You may remember, way back in Part Two of this tour, that I mentioned that we would find ourselves north east of Zillebeke Lake later in the year, and as you can see, we most certainly have! Sited next to the road just a handful of yards north of Zillebeke village, Perth Cemetery (China Wall) was begun by French troops in November 1914, and it was not until June 1917 that the first British burials were made here, The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) becoming the first non-French troops to use the cemetery. Between June and October 1917 some 130 British burials were made in what is now Plot I, but as the tide of war moved east, slowly and bloodily, towards the Passchendaele ridge, the cemetery became redundant. It was only after the war that the number of burials was hugely increased as men, some French but the majority British, were brought here from battlefield graves, and a considerable number of smaller cemeteries, for reinterment.
The cemetery is situated a few hundred yards north of Zillebeke itself, and if you were to follow the road a further half a mile north (right) you would find yourself at the roundabout that was once the site of the infamous Hellfire Corner.
It’s a curious name for a cemetery, don’t you think? The China Wall part, it seems, derives from the name of a communication trench that ran from near here north to the Menin Road. You have to remember that the term ‘trench’ in much of Flanders was somewhat of a misnomer; the height of the water table precluded the digging of deep Somme-like trenches, so sandbags had to be piled on top of each other above ground to artificially increase the depth of a trench, in turn creating long lines of sandbags stretching across the countryside. This particular trench, one gets the impression, was a fine example, hence it being known as ‘The Great Wall of China’.
The Perth part of the name is more difficult to explain. Or possibly not. Most reference sources state that the reason is unknown, or that it possibly had to do with the crest of the City of Perth in Scotland. If you look into the history of The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles), you can trace the regiment back to the amalgamation, in 1881, of the 26th Cameronian Regiment and the 90th (Perthshire Light Infantry). It seems to me that here you have the most likely reason for the naming of this cemetery.
Panoramic view of the cemetery from just inside the entrance. The original burials from 1917 can all be found in Plot 1, at the far eastern end, so we shall begin our visit by following the northern boundary wall in that direction.
Cross of Sacrifice. The cemetery plan, as always by kind permission of the CWGC, can be found here:
On entering the cemetery the first headstones along the boundary wall in Plot IX, one of the smallest plots, are nearly all men from Scottish regiments killed in late October or early November 1914.
Sergeant R. E. Sunners of the 2nd Bn, Wiltshire Regiment, killed in action on 24th October 1914 aged 35, and now buried here in Plot X. Originally buried in Reutel German Military Cemetery at Becelaere along with more than a hundred other British soldiers, all of whom were reinterred here in the mid-1920s, the documents below (again courtesy of the CWGC) suggest that it was only on exhumation that Sergeant Sunners’ identity was discovered.
It appears that Sunners was nearly reburied as ‘an unknown Sergeant of the Wiltshire Regiment’. But I can’t explain why, in the document above, a boot marked with his number, 5809, appears elsewhere on the list.
We continue past Plot X (the three rows in the foreground) and the other plots along the northern wall (see cemetery plan)…
…arriving at Plot XIV and the Stone of Remembrance, in the north eastern corner, with the two rows of the smallest plot, Plot XV, in the left background.
Plot XV Row A. Three men of the The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment), and a single South Wales Borderer, all four casualties of late October 1914, are the only identified burials in this row. The two lines of trees in the right background flank the road to Hellfire Corner.
The Stone of Remembrance.
The three rows of Plot XVI are mainly burials from 1914 & 1917. In the background, beneath the eastern boundary wall, special memorial headstones remember 27 men ‘known’ or ‘believed to be buried in this cemetery’.
Beyond Plot XVI (front left), the more dispersed headstones are those of the original burials of Plot I.
Most of the burials in Plot I Row E (the row on the right of the previous photo) are from August and September 1917 (four men, including three machine gunners, were buried here in July)…
…but it is the scattered nature of the southern part of Plot I that shows us the true nature of the original cemetery. This place was begun as a battlefield cemetery, where the construction of nice straight rows of headstones was understandably of less importance than the safety of men involved in conducting burials under shellfire.
Looking north west, the headstones of Plot I in the foreground (those to the far left are the same as those in the previous picture). I suspect that the French burials were originally in this section of the cemetery, and if anyone knows for sure, please let me know, but they have all, including the post-war additions, been long since moved elsewhere, probably to St. Charles de Potyze Cemetery.
Looking along the length of Plot I Row D, the Stone of Remembrance in the background, and Row E on our left. The headstones to the far right of the photograph include the earliest of the original Cameronian burials.
Twenty six identified men lie in the section of Row D pictured here, most killed in July 1917, but all have the same Grave Reference of Plot I Row D 5, which suggests that although their names are known, the exact identity of each individual body is uncertain.
Many more burials were added to Plot I (first five rows above) after the war. Further along Row G, in the foreground, a man who was executed for desertion lies just a few yards away from another who has the Victoria Cross inscribed on his headstone.
There are now more than 2700 burials at Perth Cemetery, nearly half of whom are unidentified.
The vast majority are British…
…although there are a few New Zealand and South African graves here, alongside 133 Canadians…
…and 147 Australians. A substantial number of these are men of the Australian Field Artillery, who suffered heavy losses operating their guns from positions around Zillebeke Lake, only half a mile from here away to the south west.
The covering of snow temporarily removes any distinction between each headstone and its neighbours. Beneath the snow, these men become entirely equal.
On this day, all are unidentified.
Looking across the width of the cemetery along Plot VI Row J. The row continues in the distance as Plot V Row J. Of the forty headstones in the complete row, the identities of 29 are unknown.
The first rows of Plot VI (nearest camera) and Plot V beyond. There are seven executed soldiers who lie in this cemetery, all of whom were sentenced to death for desertion. Five of them are buried in Plots V & VI, four in the second row of the photo above. In the left background you can see the headstones of Plot IX, the first men we visited, along the northern boundary wall.
The western end of the cemetery, apart from the entrance in the distance, is taken up with 108 special memorial headstones, in the middle of which three Duhallow blocks have been placed, in remembrance of 108 men who were originally buried in a dozen other, smaller, cemeteries, but whose graves were lost in later fighting.
The Duhallow blocks list the cemeteries and number of soldiers whose remains were lost (see following photos).
To save you having to work it out, it says 38.
Which brings us to the end of our visit.
The cemetery was also known by another name during its brief, original, existence. British soldiers referred to it as Halfway House Cemetery, after their name for a farm located not far away to the east. Bearing in mind our earlier ruminations on the cemetery name, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that Halfway House was its only name during the war, and that the decision to call it Perth Cemetery (China Wall) was taken post-war.
A final look over the cemetery wall at the loop of special memorials. I shall find the time to stop here again one day, perhaps on a warm summer’s afternoon, and visit some of the individual headstones that a covering of snow, however beautiful, makes somewhat difficult to find, let alone photograph. Today, however, we shall head just a short distance down the road into Zillebeke, where Tuileries British Cemetery awaits us.
Postscript: Just this once, I have copied the following list from the CWGC website detailing the cemeteries from which bodies were exhumed after the war to be reburied here:
BECELAERE GERMAN CEMETERY No.1 (246th RESERVE INFANTRY REGIMENT), close to Becelaere Church, contained about 500 German and two British burials.
BELGIAN CHATEAU CEMETERY, VLAMERTINGHE, in the grounds of a chateau 2 Kms South-West of Ypres. It contained the graves of 12 soldiers from the United Kingdom, 11 from Canada, and one French soldier, dating from 1914 to 1917.
BROODSEINDE GERMAN CEMETERIES, ZONNEBEKE. These contained the graves of 27 British soldiers, who fell mainly in 1914. Broodseinde gave its name to the Battle of the 4th October 1917; and the Memorial of the 7th Division, which fought here in 1914 and 1917, is a little South of the hamlet on the road to Becelaere.
DURHAM CEMETERY, ZILLEBEKE, at the North end of the village, was used from December 1915 to March 1916. It contained the graves of 52 soldiers from the United Kingdom, 39 of whom belonged to Territorial battalions of the Durham Light Infantry.
GARTER POINT CEMETERY, ZONNEBEKE, on the road from Zonnebeke to Westhoek, was used from September 1917 to April 1918, and contained the graves of 19 soldiers from Australia, eight from the United Kingdom, one from New Zealand, three of unknown units, and one German.
GORDON HOUSE CEMETERY No.2, ZILLEBEKE, at Gordon House, contained the graves of 30 soldiers from the United Kingdom who fell in 1915 and 1917.
HANS KIRCHNER GERMAN CEMETERY, POELCAPELLE, 1.6 Kms South-East of Poelcapelle village, contained the graves of four soldiers from the United Kingdom who fell in October 1914.
HOUTHULST GERMAN CEMETERY, at the East end of the village, contained the graves of about 1,000 German soldiers and one R.F.C. Officer.
KEERSELAERE WEST GERMAN CEMETERY, LANGEMARCK, a little West of the Zonnebeke-Langemarck road, contained the graves of 29 soldiers from the United Kingdom who fell mainly in October 1914.
KEERSELAERHOEK GERMAN CEMETERY, PASSCHENDAELE, about 180 metres North-East of Tyne Cot Cemetery, contained the graves of twelve soldiers from the United Kingdom and two from Canada who fell in 1914 and 1915.
LANGEMARCK GERMAN CEMETERY No.7 (also known as TOTENWALDCHEN), 1.6 Kms North-West of the village, contained the graves of four soldiers from the United Kingdom.
LANGEMARCK GERMAN CEMETERY No.8, just beyond the railway on the road to Houthulst, contained the graves of 27 soldiers from the United Kingdom who fell in October 1914.
L’EBBE FARM CEMETERY, POPERINGHE, about 1.6 Kms North-West of the town, contained the graves of 21 soldiers from the United Kingdom who fell in 1915 and 1918.
MANNEKEN FARM GERMAN CEMETERY No.3, ZARREN, in the South-East part of Houthulst Forest, contained the graves of about 700 Germans and 13 British soldiers who fell in 1917.
MANOR ROAD CEMETERY, ZILLEBEKE, at the railway halt 800 metres South-West of Zillebeke village. It contained the graves of 17 soldiers of the United Kingdom (mainly Royal Field Artillery) who fell in 1917 and 1918.
NACHTIGALL (or ROSSIGNOL, or VIEUX-CHIEN) GERMAN CEMETERY, GHELUVELT, 800 metres North of the Rossignol Cabaret on the Menin Road (near the hamlet of Vieux-Chien), contained the graves of 1,130 German soldiers and 69 from the United Kingdom, most of whom fell in September-October 1915.
POELCAPELLE GERMAN CEMETERY No.2, about 1.6 Kms South-East of the village, contained the graves of 96 soldiers from the United Kingdom and Canada who fell in 1914 and 1915.
POELCAPELLE GERMAN CEMETERY No.3, 800 metres South of the village, contained the graves of 23 soldiers from the United Kingdom and 19 from Canada who fell in 1914 and 1915.
RATION DUMP BURIAL GROUND, ZILLEBEKE, on the road a little South of Gordon House, contained the graves of 28 soldiers from the United Kingdom (mainly London Scottish and Liverpool Scottish) and one from Canada.
REUTEL GERMAN CEMETERY, BECELAERE, on the North side of the Reutel-Zwaanhoek road, contained a very large number of German graves and 125 soldiers and airmen from the United Kingdom, two Canadian soldiers and one from New Zealand, who fell in 1914-1917.
ST. JOSEPH GERMAN CEMETERY, HOOGHLEDE, on the North side of the hamlet of Geite or St. Joseph, contained the graves of four airmen from the United Kingdom who fell in 1918.
ST. JULIEN COMMUNAL CEMETERY, LANGEMARCK, contained the graves of six soldiers of the 14th Canadian Battalion who fell in April 1915.
ST. JULIEN EAST GERMAN CEMETERY, LANGEMARCK, on the Langemarck-Zonnebeke road, contained the graves of 65 soldiers from the United Kingdom and 31 from Canada who fell in October 1914 and April 1915.
SCHREIBOOM GERMAN CEMETERY, 800 metres East of Langemarck village, contained the graves of 34 soldiers from the United Kingdom who fell in October 1914.
TRANSPORT FARM ANNEXE, ZILLEBEKE, 180 metres South of the South-West corner of Zillebeke Lake, and a little East of Railway Dugouts Burial Ground (Transport Farm), contained the graves of 27 soldiers from the United Kingdom (16 of whom belonged to the 1st Dorsets) who fell in November 1914-June 1915.
TRENCH RAILWAY CEMETERY, ZILLEBEKE, on the West side of the hamlet of Verbrandenmolen, contained the graves of 21 soldiers from the United Kingdom who fell in 1915 and 1916.
TREURNIET GERMAN CEMETERY, POELCAPELLE, on the road from Poelcapelle village to the railway station, contained the grave of one Canadian soldier.
WALLEMOLEN GERMAN CEMETERY, PASSCHENDAELE, 180 metres South of the hamlet of Wallemolen, contained the graves of 20 soldiers from the United Kingdom and 15 from Canada who fell in 1915.
WEIDENDREFT GERMAN CEMETERY, LANGEMARCK, at Weidendreft Farm, used by the Germans from October 1914 to August 1915, contained the graves of 98 soldiers from the United Kingdom who fell in the Battles of Ypres, 1914.
WESTROOSEBEKE GERMAN CEMETERY No.2, 366 metres North-East of the village on the road to Hooghlede, contained the grave of one R.A.F. Officer who fell in August 1918.