A quarter of a mile west of St. Quentin Cabaret Military Cemetery, and a little way south west of the village of Wulvergem, Kandahar Farm Cemetery stands as a silent witness to the many wounded men whose journey ended at the Advanced Dressing Station that once stood here…
…and, long after the sun has set beyond the Kemmelberg, we just have time to take a look around.
On entering the cemetery we encounter the lone headstone of Private Edward Burnell Wilkins, one of 69 men killed during the Battle of Messines in June 1917 whose graves are in this cemetery. He has the unusual grave reference of Special Memorial near Plot I Row B on Right of Entrance, and you will have noticed that his headstone is inscribed with the words ‘Known to be buried in this cemetery’.
The first six graves in Plot I Row A are in fact from late September and early October 1918, among the later burials in the cemetery. Many of the graves in Row B behind are among the earliest burials, from late 1914. Rifleman Johnson of the London Regiment (City of London Rifles), the fourth headstone from the left in the front row, was actually an alias for his real name of Ernest Cecil Ames.
More September 1918 burials in Plot I Row A; this time the men buried in Row B are all casualties from the summer of 1917.
Here’s the Kandahar Farm Cemetery Plan.
The earliest burials, mainly men of the Manchester Regiment killed in November 1914, can be found in Plot I Row C.
South westerly view across the centre of the cemetery, Plot I on the right, Plot II Row K straight ahead, and the rest of Plot II to the left. The cemetery entrance is beyond the Cross of Sacrifice.
The cemetery was begun in mid-November 1914 and used until April 1918, when the Germans captured this entire area. It was used again in September and October as the Germans were pushed inexorably east towards the war’s end. There are now 443 burials here, of which eleven are unidentified.
Another unusual grave reference: Plot II Row A Behind Grave 10. 56 burials were made here between early September and mid-October 1918.
View from the south west corner looking north across Plot II. Note the German headstone in Row A nearest the camera.
From the same spot, looking north east down the length of Row A.
Two gunners, killed in the summer of 1917 and buried in Plot II Row D.
These men of the North Staffordshire Regiment, who lie together in Plot II Row H, were the final four burials made here before the Germans overran the area in April 1918. One wonders whether it might have been the Germans who buried them.
At this point I really should own up, as the somewhat unnatural glow of the street lamp in the background rather gives the game away anyway. The reality is that by this time it was far darker than it appears in these pictures, and quite frankly, if I had any kind of editorial integrity, I probably shouldn’t include many of these photos in this blog in the first place. But needs must, and until I pay another visit, this is as good as you’re going to get.
Probably best not to enlarge too many of these photos though. As if I can stop you.
Men of the Durham Light Infantry in Plot II, killed in the fighting that took place as the war neared its end in October 1918.
Back at Plot I…
…these men of the Canterbury Regiment, N.Z.E.F. were killed in May 1917 and buried in Row D. It was the New Zealand Division who took over this sector in the spring of 1917 and who would attack the Messines Ridge from the trenches between Wulverghem (now Wulvergem) and Ploegsteert Wood on the morning of 7th June, during the opening phase of the Battle of Messines. They had previously set up two Advanced Dressing Stations, one here at Kandahar Farm to serve the north of their sector, and one at Underhill Farm for the south, New Zealand Engineers labouring to add protection to the farm buildings and make each as splinter-proof as possible*. In this, the northern sector, casualties from the two Regimental Aid Posts at La Plus Douve and St. Quentin Cabaret would be ferried by either trench railway or ambulance to Kandahar Farm where up to 100 stretcher cases could be catered for at any one time within the ruined farm buildings. From here those that could be moved would be taken by road to the Corps Main Dressing Stations and Casualty Clearing Stations some miles to the east, and from there, if they were lucky, on to the base hospitals and then perhaps home to England. The unlucky ones remained here forever.
*The rooms and cellars at Kandahar & Underhill Farms had been made virtually impregnable to shell fire unless they received a direct hit. Walls were reinforced with broken brick-filled sandbags, roofs were given extra support using pit-props and steel rails covered in concrete and protected by more sandbags, and the engineers even built new broken-brick roads to allow ambulances easy access to and from the dressing stations.
Now I know you have seen this trench map before, but better too often than not enough. Kandahar Farm is just a few yards off the map following the road west to the bottom left. St. Quentin Cabaret and La Plus Douve Farm are still exactly where they have been all along, and if you follow the road east (right) you will come to Boyle’s Farm, sited close behind the front line, about which you will hear more shortly.
On this trench map Boyle’s Farm is just beneath the large ‘U’ near the centre top of the picture, and at last you can see how close we have been to Messines throughout our visits to the cemeteries sited hereabouts. The evacuation of the wounded began at semi-permanent aid posts close behind the front line. One such, staffed by a Regimental Medical Officer, was situated at Boyle’s Farm, where strengthened dug-outs in a communication trench would be the first port of call for men freshly wounded in the line. From there the route of evacuation followed a communication trench known as Boyle’s Cut which opened out, once out of direct sight of the Germans, on the Wulverghem road near St. Quentin Cabaret Regimental Aid Post, the journey continuing on, as we have already seen, to Kandahar Farm Advanced Dressing Station, and from there to one of the Corps Main Dressing Stations at Trois Arbres or Bailleul, where trains awaited to transport the survivors to the hospitals away to the west.
Two Australian Privates buried in Plot I Row C. There are 186 Australians buried here, the majority killed during the summer months of 1917.
Plot I Row B. The Manchester Regiment men pictured above were all killed in December 1914; the two artillerymen to the right are casualties from 1917.
The lights along the road to Kemmel glisten as dusk turns to dark.
I think he wants to go home.
And so we shall.
Update February 2017: In the summer of 1916, prior to the Battle of Messines, New Zealander Lieutenant Colonel Donald Murray D.S.O. was placed in charge of forward evacuations at the A.D.S. at Kandahar Farm, and you might find the following passage from his contemporary report on the work there during the battle of interest; “Throughout the whole of the operations evacuations proceeded satisfactorily, the wounded coming in very quickly. There was little holding up of wounded forward of the A.D.S., and very few cases that had not been brought in within 24 hours. Later on in the operations a few wounded were located in shell holes where it was very difficult to find them, or, in some instances, to approach to their assistance owing to severe shell fire. The trench tramways were of much assistance in evacuating from Spring Street and Port Osborne. Each trolley had been adapted by special gates to carry four stretcher cases; only three bearers were required to handle the load. The specially constructed protected aid posts, roomy and well equipped with all necessary medical stores, staffed by N.Z.M.C. nursing orderlies, were of the greatest assistance to the R.M.O.’s who were enabled to work expeditiously and safely, and later advance to their forward aid posts with the battalion medical equipment intact and unopened. The field ambulance runners were well used to maintain touch with the advanced dressing station by accelerating the despatch of bearer parties to an already known point. Occasionally, owing to heavy hostile artillery fire it was not possible, within the bounds of reasonable safety, for bearers and wounded, to clear some of the forward posts, and a pause in the work was necessitated until fire ceased or slackened. Thomas’ hip splints were largely used and unquestionably enabled the transportation of men with fractured thighs to be carried out with the minimum of shock. Hot restorative drinks and food were given to all cases at the A.D.S. prior to dressing and evacuation. Along the walking wounded tracks, refreshment points were provided by the New Zealand Y.M.C.A. or the field ambulance personnel; here hot drinks and biscuits were available.”