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.
Signposts usher us off the main road, but not before the outskirts of Messines become visible on the horizon ahead.
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.
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…
…and which is entered via this long grass pathway.
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’.”
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
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.”
Four men of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, all killed together, most likely by shellfire, in April 1915. Left to right:
|PRIVATE J. DOHERTY||ROYAL DUBLIN FUSILIERS||u/k||12/04/1915||I D 2|
|PRIVATE E. SAUNDERS||ROYAL DUBLIN FUSILIERS||u/k||12/04/1915||I D 2|
|PRIVATE H. CONLON||ROYAL DUBLIN FUSILIERS||22||12/04/1915||I D 2|
|PRIVATE E. McQUIRK||ROYAL DUBLIN FUSILIERS||u/k||12/04/1915||I D 2|
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).
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. GORRINGE||ROYAL SUSSEX REGIMENT||23||26/03/1916||II A 3|
|PRIVATE J. RAFFLE||ROYAL SUSSEX REGIMENT||23||27/03/1916||II A 3|
|LANCE CORPORAL F. GOLDING||ROYAL SUSSEX REGIMENT||22||18/04/1916||II A 4|
|PRIVATE C. MOORE||ROYAL SUSSEX REGIMENT||25||18/04/1916||II A 4|
Left to right:
|PRIVATE H. J. FREELAND||ROYAL SUSSEX REGIMENT||u/k||17/05/1916||II A 9|
|PRIVATE F. BERRIMAN||ROYAL SUSSEX REGIMENT||u/k||17/05/1916||II A 9|
|PRIVATE A. J. PEPPER||ROYAL SUSSEX REGIMENT||35||17/05/1916||II A 9|
Looking north, Plot II Row A in the foreground and Plot III at the far end.
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.
The northern end of Plot II Row C contains men of the Royal Irish Rifles killed on 1st September 1916.
Plot III was begun in July 1916 and also, as I mentioned earlier, contains the later burials from 1917 & 1918.
At the time of our visit, Lance Serjeant Grant’s headstone was undergoing renovation.
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.
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.
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.
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.
But we must move on. Our next stop, as we have seen, is just a stone’s throw away. And the mission? Next post.
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)
Alison, you are more than welcome. Glad to be of help.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Bloke = Like
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.
Hi Leah, Andrew Dunlea is my great great grandfather and we went to see the grave today too!
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.
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
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.
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 email@example.com.
Thanks for posting your comment Mary. I know exactly what you mean about the weather, by the way.
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”
David Mc Bain
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!
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.
David Mc Bain
Thank you for this. I visited my great uncles (Pte David Turton) grave last year. Do you have a theory why he is separated from the other graves? He died early (Jan 1915) and i think his grave could have been lost and later recovered. What do you think?
Hello Colin. You are most welcome. My theory is kind of the opposite of yours, although I cannot prove it, of course. Working backwards, we know that no graves were brought here after the war, so Private Turton was certainly there prior to the war’s end. There is no suggestion that the headstone is placed anywhere but over his grave (it would say so if that were the case), so we can be sure he is buried beneath his headstone. In my experience graves/bodies lost and later found would have been buried in line with the other headstones. I think that Private Turton was the first (or second burial) in the cemetery, i.e. he was buried where he now can be found long before this was a cemetery at all – a battlefield burial, if you like. Only one man has a date of death prior to his, and the next burial after Private Turton was not for over two weeks. The man killed a few days before Private Turton is actually in Plot I Row A, not far from Private Turton, so it may be that he was buried first, or it may be that he, not your Great Uncle, was the man whose grave was lost and later found, perhaps. I can imagine a single cross over a grave (or maybe two) among the shell holes and debris which, come mid/late February 1916, began to be used as a proper cemetery, and presumably by that time it wasn’t possible to place other graves next to your Great Grandfather (unexploded ordnance, shell fire – it quite simply was not worth men dying in the act of burying others). All just theory, but I’m reasonably happy with it. What do you think?
I wish that I had found this website before. I have just returned from a visit to La Plus Douve Farm Cemetery with my friend to pay respect to my Grandfather Thomas Underwood 3596, C Co. Royal Warwicks. Not knowing that there were two cemeteries we entered the Annex and were distraught at being unable to locate his grave. Fortunately my friend opened the register at the gate, realised that it was an annex and so eventually we found the right cemetery and grave. Very emotional. Well done for your website. Roger
Well I’m glad you’ve found us now, Roger. Better late than never! Thanks for you kind comments. Your trip could’ve been a bit of a disaster – thank heavens you found Thomas’s grave in the end. And yes, I have no doubt that it was very emotional. My family lost nobody during the Great War (one Grandfather was wounded in the foot, another was in the Mercantile Marine, and a Great Uncle gained an M.C. on 1st July 1916 on the Somme and was taken prisoner in 1917, but all survived), and yet my visits always contain some very emotional times. Off for a flying visit to Flanders at the end of next week actually. Can’t wait.
I only just found this website. My brother and I visited the grave of my great uncle Richard Morrissey of the Leinster Regiment in September 2011. What a beautiful peaceful place. A few days before we had visited the grave of his brother ( my grandfather) William Morrissey in Rouen. William was in the RASC and died on Armistice Day in Rouen. We also attended the services in Ypres and found the middle brother Richard( also Leinster Regiment) on panel 44 of the Menin Gate. I am glad some of our family were finally able to visit the graves of three brothers from Fermoy, Co Cork.
Hello Mary. Glad you found us. I agree with you – La Plus Douve is indeed a beautiful and peaceful place today. It’s difficult to think how different it was 100 years ago. Plenty of stuff on the Menin Gate & the Great War in Ireland elsewhere on this site if you’re interested. Thanks for commenting.
At last i am going to see my grandfathers grave in october. Malcolm Grant died 3rd Jan 1917 .
Hello again Alison. Long time! Have a wonderful trip to a beautiful cemetery. Let us know how it goes, won’t you?
I will be visiting the grave of my grandfather Thomas James McClure, with my sister & my 2 daughters 28/04/19. He was one of the Royal Irish Rifles killed in September 1916. His daughter, our mother, wasn’t quite 2 at that time. I noticed in your messages that a Stephen was looking for William A. Lamont of the Royal Irish Rifles. My grandfather lies next to him! His plot is II.C.24 & is one of the 3 headstones together, 6th from right in the photo. I would be more than happy to forward a photo for him.
Very best wishes
Hello Bev. You may, or may not, have gathered that I have been away for a week, hence the late reply. You will have visited your Grandfather today, and I hope all went well. And your offer is very kind indeed. Let’s hope Stephen sees it!
Thank you for developing this site , so informative and accessible, I am visiting this grave yard on 4th July and was looking to identify the grave site of my family member . He was a soldier in the Royal Irish Rifles and died alongside a number of comrades on the 1st September 1916. He was called David Pyper service number 18/1121. Your information will now ensure I will be successful. Thank you. I hope to find out more about the circumstances of his death but visiting his gravesite is important and you have greatly helped.
With every best wish
And thank you, Stephen, for taking the trouble to comment, and for using the word ‘accessible’, as I do worry about that sometimes. You may know that there are two cemeteries at La Plus Douve, and should you visit both, and once there I suspect you will, here’s some info on the other one and more about the area: http://thebignote.com/2014/03/04/la-plus-douve-farm-cemetery/
Have an excellent trip, and glad my little site has been of help.
By the way, I have just finished a fine book about the Royal Irish Rifles – The Burgoyne Diaries. No punches are pulled.
Hi,it’s such a small world! I sent you an email in April this year re. my grandfather Thomas James McClure of the Royal Irish Rifles who died 1st September 1916. His grave is in ration farm la plus douve annexe. In your photo there are 3 headstones together, his plot is 11.C.24, 6th from right in your photo. Next to him lies William Lamont as I wrote in my last email. Next to William lies D. Pyper 18/1121. who Stephen Moore will be visiting this July (as per your last message) as I said small world. Grandfather came from Lisburn Northern Ireland, as did William I’m sure they were all friends. We went in April, the cemetery is kept beautiful, it was very humbling to be there at last!
Many thanks for writing . Your right it’s a small world. David Pyper was from Kircubbin in the Ards . I’m sure he knew your grandfather , tragically there lives ended by war on the same day. I don’t know the circumstances but such a loss. David Pyper’s brother Robert James was killed on 31st March 1918 and he’s buried in Pozieres. All the best to you and your family. I will remember Thomas James when I visit.
Stephen, I see you’ve joined up! Only about eight years of stuff to catch up on! Lol! Welcome!
Great to hear you finally got to visit, Bev.
Hi Bev, I have just returned from a trip to WW1 battlefields in Flanders and had the privilege to spend a little time at Ration Farm annexe graveyard where I was able to spend a few minutes at David Pyper and your grandfathers gravestone. The cemetery is immaculately kept and on a hot sunny day with skylarks singing overhead there was a real sense of peace . So many comrades lived , fought and died together . It was a privilege to visit and to remember there lives .
Thank you to magicfingers for all the research and for sharing this- it is much appreciated and invaluable.