R. E. Farm Cemetery

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I considered including this little cemetery in the series of posts that made up the Tour of the Messines Ridge that you will find elsewhere on this site, as just half a mile up the road towards Wyschaete (Wijtschate) are the Kruisstraat Craters that we visited during that tour, and a little further on we would come to the Pool of Peace at Spanbroekmolen, but I decided against it, the burials here having little connection with the Battle of Messines, only a handful being made after April 1916.

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We are, however, just three quarters of a mile north of the village of Wulvergem, and the site of this cemetery does have quite a lot in common with those we have recently visited south of the Wulvergem – Messines Road, so you could treat this post as an extension of that tour if you wish.

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As at La Plus Douve Farm, regimental transport could bring rations, ammunition and stores as far as R. E. Farm, and an aid post was set up here early in the war.

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There are 179 burials in the cemetery, the majority made between December 1914 and April 1916, of which eleven are unidentified.  The first burials, on 3rd December 1914, were made by the Dorsetshire Regiment, who buried five men in what is now Plot III Row C (the group of five almost touching headstones in the centre left of the photo above).

The cemetery plan, courtesy of the CWGC, can be seen here:

R. E. Farm Cemetery Plan

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47 of the burials here, nearly all in Plot III, are Canadian troops killed between September 1915 and March 1916.  The 9th Bn. East Surreys, who took over this section from the Canadians in March 1916 and billeted their reserve company in dugouts near R. E. Farm, considered the front line trenches in this sector to be in the best condition of any they had yet taken over (unlike a year earlier, as you will find out later).  The battalion history states; “The Canadians, who had been holding this sector of the line for six months, had had a very quiet time of it and had suffered practically no casualties.”

47 Canadian families would beg to differ.

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Plot I Row B (foreground), with the headstones of Plot II, where the majority of the unidentified casualties are buried, behind.  R.E. Farm was the name given to Des Douze Bonniers Farm which was sited here and, as already mentioned, was used as an aid post, hence the creation of the cemetery to the east of the farm buildings.  The modern day farm appears to have been rebuilt on the same site, which is quite unusual in certain parts of Flanders, for reasons which I will either explain if you ask nicely, or you can work out for yourselves.  Or you already know.  In January 1915 the Dorsets began another cemetery on the west side of the farm, and after the Armistice the 23 men buried there were re-interred here in Plot II.

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Above & following three photos: Moving from west (left) to east (right) along the four rows of graves in Plot IV.  During the summer of 1916, when the 36th Ulster Division was holding the line in this sector, R. E. Farm was the site of a heavy trench mortar, firing huge 180 pound projectiles – flying pigs, as the soldiers called them – at the German front line trenches less than half a mile away.  Smaller mortars and artillery would join in, machine guns would fire on the communication trenches, and the daily ten minute ‘hate’ would ensue.  German retaliation was frequently heavy and accurate.  The men of the mortar teams knew they were marked men, and their officers were, I have read more than once, a special breed, “resolute, hard-bitten, perhaps often careless and unconventional, but capable in great moments of the most splendid courage”.

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Amusingly, it appears that when the first ‘flying pig’ was fired from R. E. Farm the charge failed to ignite properly, “and the big shell went forth, flaming gun-cotton marking its path, to land three hundred yards away just behind the British front line, making a huge crater and demolishing the local company headquarters”.  More amusingly, despite improvements in propellants, it was decided that the wisest option would be to evacuate the front line trench ahead of the mortar during the ten minutes of firing.  Based, presumably, on the premise that the Germans would all be keeping their heads down during the bombardment and be in no position to take advantage of empty British trenches.  Brilliant.

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In Plot IV there are 28 men of the North Staffordshire Regiment, who held this part of the line between April and June 1915.  When the Staffordshires arrived here, the trenches consisted of single lines of ditches, in places unconnected to each other, protected by breastworks.  There were no communication trenches nor second line trenches, and men had to reach the front line by taking their chances above ground, reliefs only being possible at night.

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Working parties, often under small arms fire, would also be out each night, maintaining and improving the trench system, or undertaking the perilous task of laying belts of barbed wire out in No Man’s Land.  Even in early 1915 mining operations were already taking place in this sector, and some men of both the North & South Staffordshires, miners during peacetime, were engaged with Royal Engineer tunnellers in primarily defensive mining, laying explosive charges known as camouflets beneath the German tunnels to try to collapse them.

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A handful of burials were made here in the summer of 1917, including three men of the East Lancashire Regiment, killed on 20th June 1917, and buried together at the start of Plot III Row B (centre)…

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…but after one final burial in July 1917 (an anti-aircraft gunner, actually.  Forty two year old Gunner Reginald Willshee.  I wonder what happened?), the cemetery was closed for good.

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13 Responses to R. E. Farm Cemetery

  1. Steven Oliver says:

    Hello, I am Steve Oliver from Canada. I am heading for the 100th Battle of Vimy Ridge ceremeony at the Vimy Memorial on April 9th. 20,000 to 50,000 people are expected. My wife’s grandfather was in the 19th Battalion. Your post here contains little information on the 19th Battalion. This Battalion served in the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division, 4th Brigade. Its first casualty here is George Durrand who was an Englishman, who signed up in Hamilton Ontario. We dont know yet why he was in Hamilton as he was born in England and he had his next of kin as a sister in London England. Nonetheless, he died serving with our CEF troups. The 19th came to France Sept 15th, from West Sandling Camp at Saltwood Kent. George was shot in the head by sniper on Oct 3rd 1915. Unless we can find an earlier grave here at R.E Farm from the 19th Battalion, George may have been the first to die. The 19th continued until the end of the war, some of those men an entire 3.5 years at the Front. They served at Somme, Paeschendale, here at Ypres, and at Vimy and more. Our grandfather was Herbert Douglas Fearman of Hamilton Ontario, who came at age 22, as a Lieutenant, then adjutant, and then Major and decorated with the DSO and later in Hamilton at Lt Colonel of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Hamilton. He had received the Queen in Hamilton, perhaps more than once. I am so excited about your blog. Is it a work in progress? the book on the 19th will be published in October by a Canadian historian. Its called ‘It cant last forever?’ by George Campbell. https://www.dropbox.com/s/3w99kho0gor9025/wlupress-fall-winter2016.pdf?dl=0

    • Magicfingers says:

      Hello Steven, and thank you very much for taking the time to comment. First of all, I hope you have a fantastic trip to Vimy; I went past the memorial only last year but had no chance to stop on that occasion. Fyi I am pretty sure that George Durrand is the only 19th Bn. man in R.E. Farm – the majority of Canadians here are 2nd Bn. And yes, very much a work in progress; regulars are aware that any post, however old, may be updated at any time. If you are interested in getting an email letting you know whenever I publish a new post, which is fairly frequently, then click the ‘Notify me of new posts by email’ box at the bottom of the page. And if you do, welcome aboard! And thanks once more for your comment.
      P.S. Looking forward to seeing the 19th Bn.book when it gets published. I shall keep an eye out for it in the autumn.

  2. Steven Oliver says:

    Hello silly name ;), may I ask your name. Yes anything more you can help me with is great. Ill pass on to the Honorary Colonel of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada, that I found Durrand and that he may be the only one. You seem sure, so you took a good look at all the Cdn graves? is there a website that I can reach that would name them and their Battalions so I can confirm? I was also told only Canada calls the Vimy Battle the Battle of Vimy Ridge. The history states that it was the first major victory in the war, where we actually penetrated the German trenches and pushed them back several kilometers. I dont know if you knew it was the first time the 4 Cdn Divisions were united together, and commanded by Canadians and that helped coordination and communication tremendously. Not discounting anything the Brits did as you had vastly more men in France, but at Vimy, 100,000 Canadians took part. At Ypres Sept 1915, I dont know how many but I do know that the 2nd Cdn Division was in part at West Sandling and from it the 4th Infantry Brigade sailed over on Sept 15th in the evening. By Oct 3, your Englishman, if you are from England, of our unit died. A tragedy to have worked so hard and have been lost so soon. I want to find a way for Hamilton to remember me. I am sure Hamiltonians have visited his grave before, maybe even family from England, but I just have to get something to his grave and I promise I will some day and I better do it soon, I am 60 years old now. I am on a tour on a bus called the Vimy Tour from April 2nd to April 15 from London, then train to Amsterdam, then bus to Lille, 3 days in the area to Arras and Vimy, then we skip over to the Normandy coast for 3 days and then 2 days in Paris and then back home. I have been trying to digest so much information, as you would know, every Battalion every individual is a study unto themselves. So I can only do so much. But I am so glad you know about RE Farm. Can you confirm that you have been there. Do you post the photo? Mike Dugdale over the Saltwood Kent website has created a fabulous tribute to Canada and its men at West Sandling, which is where the 19th, 20,21st and 18th I believe trained and sailed to where RE Farm and other nearby parts. So I would imagine you would find more dead from those at RE Farm or nearby. I am not aware of a 2nd Battalion, was it perhaps labeled as 2nd Cdn Division, of which all 4 Battalions were part of…although I think not because if Durrand was specified as from the 19th, than I would think the way they specify on other graves would be consistent by listing Battalions. Ill be in London April 3-5 and will visit it for my first time ever. Ill probably go to your war museum and focus on WW1. If it makes it any easier you can email me further comments directly so we dont clog up your blog with my minutia. steve.oliver28@outlook.com

    • Steven Oliver says:

      OOps type error. I want to help Hamilton remember him,,NOT ME!

      • Magicfingers says:

        Ha! Well, you may ask. I shall mail you with some figures for R.E. Farm (as soon as I get them together) and respond to the salient points above, very soon. Might even explain the name! You are going to have a brilliant trip!

  3. Jo Cullen says:

    Hi I have read through your description of R E Farm Cemetery. No mention is made of why my Grandfather my have been there. He was John Bristo of The Border Regiment.
    Staffordshire miners were mentioned. I have wondered if his pre war occupation of iron ore miner could be the reason and whether he had been seconded to the Royal Engineer s to dig tunnels but can find no proof. He was first buried in the G R E cemetery No 2 before being moved here. Can anyone shed any light on this Thanks Jo

    • Magicfingers says:

      Certainly possible Jo. You wil have to forgive me as I have a train to catch (a flying Flanders visit) in a couple of hours, so no time at the moment, but I am confused about G R E cemetery No 2 – I don’t know what that means, or is it a long gone small cemetery?

      • Jo Cullen says:

        Hi thanks for answering so quickly. The name of the first cemetery he was buried at came from his service records, It stated that he was killed inaction on 1st July 1915 and buried in G.R.E Farm Cemetery No 2, half a mile north of Wulverghem, West Flanders and three miles East of ? Dranoutri (difficult to read). His body was exhumed and re buried in R.E. Farm Cemetery No1 Five and a half miles SSW Ypres (No date given)
        I understand that many smaller cemeteries were amalgamated so the earlier one could have been discontinued.

        • Magicfingers says:

          Hello again Jo. So, back to your first comment. I suspect that your mining theory is a good one, but as you say, difficult to prove. Makes sense though. As far as his burial is concerned I do not know, or have not researched, whether there is a list somewhere of all the small cemeteries from where men were moved after the war to larger cemeteries (most cemeteries below 40 burials were cleared). Unfortunately for me, you have piqued my interest with GRE Cemetery No 2, and I have added ‘do some research on closed down cemeteries’ to my list of things to do at some point. When that might be I do not know, but as and when, I shall post anything I find here. Best I can do at the moment!

  4. Jo Cullen says:

    Thanks Jo

    • Magicfingers says:

      No problem. I’d be happy to receive a reminder next year sometime if I haven’t posted anything about the small, closed down cemeteries by then,

      • Jo Cullen says:

        Hi I have just learnt that the G R E Farm cemetery No2 was on the same farm as R E Farm Cemetery No 2 but as there were only 37 burials it was amalgamated in with the slightly larger one near the farm Jo

        • Magicfingers says:

          Hello Jo. So correct me if I’m wrong, but going back to your first comment, I did, in a roundabout way, mention what happened to your Grandfather, as I do mention the other cemetery (although we have a different number of casuaties there) in my post! Didn’t know its name though. Interesting stuff.

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