It’s a grey, icy day in Flanders Fields, and the sky looks leaden with snow, but, as you know, your intrepid adventurers rarely let such minor inconveniences deter us. Oh no, we’re hardy folk, and this afternoon we ‘re out in the fields to the north east of Ieper (Yper) initially visiting two little cemeteries whose silence tells, above all, of the first day of the Third Battle of Ypres in July 1917, and of some of the losses incurred during the first few hours of a battle that would continue for more than three months.
A CWGC signpost directs us off the main road to Poelkapelle, on to a side road that leads into the fields to our left. The first two cemeteries on the sign, Buffs Road & Track X, are only a short distance away; Minty Farm & No Man’s Cot, I’m afraid, will have to wait for another day.
Two hundred and fifty yards away across the fields, beneath the two little trees dwarfed by the giant wind farm in the centre of the photo, you can spot the site of the second cemetery we shall be visiting, Track X,…
…and just up the road, our first stop, Buffs Road Cemetery. Both cemeteries are battlefield burial grounds, started at the beginning of the Third Battle of Ypres at the very end of July 1917.
This was No Man’s Land, a few hundred yards across at this point, before the battle began, and if you go back a couple of photos to the picture with the wind farm, you are in effect standing between the front line trenches looking north east along the line of No Man’s Land towards Track X, the British front lines to our left, and the Germans to our right (see trench map below).
The two cemeteries are marked in green, Buffs Road the furthest south. British lines are marked in blue, German lines in red. You can also see quite clearly why Buffs Road Cemetery is called Buffs Road Cemetery.
Cemetery entrance and Cross of Sacrifice.
Buffs Road Cemetery was only used for a five month period between July & December 1917, and then briefly again at the very end of March 1918. Quite a number of burials were later made here post-war, men who were originally buried elsewhere and have now been re-interred in Rows B and EE. Sadly, the majority of these are unidentified.
The cemetery plan, courtesy of the CWGC, can be found here: Buffs Road Cemetery Plan
There are 289 burials in this cemetery of which 86 are unidentified, most of these being men who were brought here after the war.
In the south west corner, to the left of the Cross of Sacrifice, are ten special memorial headstones to men ‘Believed’ or ‘Known to be buried in this cemetery’, the exact position of their graves having been lost due to enemy shellfire.
The cemetery was begun the day after the opening of the Third Battle of Ypres on 31st July 1917, and 75 identified men who were killed on that day are buried here, all in Rows D & C (centre of picture). Fifteen regiments are represented among them, but by far the majority are men of the Royal Sussex Regiment.
As I mentioned earlier, the cemetery wasn’t used in the early weeks of 1918, the first burials made here after the end of December 1917 being these three privates of the Sussex Regiment, killed on 29th March 1918, almost certainly by an enemy shell. Some of the 43 Sussex men killed eight months earlier on 31st July 1917 during what became known as the Battle of Pilckem Ridge, are buried in the row behind to the left. In total 51 men of the regiment are buried here.
View from the north east corner looking due south, Row B nearest the camera. You will notice that the first eight headstones in the row are all unidentified; I am pretty sure that these are all men re-interred here after the war, and if you enlarge the photo, you might spot why I say that. Details, you see, details.
After the opening days of Third Ypres the cemetery was only used sporadically until late September when the second phase of the battle began. Sixty six men were buried here during September and October, after which the cemetery was again only used occasionally until the end of the year.
As we look south down the length of the cemetery, directly in front of us Row D, leading to the Cross of Sacrifice, contains the final burials made here during the war. The first eleven headstones in the row are all of men (the majority from the King’s Royal Rifle Corps) killed on 30th March 1918, and all bear the same Grave Reference of D45, suggesting that the exact identity of each body may be uncertain, although the names of all eleven men are known.
Above & below: Of the 66 burials that make up Row EE, which runs the length of the cemetery, only seven are identified. Four of these are Australian dead from late 1917, two at the end of the row, nearest the camera, one the cream-coloured headstone further along, and another in the section of the row furthest away from the camera.
All the burials in this row are post-war, hence the number of unidentified men who lie here. Among the headstones at the far end of Row EE are the remaining three identified men in the row, early casualties from 1914 & 1915, whose bodies were brought here after the war.
A single South African burial lies in Row F alongside a Gunner of the R.F.A., both killed on 14th October 1917, and three men of the Royal Fusiliers, killed the following day. A considerable number of artillerymen are buried in the cemetery, perhaps unsurprisingly. As the battle slowly moved east, and the site of this cemetery fell further behind the front lines, artillery would have moved up to follow the advancing infantry, presumably to positions somewhere around here. Enemy shells would seek them out, and this cemetery proved to be the final resting place for 26 men of the Royal Field Artillery, and 27 of the Royal Garrison Artillery.
Chilly, eh, Balders? Let’s move on to Track X. Which will be just as cold…
This is also the first in a series of occasional posts that will cover most of the cemeteries containing British casualties sustained during the Third Battle of Ypres between July & November 1917. Track X will be Part Two. Further parts will appear as and when.