Birr Cross Roads Cemetery, situated on the south side of the Menin Road a few hundred yards east of the once infamous Hellfire Corner. Birr Cross Roads was as far as wheeled transport was allowed to go during the period that the front lines ran through Hooge, just a little further east…
…on the crest of the rise in the distance.
Just inside the entrance, ten headstones bear the names of men ‘known’ or ‘believed to be buried in this cemetery’. Two are of particular interest. The headstone furthest but one from the camera remembers Sergeant De Wattine Camille, a decorated Belgian Army interpreter killed in September 1918. The headstone with the small cross placed in front of it is that of:
|CAPTAIN H. ACKROYD V.C. M.C.||ROYAL ARMY MEDICAL CORPS attd ROYAL BERKSHIRE REGIMENT||40||11/08/1917||Sp Mem 7|
His citation, from the London Gazette dated 4th September 1917, reads; “For most conspicuous bravery. During recent operations Capt. Ackroyd displayed the greatest gallantry and devotion to duty. Utterly regardless of danger, he worked continuously for many hours up and down and in front of the line tending the wounded and saving the lives of officers and men. In so doing he had to move across the open under heavy machine-gun, rifle and shell fire. He carried a wounded officer to a place of safety under very heavy fire. On another occasion he went some way in front of our advanced line and brought in a wounded man under continuous sniping and machine-gun fire. His heroism was the means of saving many lives, and provided a magnificent example of courage, cheerfulness, and determination to the fighting men in whose midst he was carrying out his splendid work. This gallant officer has since been killed in action.” Ackroyd had previously won the Military Cross at Delville Wood on 1st July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme.
A Duhallow Block, on the east side of the cemetery entrance, remembers 18 men killed in action in 1915 & 1917 and originally buried in Birr Cross Roads Cemetery No. 2 and Union Street Graveyards No. 1 & 2, Zillebeke, but whose graves were lost when these cemeteries were obliterated in later battles. The eighteen headstones behind the block remember each man by name.
You can see the position of these memorials if you wish, courtesy of the CWGC, by perusing the Birr Cross Roads Cemetery Plan.
Plot V on the eastern side of the cemetery, with the Duhallow Block and memorial headstones we have just seen to the far left, and the Stone of Remembrance (see below) to the right.
The cemetery was begun in August 1917 at which time a dressing station was situated in extensive underground dugouts here, and at the end of the War it consisted of nine rows of graves in Plot I. After the Armistice many more burials were brought here from the surrounding battlefields, increasing the number of men buried or commemorated here to 833. Of these 336 are unidentified.
The Cross of Sacrifice is sited at the far south of the cemetery.
Birr Cross Roads itself was named as such by the Leinster Regiment, after the location of their depot in Ireland. The Leinsters were tasked with holding the line in this area during the autumn of 1915, and a number of their men, all post-war burials and nearly all killed in August 1915, are now buried here. Five Leinster men, originally buried in Union Street Graveyard No. 1, are among the memorial headstones we have already visited (visible to the right of the Duhallow block in a number of the earlier pictures).
Looking north down Plot I. Birr Cross Roads was a busy place, particularly once the Germans had been pushed off the Hooge ridge at the end of July 1917. As well as the dressing station, Royal Engineers of the 5th Division sited a dump here that October, and there is a famous photograph of a battery of howitzers silhouetted against the evening sky amongst the mud and shell craters that was taken here, again in October 1917.
The western half of the cemetery consists of three plots, all men originally buried in isolated graves on the surrounding battlefields or at Bellewaarde Ridge Military Cemetery, which was situated a little further east up the Menin Road past Hooge, and whose bodies were re-interred at Birr Cross Roads Cemetery after the War.
Plot III nearest the camera, with Plots II & IV beyond.
Still on the western side of the cemetery, and despite being post-war burials, for some reason the row of headstones nearest the camera is referenced as Plot I Row J (see cemetery plan).
Warm enough Balders?
Back at the Cross of Sacrifice, with Plot I on the left.
The final burials made here before the end of the War are to be found in Plot I Row H (see also previous photograph). Between late April and September 1918 the cemetery was in German hands, although, as the demarcation stone that still exists just down the road (at the roundabout that was once the site of Hellfire Corner) shows, this was very nearly the furthest extent of their advance towards Ypres. Once the cemetery had been retaken by the British, it was only used for the four late-1918 burials pictured above before the end of the War in November 1918. Left to right:
|PRIVATE A. WELSH||NORTHUMBERLAND FUSILIERS||21||10/10/1917||I H 3|
|GUNNER W. A. JANES||ROYAL GARRISON ARTILLERY||22||09/10/1918||I H 4|
|PRIVATE W. H. CHAMBERLAIN||HAMPSHIRE REGIMENT||u/k||29/09/1918||I H 5|
|PRIVATE M. CAHILL||ROYAL DUBLIN FUSILIERS||u/k||01/10/1918||I H 6|
|SECOND LIEUTENANT J. NOLAN M.C. D.C.M.||ROYAL DUBLIN FUSILIERS||u/k||29/09/1918||I H 7|
Purely coincidentally, there are two Nolans buried in Plot I Row H.
|CORPORAL G. NOLAN||ROYAL FIELD ARTILLERY||u/k||14/03/1918||I H 2|
|PRIVATE F. W. J. BROWN||SHERWOOD FORESTERS (NOTTS & DERBY REGIMENT)||21||12/10/1917||I H 1|
There are 112 identified Australians buried here, alongside quite a number who are sadly unidentified, all men killed between September and November 1917. Those pictured above, also visible in the previous picture, are all war-time burials in Plot I.
Left to right:
|PRIVATE J. PIGG||YORK & LANCASTER REGIMENT||u/k||02/02/1918||I G 18|
|PRIVATE M. CROSBY||AUCKLAND REGIMENT, N.Z.E.F.||32||03/02/1918||I G 19|
|CORPORAL A. J. BLONDETT||22nd BN, AUSTRALIAN INFANTRY||28||11/11/1917||I G 20|
|SERJEANT J. CARR||DURHAM LIGHT INFANTRY||u/k||02/01/1918||I G 21|
Above & below: Looking north down Plot I towards the Stone of Remembrance with Plot V in the background.
Above & below: Plot I to the right of the Stone of Remembrance, Plot V to the left.
Last shot of Plot V before we take our leave.
On the inside of the entrance pillars (above & below) is the inscription, in three languages, gifting the land on which the cemetery stands for the perpetual resting place of those honoured within.
Just two sets of footprints in the snow.
Birr Cross Roads Cemetery and the Menin Road.
Update April 2017: If you would now like to take a look around Birr Cross Roads some four years on, and this time without snow, I suggest you click the link below: