A Tour of the Messines Ridge Part Fourteen – Somer Farm Cemetery

As evening begins to fall and our tour nears its end, we find ourselves at the little cemetery of Somer Farm, on the north eastern outskirts of Wytschaete.

Cemetery entrance.

The cemetery was begun at the end of June 1917, used until March 1918, and then again in October 1918, and consists of just three long rows of headstones, with a number of special memorials along the eastern boundary in the background.

Somer Farm Cemetery Plan

The Germans had built a concrete observation post and command centre within the farm buildings that once stood nearby, which the British then used as a Battalion headquarters after their capture in June 1917.

Private R. McKeown of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, the headstone to the left in the picture above, was the first burial here, on 25th June 1917.  Left to right:

PRIVATE R. McKEOWNROYAL INNISKILLING FUSILIERS1925/06/1917A 26
PRIVATE B. T. MOODYYORK & LANCASTER REGIMENT3502/07/1917A 27

You may have noticed that the two headstones in the background in the previous photo, and pictured above, are facing in the opposite direction.  I have no idea why, and I suppose it doesn’t really matter, but there’s a reason for everything, and I like to know the answers.  Left to right:

PRIVATE R. SMITHYORK & LANCASTER REGIMENTu/k01/07/1917B 34
PRIVATE H. MEADROYAL WARWICKSHIRE REGIMENTu/k08/07/1917B 33

Australian graves from December 1917 & January 1918 in Row B in front of the Cross of Sacrifice.  The Australians took over from the British in mid-December 1917 and remained here until the Germans regained the whole Messines Ridge as they pushed west in April 1918.

More Australians, all men of the 53rd Battalion, killed in March 1918 and buried in Row A.  I presume that the four men buried beneath the two headstones to the left were all killed together.

A lone Royal Irish Regiment burial from October 1918 in Row A.  Slightly more than half the 91 burials here (just one is unidentified) were made in 1918, 28 in October alone.

Men of the Royal Garrison Artillery in Row A, killed in early October 1918.

Along the eastern boundary, these headstones remember five men who were ‘known to be buried in this cemetery’ but whose graves had been lost in later fighting.  Left to right:

SECOND LIEUTENANT R. P. SMITHNORTH STAFFORDSHIRE REGIMENT2805/08/1917Sp Mem 1
PRIVATE C. H. GOODACRENORTH STAFFORDSHIRE REGIMENTu/k27/07/1917Sp Mem 2
PRIVATE M. M. MORIARTY55th BN, AUSTRALIAN INFANTRYu/k12/03/1918Sp Mem 3
PRIVATE F. A. D. WILKES53rd BN, AUSTRALIAN INFANTRY2321/03/1918Sp Mem 4
DRIVER A. BURGESSROYAL GARRISON ARTILLERY2305/10/1918Sp Mem 5

More 1918 burials in Row B.  Left to right:

PRIVATE R. N. WHITEROYAL ARMY MEDICAL CORPS3205/10/1918B 6
GUNNER C. LOWDENROYAL GARRISON ARTILLERYu/k09/10/1918B 7

Looking west down the length of the cemetery towards the setting sun.

We’re going to lose the light very soon, and we still have two more stops to make.  Better be going.

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37 Responses to A Tour of the Messines Ridge Part Fourteen – Somer Farm Cemetery

  1. Penny Coupland says:

    Thank your for these lovely photo’s of Somer Farm. My great uncle John Henry Heward is buried there. Now I have found where he is buried we hope to visit soon.
    RIP all buried there. Remembering them especially today on Remembrance Sunday 2013.

    • Peter Threlfall says:

      Hi Penny,

      For many years I had been involved with researching the lads of Somer Farm Cemetery, with a close friend of mine and crippled Vietnam Veteran, Peter Jones, of Woollongong, NSW, Australia. I may be able to give you some information which you don’t have?

      Looking forward to hearing from you.

      Take care

      Peter

      • Penny Coupland says:

        Hi Peter
        Thanks for your message. To be honest I haven’t really started looking into my great uncle’s story as yet – the usual story of not “getting round to it” and not asking older relatives while they were alive and then regretting it when it is too late! John Henry Heward was my grandfather’s eldest brother,, my grandfather was the youngest of eight and was only 4 when John Henry was killed. I’m hoping to make a better start on my investigations over the summer. Best wishes, Penny

  2. Magicfingers says:

    You are most welcome Penny. As I hope the photos convey, Somer Farm was a wonderfully peaceful place when I visited.

  3. mim regan says:

    This is just wonderful. Many thanks. My great uncle, Private William John Turner, was injured here in Dec 1917. He was hit and buried by a shell explosion for three days before he was found .He had a brain injury and partial paralysis. He was invalided to England and then back to Sydney where he died in a military hospital in Randwick on June 21 1918. A happy release. His body was sent by train to Temora where he was buried with Military Honours. He was only 22 years old…. RIP Jack

  4. Magicfingers says:

    Hey, thanks Mim. Glad you found this little site of interest. And how sad your story. Thanks for sharing it.

  5. isobel says:

    My great uncle Robert McKeown was the first soilder to be buried this graveyard, I visited for the first time in Nov 2014, what an emotional journey, these photos are brilliant

    • Magicfingers says:

      Thanks Isobel. Somer Farm is a beautiful little cemetery. Glad you were able to visit it.

    • Peter Threlfall says:

      Hi Isobel,

      For many years I had been involved with helping my close friend and crippled Vietnam Veteran, Peter Jones, research the men of Somer Farm Cemetery. Sadly Peter died last November (2014), and now I feel I have to carry on with the research in memory of my frend. If you have any information, photographs etc., of Robert McKeown, I would be very keen to contact you.

      Take care

      Peter

      • isobel obrien says:

        please contact me Peter and I have photograph I can email you

        • Peter Threlfall says:

          Hi Isobel,

          Nice to hear from you. If you go to my business address at http://www.militaryandfamilygenealogy.co.uk you will find my contact details there. I have visited Robert McKeown’s grave on numerous ocassions, and I think I have a photograph of his grave which I will be only too happy to send to you. Do you have any biographical information about him?

          Take care

          Peter

    • Malcolm says:

      Hi, Robert was my great Uncle also and I visited his grave In October 2014. Apparently there was a dressing station here and he was carried here by my grandfather( his brother) after being injured.

      • isobel says:

        My granny was Margaret mckeown so your grandfather was her brother, william, he is the only one of the 3 brothers to come home,
        I also visited Thomas grave, when I was in belguim. My graney married joseph mitchell, my mum was mitchell, I live in omagh.
        Look forward to hearing from you

        • sarah clarke-feltham says:

          hi all my name is sarah his is also my great uncle wow it is great to find some more relations my gran was his sister her name was also sarah please message me if you get this and we can talk about what we know regards sarah

      • sarah clarke-feltham says:

        hi

        how are you he and your father are my great uncles as well

        would be nice to hear from you

        sarah

  6. shane lidden says:

    My grandfather used to talk about how lucky he was to survive the great war one day he was sent out to lay wire when he returned this trench was bombed killing some of his mates .After his death i was given his war dairies which he mentions how he buried a great mate M.M. Moriarty at Somer Farm .My grandfather Edward Fulford enlisted with M.M.Moriarty at Goulburn N.S.W. said he will be misted they had been through many battles. Shane

    • Magicfingers says:

      Thanks very much for your story Shane. As you’ve seen, Merion Morton Moriarty’s headstone is pictured above, although the exact location of his grave is no longer known. Take good care of those diaries. Precious things indeed.

    • Peter Threlfall says:

      Hi Shane,

      I have images of Merion Morton Moriarty, and eye-witness statements with regards to his death. I was, for many years, involved with researching the men of Somer Farm Cemetery, with my close friend and crippled Vietnam Veteran, Peter Jones, and have inherited a substantial amount of information on these boys if I can help.

      Take care

      Peter

  7. Peter Threlfall says:

    Thanks for an excellent site, Magicfingers.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Most kind Peter. Delighted to see Isobel has already contacted you. I hope others do too. Let me know if there’s anything I can do to facilitate.

      By the way, did your friend ever get to see the photos on my site (I’m guessing not, but thought I’d ask)?

      • Peter Threlfall says:

        Hello Magicfingers. No, I don’t think my friend did see your photographs, but I am certain that he would have liked them very much, as he was keen to communicate with anybody who had an interest in Somer Farm Cemetery. His goal was to research the lads of the cemetery, it’s history (the casualties of Somer Farm Cemetery No.2 are actually in Whytscaete Military Cemetery), and the action’s around the locality of the cemetery between June, 1917 – October, 1918, and of course the post-war development of the cemetery. I came into the project very late, after Peter had researched all of the Australians, including his Grandfather, Wallace Alfred Jones, 53rd Bn A.I.F. His problem was geographical – he could not easily access documents, newspapers etc., for the UK casualties, and so I began to get involved (on top of writing a book, holding down a job which I am getting made redundant from, and co-running a military genealogy business. If I know Peter like I think I know him, he will be extremely pleased with what you have done with the brief intro into the cemetery. Thank you.

        Take care

        Pete

        • Magicfingers says:

          Thanks again Pete. Most interesting. As you may have gathered, this post is Part 14 of a tour of the Messines area; Wytschaete Military Cemetery is where the tour starts. I’d be interested to know where the Somer Farm No 2 burials are in the cemetery – I could probably find out but I’m being lazy, particularly as I suspect you may well know the answer! Sod’s Law dictates that it’ll be a section of the cemetery I didn’t photograph!

          Sorry to hear about the redundancy, delighted to hear that you think the other Peter would approve of my site, and intrigued about the military genealogy business. And the book.

          All the best. Thanks again for commenting.

          • Peter Threlfall says:

            Hello mate,

            I can;t remember the plot no.’s etc, but here are their names: 17655 Pte H. L. Morse, Gloucesters; 23689 Pte A. Clark Gloucesters, 37068 Pte J. H. Millward, Gloucesters, 39933 Pte A.A. Baker Worcesters, 42596 Pte William H. Harmer Worcesters, 29682 LCpl G. H. Webb Worcesters, 1x Unknown Worcesters, 19604 Pte G. Morear KORLR, 27462 Pte A. Smith KORLR, 25367 Pte T. Stainton, 1x Unknown KORLR, 34931 Pte J. Telfer North Staffs, 36482 LCpl H. R.Townshend East Lancs. They are buried in the plot to the right as you walk down the steps into Whytschaete Military Cemetery.

            My business is called Military & Family Geneaolgy, which I co run with my business partner, Judith Beastall. We specialize in researching clients relatives who served in the military between the start of the Boer War and the end of the Second World War, and compile biographies on said relatives. We also do family tree’s for clients.

            The book I am in the early stages of writing is about my local Pals battalion – the 13th (Wirral) Bn Cheshire Regiment.

            Take care

            Pete

  8. Magicfingers says:

    Cheers Pete. Thanks for the soldiers’ names. I was right, of course; I don’t appear to have any close-ups of that section of the cemetery!

    The Wirral Pals, eh? I recently visited Serre, where the Accrington, Barnsley & Bradford Pals were slaughtered, for the first time, but I have to say that I know far less about the Cheshires. One day, by the sound of it, I shall learn more.

    http://thebignote.com/2015/04/22/with-the-british-army-on-the-somme/#more-16173

    All the best.

    • Peter Threlfall says:

      Your welcome, mate.

      The sad thing is that the story of the Accrington Pals is tainted by myth and legend. They suffered heavy casualties, but were not wiped out, as some historians perpetuate.

      The Wirral Pals had their “1st July” on 7th July, 1916, when they attacked the village of Ovillers, from the northern end of La Boiselle. They suffred 261 casualties, of which 111 were killed in action.

      Take care

      Pete

      • Magicfingers says:

        Ah. I visited La Boisselle recently but didn’t have the time to visit Ovillers Military Cemetery, where I notice some of the 13th Battalion are buried. Just a few long distance shots from the main road. Another time.

        Cheers Pete!

  9. Mick says:

    Visited Somer Farm a couple of weeks ago and laid a poppy wreath for great uncle Frank Godden, one of the group of four RGA lads killed together 9/10/18. They were part of 245 siege battery that died while resting in a shelter, somewhere towards Bousbecque.
    But I was disappointed not to find a visitors book at this cemetery. Don’t they all have them?
    Cheers…

    • Magicfingers says:

      Hi Mick. As you can see from the comments above, there’s a lot of interest in Somer Farm Cemetery. To answer your question, most have a Register and Visitor’s Book, but not all. Usually, however, it is cemeteries with smaller numbers than this that don’t have them, and in these cases the Register is usually kept elsewhere (often at another, larger, nearby cemetery, where there will also be a Visitor’s Book). I presume the CWGC could tell you more about this with regard to Somer Farm.

    • Peter Threlfall says:

      Hello Mick,

      For many years an Australian Vietnam Veteran, and close friend of mine, Peter Wallace Jones, was researching the Australian lads buried in Sommer Farm Cemetery. Then he wanted to extend his research into the British soldiers buried there. This is where I come in. I helped Pete get information, service papers, photographs, and newspaper articles, and over the years we became close friends. Sadly, Peter died in November last year. I have now picked up the gauntlet, and carrying on his work. If you have any documentation, photographs etc., relating to your Great Uncle, I would very interested to hear from you. Take care. Pete Threlfall

  10. sarah clarke-feltham says:

    my great uncle is Private R (Robert) Mckeown we are off to france tomorrow for the cenetenary of the start of the battle of the somme so we hope to find his grave and also his brother Private Thomas Mckeown who is in new irish farm cemetary he died six weeks after his brother anyone with any photos please contact me

    thanks

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