The Road to Passchendaele Part One – Buffs Road Cemetery

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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.

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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.

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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,…

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…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.

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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).

Boezinghe Wieltje St Julien - Copy

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.

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Cemetery entrance and Cross of Sacrifice.

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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

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There are 289 burials in this cemetery of which 86 are unidentified, most of these being men who were brought here after the war.

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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.

Buffs Road Panorama

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.

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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.

Buffs Road Panorama 2

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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8 Responses to The Road to Passchendaele Part One – Buffs Road Cemetery

  1. Karl Harvey says:

    I have been researching the death of my Great Uncle,
    Rifleman William Beckett
    2nd Bn King’s Royal Rifle Corps
    KIA 30th March 1918
    Headstone in D45, Buffs Road Cemetery

    A chill ran though me when I read these words:
    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.

    I am keen to find out exactly what happened to these brave men, two of which were awarded the Military Medal, Sgt G Bate and Cpl Dainty.

    regards

    Karl

  2. Magicfingers says:

    I can quite imagine it did, Karl. Let’s be clear here, my comments are pure supposition, but in my experience graves with the same Grave Reference Number are often mass graves, particularly where you find the headstones touching or nearly touching, as in this case. And mass graves tend to be casualties of shell fire where the identities of the soldiers killed were known although the bodies, for whatever reason (!), were unable to be identified. The Graves Registration Report Form for your Great Uncle gives no clues. It is, I suppose, possible that these eleven men were buried somewhere nearby for a short period (a few months) and then moved here while the cemetery was still being used in 1918, and it was at that time that the identities of each body became confused, but again, this is pure supposition, with no evidence to back it up.

    It often isn’t possible to ascertain, with evidence, the actual cause of death of individual soldiers, as I’m sure you are aware, but if you do ever find out I’d be very interested to hear about it.

    Btw, the eleven graves are also visible in the fourth row, far right, of the photo two before the one you mention in your comment. Click to enlarge of course (twice for super-large, at least on my computer). Typical that I didn’t take a close-up!

  3. Having found my great grandfather’s grave in Louvencourt France I have now found out where his brother is buried. Corporal William Joseph Bubb died 28th September 1917 and is buried in Buffs Road cemetery. Would love to find out more. Any thoughts on further research? Have been to Louvencourt France and Thiepval so will plan a trip to Belgium and Ypres in the not too distant future. My mum is a Helps nee Bubb and this would have been her uncle.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Sounds like you know what you’re doing Caroline. War Diary, Great War Forum – put a question up there and you’ll get a plethora of answers and help. It’s a very interesting area of Flanders, close to the first German gas attacks in 1915. Have a good trip when you go.

  4. John Gill says:

    Hi there,
    Was very interested to come across your website recently. In recent years I have been researching the NZ military services of my maternal grandfather and his two brothers who served in both world wars. I and several cousins were fortunate enough to score tickets in the official ballot for attendance at the ANZAC 100th anniversary commemorations at ANZAC Cove on Gallipoli Peninsula in April 2015, we were walking in the footsteps of two of our ancestors.
    But I’ve now turned my attention to two other great uncles who served and died in WW1, also Kiwis but enlisted with the British as they were in the UK when war broke out. Hence I appreciate your article ‘The Road to Passchendaele Part One – Buffs Road Cemetery’, in Belgium. My great uncle 2nd Lt. W E Balcombe-Brown of the Royal Field Artillery lies there. Your info that the cemetery was used in 1917, 1918 then post-war is interesting, as William died on the 29 June 1915. So he must have been one of those you note were relocated from elsewhere.
    I see that you have also visited the Carnoy Military Cemetery, Somme, France. William’s brother Maj Rainsford Balcombe-Brown MC MiD had also enlisted with the Royal Field Artillery but after pilot training transferred into the RFC, only to be shot down behind enemy lines and killed on 2 May 1918, about a month after the RFC became part of the newly formed RAF. He lies in the Carnoy Military Cemetery, Somme, France. He was interred by the Germans and presumably relocated to Carnoy after the war. His headstone was prepared with inscription in 1923 and I presume he must be the ‘UK airman’ referred to in the Carnoy section of the CWGC website.
    Hopefully I will get the chance to visit both cemeteries before too long. So I very much appreciate all your good work, your research and photos give me much useful background information.
    Regards, John
    Brisbane, Australia

    • Magicfingers says:

      Hello John. Thanks for taking the trouble to comment. I am most jealous that you were at Gallipoli a couple of years ago. I imagine it was a very moving time. Carnoy Military Cemetery, as you will have seen, is an important cemetery as far as the East Surrey Regiment is concerned, and I was lucky enough to visit last year. Glad you found stuff of interest here – hopefully plenty more to delve into, and plenty more still to come.

  5. Peter Ritchings says:

    Hi, I visited the area around buffs road several years ago. I wandered around the excavation site where the finish of the A19 motorway site was. I found lots of small arms shells, as is not uncommon. Due to close proximity of the graveyard, could you throw any light as to the possible connection between the two? Many thanks in anticipation

    • Magicfingers says:

      Hello Peter. Well, Buffs Road Cemetery was in No Man’s Land prior to July 1917, and I am guessing that so too was the specific piece of motorway excavation you visited, bearing in mind the proximity of the cemetery. And the most likely things you are going to find in No Man’s Land are bullets, barbed wire, shells, and bodies, and not much else. There’s your connection.

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