A couple of minutes drive east of Ypres (Ieper), along the road to Zonnebeke, the hamlet of Potijze, now an extension of the outskirts of the city along the N332, plays host to no less than four CWGC cemeteries. After the fighting of the first Battle of Ypres died down in November 1914 and trench warfare began in earnest, Potijze found itself just behind the British lines, and there it remained, within easy range of the German guns, for much of the rest of the war. It was from Potijze that men would enter the communication trenches that would take them east to the front line, and it was just up the road from here that an Advanced Dressing Station, set up in Potijze Chateau in April 1915 and in operation for the next two years, created the need for more than one burial ground in the vicinity.
The first, and biggest, of the four cemeteries we shall visit on this tour is Potijze Burial Ground, or, according to the CWGC, Potijze Burial Ground Cemetery, where 584 British soldiers are buried.
Curiously, as you will see if you peruse the cemetery plan (click the link below, courtesy of the CWGC), Potijze Burial Ground is not divided into plots, which for a cemetery of this size is most unusual. This view looks south from near the north east corner, the cemetery entrance being out of shot to the right of where we are standing. Note the two rows of touching headstones to the left; we shall visit them later.
Although three of the four cemeteries were begun within three days of each other at the end of April 1915 (the exception being Potijze Chateau Lawns Cemetery), Potijze Burial Ground was not used regularly until June 1915…
…after which it was used on a regular basis until the end of August 1916, occasionally in 1917, and just twice in 1918. The King’s Royal Rifle Corps men buried in Row S (foreground), near the western boundary, were all killed in June & July 1916.
The only Canadian in the cemetery, Private Arthur Duquette of the Canadian Railway Troops died on 1st November 1917 and was the final burial made here that year.
View from the south west corner…
…and a closer view of the same headstones. The West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales’s Own) headstones in Row H (visible in both photos) are all casualties from February 1916. There are 21 unidentified graves in the cemetery, six of them together in Row G (above right).
Views from the south east corner.
Two Germans lie in the cemetery, buried beneath a single headstone in Row A. Note the Welsh Guards headstones from the spring of 1916 in Row B, and the plethora of Grenadier Guardsmen buried in the two rows behind.
A row of Scots Guardsmen in Row C, every one of them killed on 30th March 1916 in the trenches at Hooge, about a mile and a half away across the fields to the south east, and buried in this mass grave. Altogether 29 Scots Guards died on that day alone, during a day-long German artillery barrage; total Guards casualties during March and April 1916 exceeded 750.
Six men of the Rifle Brigade, killed on 6th or, in the case of Rifleman Moses Storer on the far left, 7th June 1916, and buried in Row C in front of the Stone of Remembrance. The headstone two from the right, that of Private Jennings, should, of course, be inscribed Rifleman Jennings.
Rows M, N & O to the left, and Rows Z, A & B to the right, in front of the Cross of Sacrifice. The final grave in Row M in the left foreground, that of Private John Wilson of the Royal Scots Fusiliers, is the only burial here from April 1918, indeed the only burial between November 1917 & October 1918, and one wonders whether he died of sickness, or was perhaps killed in an accident that occurred somewhere nearby.
The cemetery was used once more in late 1918 when these five men, all killed on 5th October, were buried in Row BB. Left to right:
|GUNNER W. WALKER||ROYAL FIELD ARTILLERY||u/k||05/10/1918||BB 2|
|SECOND LIEUTENANT R. J. DEWAR D.C.M.||ROYAL FIELD ARTILLERY||23||05/10/1918||BB 3|
|CAPTAIN D. R. CARTWRIGHT||ROYAL FIELD ARTILLERY||21||05/10/1918||BB 4|
|LIEUTENANT C. BOSTOCK-SMITH||ROYAL ENGINEERS||27||05/10/1918||BB 5|
|CAPTAIN W. S. B. HAY||ROYAL ARMY MEDICAL CORPS||27||05/10/1918||BB 6|
Row T. These seventeen headstones (the centre one bears nothing but a cross) are inscribed with the names of 32 men of the 2nd Battalion, the Hampshire Regiment, all killed on 9th August 1916.
Behind, in Row U, lie thirteen more Hampshire men (and one from the Dorsets) who were also all killed on 9th August. In the early hours of the morning the Germans released a gas cloud which, slowly rolling across No Man’s Land towards the British trenches, engulfed the men manning the front and support lines, who appear to have been caught completely unawares. Many of the men who were killed were Hampshires who had survived the harrowing experience of Gallipoli the previous year, only to die in the choking clouds of phosgene that wallowed in the Potijze trenches that night, or in agony later, back at the Advanced Dressing Station in the Chateau.
The Hampshire graves in Row T again, this time from the northern end. The Battalion casualties that night totalled 4 officers and 109 men killed, and presumably many more incapacitated.
Close-up of three headstones in Row T.
Final view across the cemetery, this time from the north west corner.
Back near the cemetery entrance, this information tablet (visible to the far left of the previous picture) gives a brief outline of the war on the Western Front.
Plaques (above & below) inlaid into the cemetery wall bequeathing the land as the eternal resting place of the men buried within. As we leave Potijze Burial Ground, four more CWGC cemeteries, and one French one, await us as we follow the road east.