French Flanders: Armentières, Nieppe & Steenwerck Part One – Cite Bonjean Military Cemetery & the Cite Bonjean (New Zealand) Memorial

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Situated in the south western corner of the town of Armentières, Cite Bonjean Military Cemetery is one of the largest cemeteries in this part of French Flanders.

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Which is not at all surprising considering its location, and the fact that it was in regular use between October 1914 and April 1918, when the town was evacuated ahead of the advancing Germans.

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It’s a big place, as I said, the final resting place of more than 2,100 British, Australian and New Zealand casualties, as well as several hundred Germans.

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To our left on entering we find the Cross of Sacrifice,…

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…and the ever-useful CWGC information board.

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And to our right the Stone of Remembrance (above & below).

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Armentières was just behind the Allied lines for most of the war, although well within range of German artillery, but not all the civilian population chose to leave their houses and businesses during that time, and the city became well-known to legions of British, Australian and New Zealand soldiers during the long years of stalemate in this sector of the front.

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The town was occupied by the 4th Division on 17th October 1914 and the first burial here was made the following day in what is now Plot IX, at the far end of the cemetery.

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Plot V comprises just this single row of headstones, partly visible in the previous picture nearest the Stone of Remembrance,…

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…and immediately behind it, Plot III, on the left, and Plot XI, which consists of just two rows of headstones, in the foreground on the right. Plot XI contains 27 identified Second World War British casualties, all men killed in the days of retreat before Dunkirk in 1940.

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By the end of the Great War there were nearly a thousand German burials in this cemetery, and although 455 graves were removed from Plots V & VI in 1925, over 500 still remain here, the majority in Plot X (above), although others are scattered throughout the cemetery.

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View looking north from the southern corner of what is quite a complex cemetery, as you can see if you take a look at the cemetery plan, courtesy of our friends at the CWGC.

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Looking back towards the southern corner of the cemetery from Plot X, Row A nearest the camera…

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…panning right across the German headstones of Plot X,…

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…and continuing further right, the cemetery entrance just visible through the trees in the background.  During the winter of 1914 the cemetery was also used for civilian burials, long since removed, the town cemetery being too exposed for continued use.

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Rows of German headstones in Plot X.

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View from the eastern corner looking west, the first three rows of Plot IX nearest the camera, the remainder out of shot behind the wall on the right.

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There are two Belgian casualties in Plot IX Row D (one also visible in the shot below), both men who died the late summer of 1915.

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Plot IX Row F (you knew that, didn’t you?)…

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…and Plot IX Row G (foreground), with Row F behind.  The fifth headstone from the left in Row F is that of Private Albert Parker from Seaton in Rutland, married with five children, who embarked for France with the Lincolnshire Regiment in September 1915, and was killed by a shell somewhere near here on 18th March 1916, having just turned 33.  One brief story among so many.

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Baldrick strides purposefully along the headstones of Plot IX Row G; as the cemetery plan shows, Plot IX is a huge plot, containing more than 700 burials, the rows stretching the width of the cemetery.

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And it appears he’s found something of interest  What’s he pointing at, I wonder?

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As I mentioned previously, the earliest burials here are all to be found in Plot IX,…

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…including this unusual private memorial in Row C to Captain Angus Virtue Makant, aged 26, The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, who died on 14th March 1915.

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Nine Royal Engineers, all killed on 12th November 1915 in Row D.  Like the unfortunate Private Parker, one suspects a German shell to be the most likely culprit.

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We haven’t forgotten Baldrick, we’re just taking our time here in Plot IX…

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…where we find more men in Row D, this time artillerymen, who again have been buried with headstones touching, again one presumes victims of shellfire.

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Among the British graves in Row D lies a single Frenchman, Brigadier Auguste Francois Canivet, aged 38, 19th Escadron du Train des Equipages Militaires, who was killed in action on 31st May 1916.

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Interestingly, the 19th E.T.E.M., whose job was to set up, manage and supply 190 units of horse-drawn or engine powered transport consisting of nearly 20,000 men, 15,000 horses, and about 4000 cars, can actually be traced back to 1811 when it was created to transport the ‘body, effects and papers’ of the men of Napoleon’s Imperial Guard.

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Lieutenant Harry Taylor, Plot IX F57, one of nineteen Taylors buried here.

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‘To Harry.  Gone but not forgotten’.

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He’s very patient, you know.

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Near the north western end of Plot IX Row G, this is the grave of Private Charles Bladen, aged 26, 10th Bn. York and Lancaster Regiment, one of four men in this cemetery who were executed for desertion. On 20th December 1915 Bladen had deserted from his battalion in Armentières and somehow found his way back to England where, on 29th January 1916, he was arrested when unable to produce the correct identification having been stopped by the police.  Once his identity had been discovered he was escorted back to Armentières for trial; he must have realised his likely fate as he tried to escape three times on the journey.

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View from the northern corner looking south; the grave of Private Bladen is seven headstones from the camera in the front row.  Bladen was found guilty of desertion, and sentenced to die at dawn on 23rd March 1916.  I have read that the twelve men who were selected for the firing squad (it wasn’t always twelve), all from his battalion, were bussed some way from the rest of the men on the evening prior to the execution, their officer under strict instructions that they were to remain ignorant of the task awaiting them.

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Looking north east now, the northern corner from which the previous shot was taken in the left background, and the ends of the seven rows of Plot IX in shot.  Note the two German graves in Row A (foreground)…

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…one of which is also in the foreground of this picture, as we look the other way towards the Cite Bonjean (New Zealand) Memorial, one of seven New Zealand memorials on the Western Front that remember the New Zealand missing of the Great War, all seven sited in cemeteries close to the battlefields where the men fought.

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Forty seven men are remembered here, all killed in the Armentières area, all with no known grave.

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The New Zealand Division spent three months in the trenches here between May and August 1916, before heading south to dive headlong into the bloodbath of the Somme.

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During their tenure of the line here they participated in eleven raids on the German trenches, in addition, of course to routine nightly patrols, and don’t begin to think that these raids were in any way small-scale efforts.  On the night of the 13th July 1916, for example, 164 men of the 1st Bn. Otago Regiment undertook a raid on the German trenches that resulted in no less than 54 men being killed and 104 wounded; just six men returned unhurt!

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The New Zealanders suffered 2,500 casualties during their time in the Nursery in 1916, including 375 killed, the majority buried here in Cite Bonjean Military Cemetery.  A total of 452 New Zealanders were buried in the cemetery during the course of the war.

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View looking south east from in front of the memorial, Plot VIII straight ahead, the huge Plot IX stretching the width of the cemetery to our left.

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Plot VIII Row C3.  Private W. Taylor, another of the nineteen Taylors to be found here.

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Private Alfred Edward Roff, also buried in Plot VIII Row C,…

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…an old photograph again reminding us that he was once far more than just a name on a headstone.

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Looking back down Plot VIII towards the New Zealand memorial…

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…and panning right, Plot VIII Rows C & B on the left, all the other headstones in the picture being the north western half of Plot IX.

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Two views from the centre of the cemetery looking north east at Plot IX,…

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…and now looking at the eastern half of Plot IX.

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Plot VII (above & below).

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And next to Plot VII, Plot I, with Row B in the foreground, the headstones back-to-back with Row A.

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In Plot I Row A lies Private Arthur Harold Robinson, Northumberland Fusliers, one of eleven Robinsons buried in this cemetery, but the only one to be executed for desertion.

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The grave of Australian Sapper David Carnegie Symers, in Plot I Row C,…

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…and a fading photograph of a memorial honouring him in his home town of Albany in Western Australia.

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Scottish burials from the summer of 1916 in Plot I Row F.

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Plot I Row F.  The grave of Private James Higgins, Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, who died on 26th August 1916, the third man here executed for desertion.

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Elsewhere in Row F…

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…another old photograph left at the base of a headstone remembers New Zealander Private Bertrand Frank Hopping, who died on 3rd July 1916.

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New Zealand burials in Plot II Row A (above & below).

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Private Thomas Henry Basil Rigby, although a pre-war regular soldier, was too young, on the outbreak of war in August 1914, to go abroad with his battalion to fight, eventually being posted as a reinforcement to the 8th Bn. South Wales Borderers in September 1915, just five days after his wedding.  At some point he deserted and on being caught was given a three year suspended sentence.  Subsequently transferred to the 10th Bn., in August 1917 Rigby once again went missing whilst serving as a brigade runner.  He was apprehended a week later in Calais and brought to Armentières where he stood trial, and was executed for desertion, still only 21, on 22nd November 1917.  His grave can now be found in Plot II Row A.

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Two men of the Otago Regiment in Plot II Row D, both killed on 12th July 1916, the day before the raid mentioned earlier.

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Plot II Rows D & C in the foreground, with the New Zealand memorial in the background beneath the trees.

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470 of the burials here are Australian…

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…the majority killed during 1917, such as Private Mister Bert Mason, on the left above, who died of wounds on 25th February 1917, and is now buried in Plot IV Row F.

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More Australian burials in Plot IV Row F (above & below).

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At the end of the row, two more German graves.

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We are nearly back at the cemetery entrance…

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…with Plot III on our left (and two more German graves)…

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…and beyond Plot III the long single row of Plot V that we saw at the start of our tour.

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More Australian burials in Plot III Row C,…

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…including Private Ellis Richard Wilkinson, who died on New Year’s Day 1917.

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On the left, like Plot V we saw earlier, Plot VI is a single line of headstones leading to the Cross of Sacrifice (below), with Plot IV Rows F & E on the right.

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Cross of Sacrifice (above & below).

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At which point it’s time to leave.

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There are a couple of other cemeteries to the south west of Armentières that we shall be visiting in due course,…

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…but in the meantime I suggest we cross the River Lys at the bridge on the outskirts of Armentières, just a short distance north of Cite Bonjean, and head north west to Nieppe, beginning at the communal cemetery in Pont-de-Nieppe.

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6 Responses to French Flanders: Armentières, Nieppe & Steenwerck Part One – Cite Bonjean Military Cemetery & the Cite Bonjean (New Zealand) Memorial

  1. Morag says:

    Wonderful on Remembrance Sunday. There’s a man from the next village to us in here. Joseph Christian from Golspie. He died early in the war. He is the reason we have visited here but I learned a lot reading this. Thanks again

  2. Sid from Down Under says:

    Another excellent article, Magicfingers. Again you “hooked” my ever-inquisitive eye, namely Sapper David Carnegie Symers’ headstone with fading photograph of a memorial honouring him in his home town of Albany in Western Australia.

    Being a low Service Number (970) I wondered whether he was an original ANZAC. On 1st November 2014 my wife Carole and I witnessed the Centenary re-enactment of the first convoy leaving Albany’s Princess Royal Harbour in King George Sound hence my particular interest. That first convoy had 30,000 “Diggers” on board bound for WW1 and were the first Anzacs to arrive at Gallipoli.

    Alas, David was not on that original convoy, however I delved further. A Grocer’s Assistant he enlisted 1st February 1916 and according to his War Record, after the inevitable slow military progress, was sent to the Western Front thence transferred as a Sapper on 22nd April 1917 and KIA eight months later. From his Military Records it appears his effects were later “lost at sea” thus his parents were deprived of his last days mementos.

    The fading photo was placed there November 2011. I intended to alert his family to your Blog however it appears this pioneering Scottish heritage family name no longer remains in Western Australia. Symers Street in Albany is named after his forbear (Grandfather?) Thomas Lyell Seymour-Symers (he dropped the hyphenated name) who was a Master Mariner, Merchant and early settler. Said Thomas had quite a colourful career.

    Hopefully one of your readers with the knowledge will see my comments and alert the person who placed the photograph on Sapper Symers’ headstone. I’m sure they will be thrilled to see their loved one further commemorated in your Blog

    • Magicfingers says:

      The truth is that it was only after I had written this post that I remembered (and checked) that you and your wife had been to Albany for the Centenary re-enactment, at which point I thought to myself, “Sid’ll have something to say about this”. Fantastic stuff, and thanks for taking the trouble. Let’s see if someone picks up on it. Cheers my friend. Btw, I have a little trip arranged for tomorrow – I’m off to continue my exploration of Dublin and the Easter Rising sites. Back on Sunday, so we shall see what we shall see when I return.

  3. James Carroll says:

    I was in this cemetery in 2010, 2012 and 13th April 2017 on the centenary of the death of my Great Uncle John O’Connell Joseph CARROLL of the Third Australian Pioneers. I laid a wreath and planted an Australian Flag and poppy. My late father was named after him and I’m probably the last generation to go and visit him. I have a problem. He was killed just near Plugstreet Wood and there are two cemeteries there. One at the Memorial and one across the road which is within 40 metres of where he was killed. I’ve been to the exact spot. My question is why was he taken 5 km to Cite Bon Jean Military Cemetery for burial? I suppose that after 100 years God only knows.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Hello James. A very good question. You clearly have more information as you know where he was killed. As opposed to wounded. I ask, because one of the evacuation routes from Ploegsteert Wood, via Underhill Farm would have taken wounded soldiers to Nieppe, very near Armentières. If you follow the link at the end of this post to Pont de Nieppe, and simply follow the tour for a few posts, you’ll find out more. But tell me any other facts you may have as well. You will also find a complete tour of Ploegsteert Wood, including the cemeteries you mention, elsewhere on this site. You may very well find a photo of the place he was hit. Start here: http://thebignote.com/2010/12/03/a-tour-of-ploegsteert-wood-part-one/

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