A Tour of Potijze Part Two – Potijze Chateau Grounds & Lawn Cemeteries

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Just a quarter of a mile east of Potijze Burial Ground the three other Potijze cemeteries are reached, as so beautifully demonstrated here by Baldrick, in air-stewardess mode, by following the signs…

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…that point the way down this short alley.

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Potijze Trench Map

Before we reach the cemeteries, here’s a contemporary map showing the position of Potijze in relation to the city of Ypres during the First World War.  As I mentioned in the previous post, today Potijze is close to being swallowed up by the encroaching outskirts of Ieper itself.

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The Cross of Sacrifice separates the two cemeteries that lie within the one cemetery boundary.

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Tablet inside the cemetery entrance; Potijze Chateau Grounds Cemetery in the background.

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Once inside the cemetery we find Potijze Chateau Lawn Cemetery to our left…

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…the Cross of Sacrifice in front of us…

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…and this is Potijze Chateau Grounds Cemetery, to our right, and it is here that we shall visit first.  The cemetery is divided into two plots, Plot II nearest the camera, and Plot I in the background, as you can see on the Potijze Chateau Lawn and Grounds Cemetery Plan.

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A second entrance, this time in the eastern wall (see below), allows this shot looking down the length of the cemetery…

Potijze Lawn Panorama 1

…and also this panoramic view looking south west towards the Cross of Sacrifice in the right distance.  The cemetery was first used on 24th April 1915, the day before the first burial at Potijze Chateau Grounds Cemetery, and two days before the first at Potijze Burial Ground; Potijze Chateau Lawn Cemetery wasn’t begun until early May.

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Yes, it was bloody cold.

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Back at the western cemetery boundary, looking at Plot I.  The five graves nearest the camera are those in the photo below.

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Five of 35 men buried here in 1918.  The cemetery remained in use until April 1918, after which one man was buried here in May, and three later in the summer after the final Allied offensive of the war had begun. The two Seaforth Highlanders buried at the end of Row D (foreground) & Row C (second row) are the final burials, on 28th September 1918.

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Two Crosses of Sacrifice.  If you look carefully across the field you will notice a second Cross of Sacrifice just to the left of the dark bush towards the right of the picture.  This is the site of Potijze Chateau Wood Cemetery, where we will find ourselves next post. Note also the single cross beneath the northern cemetery wall amidst the headstones of Row A; all shall be revealed shortly.

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Looking west down Plot I Row E.  The single tree you can see near the centre of the picture marks the division between the two plots, and will come in useful later to pinpoint our position within the cemetery.

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Above & below: As we saw earlier, beneath the northern cemetery boundary this single cross marks the grave of Captain Raoul Johnston of the Liaison Armes Britanique (explanation unnecessary, I’m sure), who died ‘Pour la  France’ on 14th May 1915.

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Potijze Chateau itself was sited alongside the road, roughly where the building to the far right is now situated.  Surprisingly, and there is photographic evidence that proves this claim, although well within range of the German guns, and not far behind the British front line, the Chateau, though heavily damaged, remained usable throughout the war, not just by the Advanced Dressing Station on the ground floor, but by artillery observers in the ruined floor above.

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Plot I, looking east back towards the Stone of Remembrance.  The two communication trenches that soldiers entered here to begin their journey to the front line were known as Haymarket and Piccadilly.  Edmund Blunden, whose ‘Undertones of War’ includes the best description of life at Potijze that I have yet come across, remembers, “If one lived much in the district, one evolved a sense of when to use the Haymarket communication trench, when Piccadilly.  The support trench was called St. James’ Street.  Narrow, worn-out sandbags, dugouts only dugouts by name, for they are small hutches of galvanized iron and revetting materials, blackened with wood-smoke and inside dusty and suffocating”.

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Above & below: Plot I, Row D in the foreground…

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…and continuing the shot, Row E on the right and Row D in the left foreground.  Behind, Row C contains many Canadian burials from late October and early November 1917, casualties from the final stages of the bloody battle for the Passchendaele Ridge some five miles to the north east.

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Baldrick dances a jig to keep his bits from dropping off.  Sometimes it’s bloody freezing in Flanders fields.  Pity the poor soldiers who had no warm home to return to at the end of a long day, unlike, thank heaven, your intrepid reporters (that’s him and me).

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Potijze Chateau Grounds Cemetery Plot II, with Potijze Chateau Lawn Cemetery in the background (above left).  Try to imagine.  When war first arrived at Potijze, the Chateau grounds would have looked very different from later in the war.  Immaculate lawns, ponds, bordered by weeping willows and spanned by white bridges, statues of gods and goddesses scattered about, “a kind of Arcadian environment”, according to Blunden.  Fast forward a few months.  A shell-torn landscape, communication trenches leading away to the east, a battalion HQ in one of numerous dugouts alongside the road near the Chateau, piles of stores, rolls of barbed wire, tools, steel rails, wooden planks and pit-props to strengthen the front line trenches, a bomb dump at nearby Lancer Farm, the dressing station in the Chateau, men continually moving either towards the front line or back to relative safety in Ypres, and always, always the threat of the German artillery firing from their positions away to the east.

And Potijze was known as a comparatively quiet area.

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If you look carefully you will notice that many of the headstones behind Plot II Row A in the foreground (above & below) are unidentified.  Of a total of 474 burials, the identities of 111 are unknown.

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I told you the tree would come in useful.

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Cross of Sacrifice.  Potijze Chateau Grounds Cemetery beyond.

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Baldrick peruses two information boards which give an outline of the fighting that took place around here.

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And so we move on to Potijze Chateau Lawn Cemetery.

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The first burial here was made on 8th May 1915, and the cemetery was used until October 1917, with one burial in April 1918 and a further 14 in September & October.

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There are just seven rows of graves, and there is a certain randomness about the spacing between the headstones and even some of the burials themselves (see below).  A total of 226 men are buried here, 197 of them identified.

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There is no Stone of Remembrance in Potijze Chateau Lawn Cemetery.  The Stone at the far end of Potijze Chateau Grounds Cemetery in the background suffices for both cemeteries.

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Two unknown soldiers at the end of Row D; note the four Royal Flying Corps headstones in Row F behind.  Four British flyers, two Second Lieutenants and two Air Mechanics, all from 22nd Squadron, and all four killed on the same day, 21st September 1917.  I don’t know for sure, but I can’t help thinking that two British planes collided in the air somewhere above Potijze that day, resulting in the deaths of these four airmen.

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Row D contains burials from many different regiments, all, apart from the single headstone in the far distance to the left, being casualties from August and October 1917.

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The headstone of this unidentified soldier was under renovation at the time of our visit.

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Canadian graves in Row E, more casualties from the final days of the fighting at Passchendaele.

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Rows F & G, the cemetery entrance in the centre background, and Plot II of Potijze Chateau Grounds Cemetery to the far left.  Note the South African headstones nearest the camera (there are nine South African graves scattered throughout the cemetery), and the four Royal Flying Corps burials further along.

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Back at the information panels, yet another cemetery entrance, or exit in this case, is the route to Potijze Chateau Wood Cemetery; again, you can see the Cross of Sacrifice in the distance, on the far side of the field to the left…

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…and next post we shall take a look around.

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