Ration Farm (La Plus Douve) Annexe

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Half a mile east of Wulvergem, just south of the road that leads towards Messines (now Mesen), this farm down in the valley of the River Douve plays host to two CWGC cemeteries.

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Signposts usher us off the main road, but not before the outskirts of Messines become visible on the horizon ahead.

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The River Douve, in reality more a stream than a river, flows in a west to east direction, bisecting the land between Messines to the north and Ploegsteert Wood to the south, on its way to join the River Leie (Lys) at Warneton, several miles to the east.

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The earliest of the two cemeteries sited here, although not by much, is Ration Farm (La Plus Douve) Annexe, which nestles in the fields to the west of the road as we approach the farm…

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…and which is entered via this long grass pathway.

Panorama

Before we go into the cemetery, this panoramic view of the farm shows you the juxtaposition of both cemeteries, with Ration Farm (La Plus Douve) Annexe beneath the trees to the right, and the Cross of Sacrifice within La Plus Douve Farm Cemetery visible between the trees near the buildings to the left.  At times during the war this view would have looked somewhat different:

“As one approached the place, one saw no sign of human occupation, nor of its possibility. There was nothing but a huge roofless farm, built round three sides of a square, as is common in Flanders. But inside one of the wings was an unobtrusive concrete structure thirty feet long, wherein the commanding officer and his staff dwelt in great comfort, above ground, with ample head-room, real windows and protection from ‘five-nines’.”

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Cemetery entrance.

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The cemetery was begun in January 1915 and was used on a regular basis until the end of 1916, after which just seventeen burials were made in 1917, and a further half-a-dozen in January 1918.  There are 202 burials in total here, of which nine are unidentified.  Although officially split into three plots, the cemetery is essentially, with a few exceptions, four long rows of headstones.  Immediately on entry we encounter Plot III where all of the 1917 & 1918 burials are to be found.

The cemetery plan can be viewed here:

Ration Farm (La Plus Douve) Annexe Cemetery Plan

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Cross of Sacrifice.  The cemetery entrance is at the far northern end of the cemetery, but Plot I, the earliest plot, is at the southern end, so we shall begin our look around there and work our way north back to the entrance.

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Above and below: The lone grave of Private David Turton of the Manchester Regiment, one of the earliest burials here.  His grave reference, somewhat unusually, is ‘Plot I Behind Row D’.

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View from the southern end of the cemetery looking north with Plot I nearest the camera.  The Wulvergem – Messines road follows the line of the horizon from left to right.  La Plus Douve Farm was not far behind the British front lines for much of the war and was used, among other things, as a ration dump, hence its given name of Ration Farm.

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A mile away, if we walked across the fields to the south east beyond La Plus Douve Farm Cemetery on the other side of the pond, we would come to Ploegsteert Wood, about which you can read elsewhere on this site.

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It all looks peaceful and picturesque today.  Once upon a time:

“The valley of the Douve, above all, from Wulverghem to the front line, became a muddy swamp, in which the water lay in sheets. At such times, and indeed during a great part of the winter, many trenches simply could not be occupied. No adequate idea of the impression conveyed upon the mind of a man coming up north from the clean, white trenches of the Somme can be obtained of all this area unless it is conceived as dirty, mournful, and disconsolate; haunted by the evil stench of blue clay, and brooded over by an atmosphere of decay.”

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Four men of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, all killed together, most likely by shellfire, in April 1915.  Left to right:

PRIVATE J. DOHERTYROYAL DUBLIN FUSILIERSu/k12/04/1915I D 2
PRIVATE E. SAUNDERSROYAL DUBLIN FUSILIERSu/k12/04/1915I D 2
PRIVATE H. CONLONROYAL DUBLIN FUSILIERS2212/04/1915I D 2
PRIVATE E. McQUIRKROYAL DUBLIN FUSILIERSu/k12/04/1915I D 2

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Plot I (note the single German headstone at the start of Row A to the far left).  You can see the four headstones in the previous photo near the far end of the back row.  The four touching headstones in the right foreground are in Plot II Row A (see below).

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The Royal Sussex Regiment buried 24 of their dead here during their time in the nearby trenches between March and June 1916.  Left to right:

PRIVATE E. GORRINGEROYAL SUSSEX REGIMENT2326/03/1916II A 3
PRIVATE J. RAFFLEROYAL SUSSEX REGIMENT2327/03/1916II A 3
LANCE CORPORAL F. GOLDINGROYAL SUSSEX REGIMENT2218/04/1916II A 4
PRIVATE C. MOOREROYAL SUSSEX REGIMENT2518/04/1916II A 4

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Left to right:

PRIVATE H. J. FREELANDROYAL SUSSEX REGIMENTu/k17/05/1916II A 9
PRIVATE F. BERRIMANROYAL SUSSEX REGIMENTu/k17/05/1916II A 9
PRIVATE A. J. PEPPERROYAL SUSSEX REGIMENT3517/05/1916II A 9

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Looking north, Plot II Row A in the foreground and Plot III at the far end.

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Further along Plot II Row A lie eight more of the men from the Royal Sussex Regiment, all killed, presumably together, on 17th June 1916.  Soon after midnight, the Germans launched an attack accompanied by a heavy bombardment which included gas shells.  It seems that a number of men were fatally gassed that night, including the Royal Sussex men whose graves are pictured above.

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The northern end of Plot II Row C contains men of the Royal Irish Rifles killed on 1st September 1916.

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Plot III was begun in July 1916 and also, as I mentioned earlier, contains the later burials from 1917 & 1918.

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At the time of our visit, Lance Serjeant Grant’s headstone was undergoing renovation.

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Despite our proximity to the Messines battlefield, only one soldier, New Zealand Private John Timuiha, was buried here during the battle of June 1917; by that time the adjacent La Plus Douve Farm Cemetery had taken over as the main burial ground.

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Having signed the visitor’s book, Baldrick cheerily reminds me of our mission.  Did I mention that we were on a mission?  No?  How very lax of me.

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Looking back towards the cemetery entrance as we take our leave.  Despite the flooding that was mentioned earlier, over time, the deepening of the bed of the Douve, and the removal of obstructions by the Royal Engineers helped to alleviate the problem to the degree that trench tramways could be laid, and shelters, often using reinforced concrete, could be constructed.

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Ration Farm was a busy, if unhealthy, place, consistently and accurately shelled by German artillery. The entrance to the Douve sector was by Plum Duff Sap, a narrow trench beside a road that ran past the farm along which all reliefs were made; men were constantly moving up the trench towards the front lines, or down the trench towards their billets in the rear.  The farm was also the closest place to the front lines where transport could unload rations during the hours of darkness, ammunition was stored here, it was used as a battalion headquarters, certainly by the British in 1915 and the New Zealanders in 1917, and a regimental aid post was sited nearby.  An incident in April 1917, when German artillery hit a store of bombs stacked next to the gate leading to the courtyard of the farmhouse, killing five New Zealand soldiers and wounding eleven, illustrates the dangers that men faced here on a daily basis.  As do the cemeteries.

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But we must move on.  Our next stop, as we have seen, is just a stone’s throw away.  And the mission?  Next post.

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23 Responses to Ration Farm (La Plus Douve) Annexe

  1. alison george says:

    I wish to thank you as I have now found the grave of my grandfather Lance sergeant Malcolm Grant it is amazing to see a picture of where he is buried. I my dad was alive to see this he was only 10yrs old when his dad died. Many Thanks Alison George (Grant)

  2. Magicfingers says:

    Alison, you are more than welcome. Glad to be of help.

  3. Elsa Hurst says:

    Thank you for the beautiful photographs. Ration Farm Annexe is where my grandfather, Thomas Fagan, is buried. He died at the age of 28 in 1915, having never seen my mother, who was born in October 1914. My grandmother never had the chance to visit his grave, and I had always hoped to go there one day with my mother. Sadly she died before this could happen. I did visit the cemetery with my husband, and at that time the field to be crossed was a quagmire. I am so pleased that this has been improved. Our extended family hopes to attend the grave on the centenary of his death. Many thanks for what you have provided.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Hello Elsa. Thanks for taking the time to comment; your words are much appreciated. I hope you manage to revisit Ration Farm Annexe later in the year. Let us know how the trip goes, won’t you.

  4. Noel McDonnell says:

    Thank you for your wonderful presentation of Ration Farm war cemetery. I am Elsa’s cousin and of course Thomas Fagan was also my grandfather, so along with Elsa and her husband I will be travelling to Ration Farm cemetery on the 29th of March 2015. It is the centenary anniversary of the death of our grandfather. We will be joined by other members of òur family flying in from the USA, Ireland and Britain.
    We shall be there to çelebrate the life of Thomas Fagan and to honour his sacrifice and commemorate his passing. A man none of us ever met, yet we owe him our very existence. Shall let you know how we get on! Noel.

  5. Magicfingers says:

    Hello Noel. You are too kind! Without being presumptive, once you return from your trip I’d be very happy to add a photo to this post of all of you at Ration Farm if you wish. I look forward to hearing how it all goes.

    Btw, check out the St. Quentin Cabaret Military Cemetery post if you haven’t already. There’s a trench map of the area there, and an explanation of how the evacuation of the wounded took place in this area.

  6. Frank Barr says:

    Yes well done for putting this presentation together. I will also be visiting the grave of Thomas Fagan my Great Grandfather on Mar 29, I will be traveling from Ireland (as he did) with my daughter Ava – his Great Great Grand Daughter so that both of us together with the other members of our family may pay tribute to him for the huge sacrifice he made. Sadly in different times free of war I might have known him. He would have been old when I was a child but I could have known him. Sadly though we know so little about him as he died so young, even his daughter, my grandnother did mot remember him as she was only two years when he died and no photographs that we are aware of.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Thanks Frank. Yes, war leaves us with so many ‘what ifs’, does it not? Nonetheless, your extended family visit to Thomas’ grave is just a wonderful thing to be doing. He would be utterly amazed, I suspect. Hope it goes well. Btw there’s an Ireland section on this site, where you’ll find some of the WWI related sites I have visited in your lovely country, if you are interested.

  7. Mr Bob says:

    I’m just on the ferry home after a visit to Ration Farm with a friend. It’s his first time abroad, and he recently found out about his relative being buried there – Private Andrew Dunlea of the Leinsters. I’ve visited the area before, but not this actual cemetery. It’s been a lovely sunny day, with the birds singing at this now-peaceful spot. Such a contrast to the descriptions above. We’re back next year for his centenary in April 2016.

    • Leah dean says:

      Hello everyone and mr bob. I had the pleasure of going with my father to Ration farm annexe to visit my great grandad Andrew Dunlea. Took some time locating the site but we got there. Beautiful day For it

      • MrBob says:

        Hi Leah

        My friend is marty Donovan from London, so I suppose you would be a cousin of his. Small world, and I’m glad that someone else has visited your grand father bloke you say, it is remote but I found it a really peaceful spot when we was there. Best wishes

      • Magicfingers says:

        Hello Leah. Thanks for taking the time to comment and, it seems, you may have found a relative here. Well nearly! I’m glad you had a good day at Ration Farm.

      • Charlotte Cornell says:

        Hi Leah, Andrew Dunlea is my great great grandfather and we went to see the grave today too!
        Charlotte Cornell

  8. Magicfingers says:

    Hello Mr Bob. Thanks for taking the trouble to post a comment on your journey home yesterday. It’s an interesting place and, as you say, a peaceful place. Now. Hope all goes well when you return next year.

  9. stephen says:

    Do you have any other photo of the Royal Irish Rifle headstones at Ration Farm (La Plus Douve) Annexe. I am especially looking for Rifleman William A Lamont
    Stephen

    • Magicfingers says:

      I have checked Stephen, and I’m sorry but I don’t have a close-up. Rifleman Lamont’s headstone is visible in some of the photos in this post, in particular the photo eight from the end; his headstone is seventh from the right, in the middle of three touching headstones.

  10. Mary Greenall says:

    Just reading this as I am one of Thomas Fagan’s great grandchildren and visited his grave with the others who posted above last March on 100th anniversary of his death. It was very moving. The weather was absolutely dreadful and gave us but an inkling of what the men had to endure from the elements without considering the mortar fire etc.

    However I just wanted to post to let people know about a fellow I came across who has photographed and catalogued most of the war graves on the salient. He found and sent to me photographs if my great grandad’s grave less than an hour after sending my request to him. His email is frederik.sohier@gmail.com.

  11. Magicfingers says:

    Thanks for posting your comment Mary. I know exactly what you mean about the weather, by the way.

  12. David Mc Bain says:

    Thank you so much for the work you have done on this site. For those of us who cannot get to the area it shows beautifully and informatively the last resting place of our relatives.

    My wife’s great uncle Pte. Henry Cecil Greene No. 6564 was killed in this area 8 January 1918. The location of his grave is not recorded in his war record but it is known he was buried next to a comrade who was killed by the same shell. This man was almost certainly Pte. C. A. Kimberley No. 7073. Pte. Kimberley was buried Plot 3 Row B in the La Plus Douve Annexe.
    I would greatly appreciate seeing a photograph, if you have one, of the Kimberley grave and the graves around his. In particular there appears to be a grave in the vicinity described as “Unknown British soldier”

    Regards
    David Mc Bain

    • Magicfingers says:

      Hello David. Thank you very much for your very kind comments. Glad I can be of some help, at least to show you what the place looks like, although I have checked to see if any of my non-published photos include Plot III Row B and come up empty handed. All I can tell you is that four of the six Australians killed in January 1918 and buried here are to be found at the end of Row B, in the order Collins B16, Kimberley B17, Lee-Thomas B18 and Stone B19. The unidentified British soldier you mention is the final headstone in the row, next to Stone, the nearest headstone to the camera in the second row in picture 8. Best I can do!

      • David Mc Bain says:

        Thank you for searching your records.

        The more I think about it the more I am convinced that Henry Greene is buried in this group.

        Regards
        David Mc Bain

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