The final part of this long tour of the Zillebeke area takes us to Larch Wood (Railway Cutting) Cemetery, some four hundred yards west of Hill 60, and the final resting place of many men who were killed in the almost continuous fighting that took place there.
This is not the most accessible of cemeteries, so Baldrick and I left the car across the road from the CWGC signpost and walked down the track the rest of the way.
It’s only a hundred yards or so, and as we walk, the cemetery comes into view in the dip alongside the railway.
The track ends at the railway, which we need to cross in order to reach the cemetery. With no train approaching, this view shows all three of the spoilheaps that I have mentioned before in previous posts about Hill 60; the hill itself is on the horizon to the left of the red light, the trees to the right of the same light are those growing on the Caterpillar, and the trees to the far right of the picture grow on the third spoilheap, known as the Dump. You can spot all three on the trench map below.
Above & below: Once across the track, the cemetery entrance is immediately on our right…
…although unusually, you will notice, the actual cemetery is still some way along the railway line…
…so we must walk a little further…
…before we enter the cemetery proper. The first headstones we see are those of Plot V; to the right, the headstones along the western cemetery boundary are all special memorials to men either known or believed to be buried somewhere in the cemetery. You will probably find the Cemetery Plan, courtesy of the CGWC, of use during our visit: Larch Wood (Railway Cutting) Cemetery Plan
Immediately to our left as we enter the cemetery, another row of special memorial headstones, again men known or believed to be buried here, lines the northern boundary wall. These are Special Memorials ‘A’ Nos 1 to 22, with Nos 23 & 24 facing the camera in the background.
Pictured two photos previously, these headstones along the western wall are Special Memorials ‘B’ Nos 9 (nearest camera) to 43…
…and to the left of the previous picture, still placed along the western wall, these are Special Memorials ‘B’ Nos 1 to 8.
When the cemetery was begun in April 1915 a small copse of larches stood here (check out the trench map), and it’s nice to see that a handful of larches, albeit of a different generation, stand here still. It’s difficult to ascertain how many burials had been made here by April 1918, when the German advance pushed the British back towards Ypres, but the cemetery was considerably enlarged after the end of the war with burials brought in from other Flanders battlefields and from numerous smaller cemeteries throughout much of Belgium. Quite why this cemetery was chosen, particularly bearing in mind its location and difficulty of access, I have yet to discover.
If you’re interested, these are the cemeteries from which men were brought, post-war, and re-interred here at Larch Wood: America Cross Roads German Cemetery, Wervicq; Bruges General Cemetery, St. Michel; Cortemarck German Cemetery, No.1; Eerneghem German Cemetery; Ghistelles Churchyard; Groenenberg German Cemetery, Zantvoorde; Handzaeme German Cemetery; Ichtegem German Cemetery; Leffinghe German Cemetery; Marckhove German Cemetery, Cortemarck; Oudenburg Churchyard; Tenbrielen Communal Cemetery German Extension; Thourout German Cemetery, No.2; Vladsloo German Cemetery; Warneton Sud-et-Bas German Cemetery; Wervicq Communal Cemetery and Extension; Wijnendaele German Cemetery, Thourout, and Zantvoorde German Cemetery (also known as De Voorstraat No.49).
Cross of Sacrifice. The cemetery now contains 856 burials and commemorations, of which 321 are unidentified and, as we have already seen, there are 82 special memorials to men known or believed to be buried here, as well as five memorials to men buried in German cemeteries whose graves were subsequently lost. We shall visit these five men later.
This panoramic view looks east across the cemetery from the Cross of Sacrifice (just out of picture to the right). The row of headstones stretching across the photo is Plot II Row J, and part of Plot III is visible to the left (see also photo below).
Many of the burials in Plot II Row J are men of the Dorsetshire Regiment who were holding the line at the foot of Hill 60 on 5th July 1915 when the Germans launched a sudden bombardment, demolishing much of the trench and leaving sixteen Dorset men dead. The body of Private Harry Woods, the centre headstone in the picture above, was found in eight pieces. Literally blown to bits. Tom Morgan’s excellent article about Hill 60 on his Hellfire Corner website notes that, despite their shock at losing so many of their comrades in such a short space of time, his friends ensured his remains were found and buried here alongside the other casualties of that desperate, yet sadly far from uncommon, day.
The views above look south east towards Hill 60 from Plot I at the southern end of the cemetery.
Here at the southern boundary the three wooded spoilheaps of, from left, Hill 60, the Caterpillar, and the Dump can be clearly seen on the horizon. Notice the small ridge that crosses the field directly ahead of us; this was where the entrance to the Berlin Sap, the tunnel that led to the two huge mines the British laid beneath Hill 60 and the Caterpillar that were detonated on 7th June 1917, once was. From here you get an idea of the length of the tunnel, some 1400 feet in total, and don’t forget that another gallery branched off nearer the hill towards the Caterpillar. The tunnellers used to joke that their tunnel would one day reach Berlin itself, hence the title ‘Berlin Sap’.
Northerly view from near the southern boundary of the cemetery looking towards the Stone of Remembrance, with some of the headstones of Plot I in the foreground.
Unknown graves in Plot I Row A (also visible to the right of the previous picture).
Looking south east along the headstones of Plot I Row A…
…and south across Plot I as the train thunders past on its way to Ieper (Ypres).
Setting sun over Plot I.
Westerly view across Plot I on the left, and Plot II on the right.
Plot II. Row J, with the Dorset men we visited earlier at the far end, is the sunlit row angled across the picture. Plot III is in the background.
Above & below: Headstones in Plot III.
Plot IV Rows B (left) & A (right), with special memorials along the wall in the background. The village of Zillebeke, and the squat tower of Zillebeke church, is visible in the distance. We shall visit what is often referred to as the Aristocrat’s Cemetery in the churchyard at a later date.
Above & below: The special memorial headstones visible in the previous photograph, with a Duhallow Block which records that the four men remembered directly behind were once buried in Wervicq (Wervik) Communal Cemetery but that their graves were later lost.
The single headstone to the right remembers Private W. H. Giles of the 16th Lancers who was killed in action and buried by the Germans at Groenenberg German Cemetery, Zantvoorde, but whose grave was also later lost.
The same Duhallow Block, Plot IV Row A, and Hill 60 just visible on the horizon to the far right.
Southerly view across Plot IV towards the Cross of Sacrifice and the railway beyond.
South easterly view from Plot IV.
Quite a number of the burials in Plot V, such as the unidentified officer nearest the camera, are of unknown soldiers.
Back where we started when we entered the cemetery; Special Memorials ‘A’ Nos 1 to 17…
…and in the background, Nos 18 to 22. The headstones to the right are Special Memorials ‘A’ Nos 23 to 42.
Last view looking down the length of the cemetery…
…before it’s time to head back towards the cemetery entrance.
Information plaque giving a brief outline of the war on the Western Front.
As we cross the railway line again, this time we look north west; you can clearly see the spires of Ieper (Ypres) beyond the trees to the left.
View looking south east, back towards Larch Wood Cemetery and Hill 60 in the centre distance, as we retrace our steps up the track towards the car. This track existed during the First World War (you can see it on the trench map), but I cannot imagine it was a particularly healthy place to be caught out in the open in those days.
Taken from the same spot as the previous photo, this view looks north west towards Ieper in the distance. The houses are on the outskirts of Zillebeke village, and the trees line the banks of Zillebeke Lake.
This view looks south west towards the area known as the Bluff, where a number of CWGC cemeteries that we have already visited (see A Tour of Zillebeke South) are sited, the nearest of which, Woods Cemetery, is within the trees on the horizon to the left of the photo.
Flanders icy fields.
Final view looking towards Hill 60…
…before we find ourselves back at the car.
Were we to drive just half a mile north west up the road from here, following the line of the railway, we would arrive at Railway Dugouts Burial Ground (Transport Farm), where the graves of many more men who were killed in the fighting around Hill 60 are to be found, and where we visited way back in Part Two of this tour of Zillebeke, a tour which is now at its end. Hope you enjoyed it.
Update 2018: Having revisited Hill 60 earlier this year, click here if you would like to find out more about what happened during April 1915 on Hill 60.