The Belgian Sector Part Five – Ramscappelle Road Military Cemetery

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Nearly all the burials at Ramscappelle Road Military Cemetery, less than a hundred yards down the road from our last stop at Nieuwpoort Communal Cemetery, are men killed during the British tenure of this sector between June and November 1917.

Panorama (2)

Above & below: Panoramic views of the cemetery taken from the road.  The cemetery is sited pretty much at the southern boundary of the British sector in 1917.  British trenches stretched from here to the coast, while Belgian troops held the line immediately south.

Panorama 1

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Cemetery entrance.

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The cemetery plan, as ever courtesy of our friends at the CWGC, can be viewed here:

Ramscappelle Road Military Cemetery Plan

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On entering the cemetery Plot II is immediately ahead of us (above & below), with Plot I, the largest and original plot, beyond.  At the time of the Armistice most of the burials in Plot I had already been made.  All of the burials in the other plots are bodies brought in from the battlefields and from a number of smaller burial grounds in the sector after the war.

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Nearly 850 British dead are buried here, a little more than 3oo of them unidentified.

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‘For Grandad Gilbert from all the family you never knew, with love’.  Private Joseph Gilbert and 33 of his Manchester Regiment colleagues lie in this cemetery, all victims of the fighting between June and August 1917.

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Jewish graves in Plot II.  Private Miller is one of 46 men killed on 10th July 1917 who are buried here.  The action in which they lost their lives is outlined later in the post.

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Above & below: The Stone of Remembrance, at the eastern end of the cemetery, with Plot VII nearest the camera.

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Here’s a curious thing.  There are six Cameron Highlanders buried in this cemetery, of which five lie in the first six graves of Plot VII Row D, the row nearest the camera (above & below).  The names on the Cameronian headstones, starting with the one furthest left, are Private A. McKenzie, Private A. Jowitt, Private J. Potts (Royal Berkshire Regiment), Private R. Miller, Private J. Miller, and Corporal A. McKenzie.

Two A. McKenzies and two more Millers (we’ve just visited a Miller in Plot II).  Okay, not that curious, but worth a mention nonetheless.

Panorama 3

View from the north eastern corner of the cemetery looking south west, Plot VII again nearest the camera.

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An unknown airman and an unknown soldier, side-by-side in Plot VII.  Of just ten identified burials from 1918 brought in to this cemetery after the war, six are men of the R.A.F.

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The Stone of Remembrance, with Plot VII on the left, and Plot VIII on the right.

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Plot IX, in the south eastern corner of the cemetery.  Note the Highland Light Infantry headstones in the front row; there are 50 identified men of the H.L.I. buried here, all victims of the fighting during the first month following the British return to the sector.

Panorama

Above & below: Plot I, the original, and largest, plot.

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Unidentified graves in Plot VI.

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62 identified (and at least one unidentified) men of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, more than any other regiment, lie in this cemetery, all killed between June and August 1917.

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Looking west towards Plot V with the southern boundary wall beyond…

Panorama 2

…and east towards Plot VI.

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Plot V, headstones 1 (far right) to 10 of Row C in the foreground.

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Plot V, Row B to the left, and headstones 11 to 20 of Row C on the right.

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Another man killed on 10th July 1917, Private Sharrocks’ remains are known to be ‘buried near this spot’.

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Along the eastern cemetery boundary, a Duhallow Block remembers 26 men who were originally buried in Nieuport Military Cemetery and at Nieuport-Bains, but whose graves were lost in later battles.

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Above & below: Either side of the block, headstones remember each man by name.  The cemetery plan suggests that the six headstones on the far left (above) commemorate men originally buried at Nieuport-Bains,…

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…and the remaining 20 headstones on both sides of the block men once buried in Nieuport Military Cemetery.  There were three French cemeteries at Nieuport-Bains (now Nieuwpoort-Bad), all of which contained British burials, 94 in total, that were later brought here.  Presumably the original graves of the 68 whose names are not remembered by these special memorial headstones were undisturbed in the later battles that led to the loss of their compatriots’ bodies, and have now been re-interred elsewhere in this cemetery.

As a footnote, one of the Nieuport-Bains headstones bears the name of a man of the Australian Tunnelling Corps, one of only eight Australians buried or remembered here.  It should not be forgotten that the Australians were heavily involved in the underground war that raged beneath the streets of Nieuwpoort and beneath the dunes of Nieuport-Bains during the latter half of 1917.

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View looking south east across the headstones of Plot III, Row D nearest the camera.

Okay, time for the history lesson:

Following the Battle of the Yser in October 1914, trench warfare took over the Nieuwpoort sector. This really was the end of the Western Front, the place where the trenches met the sea.  And the trenches really did meet the sea, photographs of the dunes at Nieuport-Bains showing trenches and barbed wire entanglements within a few feet of the shoreline.  North east of here, the Belgian coast, including the strategically important ports of Ostend and Zeebrugge, was occupied by the Germans, enabling U-boats and destroyers to harass British shipping in the Channel, in turn endangering British lines of supply to their armies in France and Belgium.  British countermeasures included various anti-submarine defences, bombing raids and even bombardment from off-shore monitors, but early in 1917 a plan was conceived for an amphibious landing further along the Belgian coast, supported by an attack from Nieuwpoort, in an attempt to deny the Germans further use of the channel ports.  The whole enterprise was designed as part of the great British offensive that was due to begin on 31st July, and which would end later in the year in the quagmire of Passchendaele.

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Plot III, this time looking south west towards the Cross of Sacrifice, Row D again in the foreground.

Although detailed preparations took place, Operation Hush, as the plan was called, never actually took place.  The Germans were well aware of the possibility of raids, or worse, along the Belgian coast, and the arrival of the British in Nieuwpoort on 20th June 1917 set alarm bells ringing.  Immediately, the Germans began preparations for a pre-emptive strike of their own.

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Plot II, Row C nearest the camera.

The British held the line between St. Joris, a small village a couple of hundred yards east of where the cemetery is now sited, and the coast.  South of here the main areas of flooding began, the Belgian Army holding a line, if you could call it that, to the west of the Yser down to Diksmuide.  The British front line, however, was in the form of a bridgehead to the east of the river, which turns west near here towards the Goose Foot, and then north to the sea.  If the Germans could destroy the bridges across the river, then the British would find themselves trapped on the far side.  Early in the morning of 10th July 1917, the guns of the German heavy artillery opened fire on the unsuspecting British.

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Looking towards Plot I with the headstones of Plot II Row A in the left foreground.

The German bombardment, which included the first use of mustard gas anywhere in the war, continued all day.  All but one of the bridges were indeed destroyed, and when, at 8pm that evening, the German infantry left their trenches to begin the assault on the British lines, some 75% of the defending troops were already casualties.  Preceded by a creeping bombardment, wave after wave of attackers simply overwhelmed the British trenches as German stormtroopers and Marines attacked in unison along the coast.  Just 4 British officers and 64 men managed to cross the Yser to safety on the western side.  When the fighting ended with the Germans digging in on the east bank of the Yser, total British casualties on this dreadful day amounted to more than 3100 men killed, wounded or missing.  The Germans lost less than fifty men killed and approximately 200 wounded or missing, although about sixty of these were injured, I believe, by advancing too close to their own creeping barrage.

British plans for a landing on the Belgian coast had been severely disrupted, and Operation Hush was eventually officially abandoned in October 1917, following the failure of the Passchendaele offensive further to the south.

Panorama 4

View from near the centre of the cemetery looking east towards the Stone of Remembrance, Plot II to the left and Plot I on the right…

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…and west from Plot I towards Plot IV and the Cross of Sacrifice.  The special memorial headstones we visited earlier can be seen beneath the hedge in the background.

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Plot I Row A (above) and B (below).

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Australian burials in Plot I Row A.  These three Gunners were killed, presumably together, on the same day in August 1917.

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33 men of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment are buried here, nearly all killed in early August.  Two men, one of whose grave is pictured above, died a couple of weeks earlier, on 25th July.

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Two unknown German soldiers, buried beneath one headstone at the eastern end of Plot I Row A.

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Back near where we started in Plot II with Row D, the first row we encountered on our arrival, on the right, and Row C on the left.  45 identified men of the Lancashire Fusiliers are buried in this cemetery, many in this plot, and a number of them, as you can see, are to be found in Row C.

Panorama 7

Final view from the road.  Our travels now take us south, towards Ramscappelle, and a Belgian military cemetery on the outskirts of the village where we must stop to pay our respects.

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