Oosttaverne Wood Cemetery, the final stop on our Tour of the Messines Ridge.
The cemetery* was begun on the evening of the 7th June 1917 when men of the 19th (Western) Division and the 11th Division captured this section of the Oosttaverne Line, and was used until September 1917.
*actually two cemeteries, as I shall explain later.
If you visit any of the cemeteries on the Western Front, try to remember to sign the Cemetery Register. It provides useful information for the CWGC and anyway, they’re often worth a few minutes’ investigation.
After the war, the cemetery was greatly increased in size as hundreds of graves from the surrounding battlefields and smaller burial grounds were re-interred here; the dates of death of the men now buried in the cemetery range from October 1914 to October 1918. The rows of headstones immediately inside the cemetery entrance in Plots VII (background above) and Plot VIII (foreground above & below) are all post-Armistice burials…
…as are all the headstones you can see beyond the Stone of Remembrance (above) and in front of the Cross of Sacrifice (below). The original graves from 1917 are all at the far (western) end of the cemetery beyond the Cross. Oosttaverne Wood is in the background, smaller now, I believe, than when it too was captured by the British on the evening of 7th June.
This view, from Plot VII, looks towards Plot V beyond the Stone of Remembrance. If you take a look at the Cemetery Plan (click the link below) you will see where we are and how significantly the post-war plots enlarged the cemetery.
Many of the post-war burials in Plot VII (above & below) and Plot VIII are unidentified.
Of the 1119 First World War burials here, no less than 783 are unidentified. This particular headstone is currently undergoing renovation.
Some of the identified graves in Plot VII, two from April 1915 at the start of the Second Battle of Ypres, and one from August 1917. Left to right:
|RIFLEMAN E. J. CHIGNELL||KING'S ROYAL RIFLE CORPS||u/k||24/04/1915||VII A 9|
|RIFLEMAN J. G. DONOVAN||KING'S ROYAL RIFLE CORPS||u/k||23/04/1915||VII A 10|
|PRIVATE G. R. BELCHER||MACHINE GUN CORPS (INFANTRY)||23||01/08/1917||VII B 11|
An unknown soldier of the Queen Victoria’s Rifles in Plot VIII.
More mainly unidentified burials in Plot V (above & below). Among the post-war reburials are men who fell during the fighting for Hill 60, two miles away to the north east.
British casualties during the week of the Battle of Messines totalled nearly 24,000 killed, wounded or missing. German casualties amounted to 25,000, making the battle one of the few actions on the Western Front where defensive casualties exceeded those of the attackers.
View from the Cross of Sacrifice looking north east past the Stone of Remembrance, back towards the arched structure where we came in. A German trench known as Obstacle Trench once ran down the gap shown here between the headstones of Plot VI on the left, and Plot V on the right; it was captured by the British as they attacked the German Oosttaverne Line, which ran through the fields across the road from the cemetery entrance.
The Cross of Sacrifice. The headstones of Plot II in the foreground, from late July and early August 1917, are among the earliest burials in Plot II, one of the three original plots that made up the original cemetery. Or cemeteries. I shall explain. Originally two cemeteries, just yards apart, were begun here in June 1917; Oosttaverne Wood Cemetery N0. 1 and, you guessed it, Oosttaverne Wood Cemetery No. 2, now Plots I & III respectively. What is now Plot II was begun a little later, as we have seen, in July 1917, as an extension to Cemetery No.1.
There are 117 Second World War scattered among the burials here, some in Plot II (above, with Plot I behind), all casualties of the fierce fighting during the retreat to Dunkirk in May 1940.
Other graves in Plot II are from April 1918 when the Germans recaptured this whole area during their spring offensive. Left to right:
|PRIVATE T. CUMMINGS||ROYAL SCOTS||43||29/04/1918||II E 8|
|PRIVATE C. DICK||ROYAL SCOTS||u/k||29/04/1918||II E 9|
|PRIVATE I. SANOFSKI||WEST YORKSHIRE REGIMENT (PRINCE OF WALES'S OWN)||25||25/04/1918||II E 10|
One of the first burials here on 7th June 1917, the Reverend Clifford Hugh Reed (centre headstone) lost his life, along with many of his parishioners, during the attack on the Oosttaverne Line; whether he earned his M.C. that day, or had already received it, I know not. Left to right:
|RIFLEMAN H. J. BRADFORD||THE RIFLE BRIGADE||37||08/06/1917||I A 11|
|CHAPLAIN 4th CLASS THE REV. C. H. REED MC||ARMY CHAPLAIN'S DEPARTMENT||28||07/06/1917||I A 12|
|SECOND LIEUTENANT W. H. HURSTBOURNE (HIRSCHBEIN)||ROYAL FIELD ARTILLERY||30||23/06/1917||I A 13|
Two Privates of the Cheshire regiment, killed and buried in Plot I on 3rd August 1917. Left to right:
|PRIVATE W. DIXON||CHESHIRE REGIMENT||23||03/08/1917||I F 1|
|PRIVATE P. N. BAMFORD||CHESHIRE REGIMENT||34||03/08/1917||I F 2|
One of five men of the Royal Flying Corps, all killed between January and June 1917, presumably originally buried by the Germans and moved here after the War.
Plot III at the far western end of the cemetery. Most of the graves in Plot III are original burials here, although fourteen men killed in 1914 have been added to the Rows E & D at the front of the plot.
Three men of the Wiltshires in Plot III, all victims of the fighting in June 1917. Left to right:
|PRIVATE E. H. EVANS||WILTSHIRE REGIMENT||u/k||13/06/1917||III A 3|
|PRIVATE R. WILLIAMS||WILTSHIRE REGIMENT||u/k||10/06/1917||III A 4|
|LANCE CORPORAL S. C. AKERS||WILTSHIRE REGIMENT||u/k||13/06/1917||III A 5|
View from Plot III looking back down the length of the cemetery.
A single Frenchman, killed in 1940, lies beneath this cross just inside the cemetery boundary.
As we retrace our steps, this view looks to the west, as the sun finally sets beyond Wytschaete village in the distance.
Oosttaverne Wood Cemetery.
The Cross of Sacrifice and Wytschaete Church, silhouetted against the evening sky.
Night closes in on the now peaceful village of Wytschaete as our Tour of the Messines Ridge comes to an end.
The Battle of Messines had, for the most part, been a triumph for the British and their Allies. Gains had been made in hours that had taken weeks the previous summer on the Somme. Nothing quite like it had occurred in the preceding two and a half years of war, and nothing quite like it would happen again until the German offensive in the spring of 1918. The German salient at Messines had been totally eradicated, allowing Haig’s plans for a great offensive further north to be put in to operation. How sad that the optimism of June would give way to despair and death in the quagmire of mud and blood that was to become known simply as Passchendaele.