Tour of Ploegsteert Wood Part Seven

Below:  Winter sunset at Red Lodge.

Red Lodge, hauntingly eerie at night.  There are ghosts here.

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14 Responses to A Tour of Ploegsteert Wood Detour – Underhill Farm Cemetery & Red Lodge

  1. Elaine Agar says:

    Many thanks for including our relative Frank Brotherton in this piece; it was lovely to see. Just to note that he was from the East Yorkshire Regiment and not the Scottish fusiliers. Many thanks. Elaine

  2. Magicfingers says:

    Elaine, as you will have gathered I was most touched by the note you left for Great Uncle Frank; I visit a lot of CWGC cemeteries on my travels, and little things like that are reminders, should we need them, that these were real men with real lives and real loved ones. And I apologise for being a complete buffoon!! I have corrected his regiment, and much appreciate you pointing out my error.

  3. Debbie Smith says:

    Hi There I have been looking for the grave of my great uncle 2882 Private John William Barker Elshaw of the 48th Battalion australian army. He was fatally wounded on the 1st of July 1917 in ploegsteert wood and we think buried at Underhill cemetery, so all the reports say but I am having trouble finding any record. Please can you help. Cheers Debbie Smith.

  4. Magicfingers says:

    Hi Debbie. Of course I can help! Your great uncle is most certainly buried in this cemetery. His Plot number is C 19, and you can see his headstone in one of the above pictures (trust me, on my original you can just make out the inscription on the headstone which actually says J. W. Barker Elshaw). Find the photo (fourth from the top) that has the headstones of Dobbie, Bartlett & Wyatt. Two rows behind Bartlett’s headstone is an Australian headstone that you can see all of, with a plant to the left as you look at the picture of which just one spikey leaf curves in front of the headstone. That is your great uncle’s headstone. The CWGC website says the following: Native of England. Son of John Arthur Elshaw and Emma Elshaw, of 43, Mackie St., Victoria Park, West Australia.

  5. Morag L Sutherland says:

    I have enjoyed reading about this sector – I have a relative buried in La Plus Douve – A Sutherland KING- we have visited on more than one occasion – I know he was billeted in Red Lodge and hope you would have no objection to my local heritage society – Clyne Parish Brora Village in Sutherland Scotland using your modern photos of the billet? If you agree can you give me an exact name of how you would like to be acknowledged – many thanks indeed

  6. Magicfingers says:

    Well I’m glad you enjoyed this section of the site Morag, and absolutely no objection from me with regard to you using some of the pics. I would be interested to know whether you are talking about online or in a book or leaflet. Either way, Magicfingers at ‘With the British Army in Flanders’, and a link to/address of the site will do fine. Lmk if you need any help.

  7. Deborah Elizabeth Muller nee Keyatta says:

    My grand uncle was buried at red lodge near what I thought was hill 53 but maybe it was 63. He was in 25th battalion and was shot in the head on the 10/01/18 at 20yrs of age. He has a headstone William John robert Williams at Underhill farm. He was a scout. We have no pictures of him though :(

  8. Magicfingers says:

    That’s a shame, but he is clearly not forgotten. I wonder whether there is a picture of him in his local paper circa January 1918?

  9. I hope you don’t mind but I’ve linked to one of your excellent photos in a post on my blog about my Great Great Uncle Frank, who fought with the Dorsets around Point 63 in November 1914. Red Lodge appears to be the location of 1st Bn Dorsets’ HQ from 13th November 1914.

    • Magicfingers says:

      No problem at all Jonathan. I read the entry in your blog; most interesting. Love the ‘headmaster’ photo. The cemetery that was moved was at Rosenberg Chateau. You will find some photos of the Rosenberg Chateau Plots at Berks Cemetery Extension elsewhere on this site, if you haven’t already.

  10. Aah, righto. I’ve added a comment on my post with that correction, Thanks again.

    Jon

  11. Simon Walmsley says:

    Hi I found your website, and found it very interesting, My Great uncle is buried here. His name is Robert Walmsley, and was killed in the woods. He was awarded the Military Medal.

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