The weather is foul, the roads are closed (cycle race), and Baldrick is not in one of his better moods. Still, we’re here, so I suggest we head for the centre of town and find our way to the cemetery from there. Lead on, Balders.
Some time later:
Hey hey! A signpost. That’ll help.
And another one! Keep going Balders. Can’t be that much further.
Ok, so I lied. But eventually…
…we do find the little cemetery, and a brief, albeit temporary, respite in the downpour allows us the opportunity to take these pictures without drowning the camera or, come to that, ourselves.
Once upon a time surrounded by nothing but farmland, now this housing estate encroaches, some might suggest, a little too close to the cemetery boundary, but Ledeghem Military Cemetery still, for me at any rate, retains a charm of its own, a little oasis of peace and remembrance in a modern world.
Time for a history lesson. France, August 1918. Early on the morning of 8th August British, Australian and Canadian infantry, supported by hundreds of tanks, launch a well prepared and surprise offensive through the mist against German positions along a fourteen mile front on the Somme east of Amiens. The attack is a stunning success; by the end of a day later referred to as “the Black Day of the German Army”, the Germans have lost an estimated 27,000 casualties and the course of the war has been irrevocably changed. The offensive continues the next day, and for the rest of the month and throughout September, a series of offensives at Albert, Bapaume, and further north on the Arras front push the Germans back towards the pre-constructed defensive positions of the Hindenberg Line.
Belgium, 27th September 1918. British and Belgian troops, under the command of King Albert of the Belgians, begin an offensive designed to finally, after four years, break through the German lines around Ypres. In just three days the Germans are pushed back some ten miles, but appalling weather, lengthening lines of supply, and stiffening German resistance eventually halt the advance, and it is not until the 14th of October that the attack is resumed.
Ledeghem, 1st October 1918. The Royal Scots succeed in capturing the rail station on the outskirts of the village before the attack is halted, but Ledeghem itself remains in German hands for the next fortnight. When the offensive recommences early in the morning of 14th October, the men of the 2nd Leinster Regiment, although they have to fight literally from house-to-house to force the Germans out of the village, successfully recapture Ledeghem, taking more than 250 prisoners in the process. Later in the morning as the Leinsters are withdrawn, the Hampshire and Worcester Regiments pass through to continue the attack, before the Lancashire Fusiliers finally secure the village.
As I said earlier, a little too close perhaps?
Maybe it’s appropriate that houses now surround this little cemetery; throughout the Battle of Courtrai, as the actions between 14th & 19th October 1918 became known, the British advance east took them through areas still inhabited by the local populace and fiercely defended by the Germans.
The earliest burials date from October 1914. Wounded men, captured by the Germans as the British retreated, who subsequently died and were buried alongside German dead in nearby cemeteries, to be re-interred here after the war. The Germans, meanwhile, would hold the village for the next four years. The cemetery, rather curiously, holds none of the Leinsters who died recapturing the village in October 1918, although 21 men of the Hampshires, Worcesters and Lancashire Fusiliers, killed on 14th October securing the village, are to be found here. In total there are 85 British burials in the cemetery.
The cemetery plan, although (whisper it) somewhat out of date, and of course as ever by kind permission of the CWGC, can be perused here: Ledeghem Military Cemetery Plan
Above & below: Row B, nearest the camera, contains, among others, the graves of some of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers who died on the 14th & 15th of October fighting just to the east of the village.
Row A runs the length of the cemetery’s western boundary. All but one of the Worcester Regiment burials can be found near the centre of the row.
Men of the Worcester and Hampshire Regiments, killed on 14th October, share graves with an unknown Royal Scots Corporal who died two days later.
Row A runs the length of the cemetery’s western boundary…ah, yes, you already know that. In the foreground, more headstones in Row B (none of which, I presume, were here when the Cemetery Plan was originally drawn).
Yet more casualties of the Battle of Courtrai in Row A, alongside, to the left, another of the Royal Scots killed attempting to capture the village two weeks earlier; the final Worcester Regiment grave is to the far right.
The six identified graves in this photograph are those of the men of the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment) and the Royal Dragoons, whom the Germans originally buried elsewhere in 1914.
Moving along Row B, men of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers and the Royal Scots, all killed two weeks before the liberation…
…while at the far end of the row, two headstones mark the final resting place of four unknown soldiers.
Private Cadman, left, was buried in Ledeghem Churchyard but his grave was destroyed by shellfire and he is now remembered here. The two Patersons are believed to be among the 17 unidentified burials within the cemetery.
Three VCs were won during the fighting in and around Ledeghem. Second Lieutenant Robert Gorle of the Royal Field Artillery won his during the fighting on October 1st, and Private Martin Moffat, of the Leinsters, and Private Thomas Ricketts, of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, were both awarded VCs for their heroism on 14th October. Ricketts, incidentally, at only 17, is to this day the youngest army recipient of the VC in a combatant role. A fourth VC was awarded to Sergeant John O’Neill, also of the Leinsters, for conspicuous bravery at nearby Moorsele on 14th October. All four survived the actions for which they won their awards.
After 14th October the fighting moved further east, and the task of clearing the battlefields left behind could begin.
Part Four can be found here.