Dragoon Camp Cemetery can be found in the middle of the fields about 800 yards south east of Artillery Wood Cemetery, on land that was well behind the German lines until the first day of the Third Battle of Ypres.
And if it wasn’t for this sign pointing us down this handy, and extremely long, grass pathway,…
…we’d have serious problems getting anywhere near the place.
But eventually we do arrive at the cemetery entrance,…
…inscribed with just one date, 1917.
In Perpetuity tablet, inlaid into the entrance wall.
Consisting of two rows of headstones, those closest the camera and those on the left near the Cross designated as Row A, the long row in the right background Row B, it’s a tricky cemetery to read, this one, despite its small size. The CWGC website tells us ‘the cemetery, called at first the Villa Gretchen Cemetery, was begun by the 13th Royal Welch Fusiliers on 9 August’, and there is no reason to believe otherwise (although there are no casualties from that date among the 56 identified and ten unidentified burials here), and follows with ‘It continued in use until October 1917’, which is more questionable. Let’s see what the headstones themselves tell us.
On inspection, only fourteen of the men buried here died after 9th August, and four of those, three Royal Field Artillerymen and a Royal Flying Corps mechanic who all died on 4th October, and are the final burials here, are buried in this section of Row A (nearest the Cross in the previous shot). Prior to the deaths of these men there had been just a single burial made here during September, and just nine between 12th August (three burials made on that date are the first post-9th August burials) and the end of the month. So it did continue to be used, albeit sporadically, until early October, but with due respect to these fourteen men, this cemetery is really all about the first day of the Third Battle of Ypres, over half the men buried here being killed on 31st July, or so the Graves Registration Report Forms (later) tell us.
The same headstones from the other end. In total four of the seven burials in this first part of Row A are artillerymen,…
…as are all six headstones in the second part of the row, five of whom died between 14th & 16th August, and one, at the far end, on 23rd August. Here’s the cemetery plan, as ever with thanks to the CWGC.
So far so good. On to Row B, which comprises forty eight near-touching headstones, and, after a small gap, these five at the end of the row. Three more artillerymen, all killed on 12th August, are buried among the five pictured here, along with one of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers who was killed on 31st July, and one unidentified man. There are fourteen artillerymen (all Royal Field Artillery) in total buried in this cemetery, thirteen of whom died after the date of the start of the cemetery, which makes sense; once the Battle of the Pilckem Ridge had been won, artillery could be brought over to the eastern side of the canal, and any casualties they then suffered would be buried in, presumably, the nearest available burial ground.
Which leaves us with the remainder of Row B, in which the headstones of eight Royal Welsh Fusiliers inscribed with a date of death of 27th July, and one with 28th, can be found, the earliest burials in the cemetery, although not all buried alongside each other and, let’s not forget, not until 9th August.
Confirmation of the date of death on the Comprehensive Report of Headstone Inscriptions for four of the fusiliers in Row B killed on 27th July.
The row also contains the headstones of twenty five identified Royal Welsh Fusiliers, two unknown men and a single artilleryman, all bearing the date of 31st July 1917.
Four men from other regiments are buried in Row B, one of whom, a man from the Somerset Light Infantry, bears the latest date on any of the forty eight headstones in this part of the row, that of 6th August.
Thus, apart from the three artiilerymen we visited earlier who are buried after the gap at the far end of the row and were killed on 12th August, all the identified burials (and at least two of the eight unidentified men, whose headstones do have a date of death) in the row are known to have died before the date of the opening of the cemetery.
And therefore it seems likely that on 9th August the 13th Bn. burial party interred forty eight bodies here, many of the dead having lain on the battlefield for up to ten days. The job of the burial party was not one to be envied.
Now let’s see some of the documentation attached to the men buried here:
Looking at the seven Graves Registration Report Forms for Dragoon Camp Cemetery (originally Dragoon Camp British Cemetery, as you can see near the top of each form), the first one (above) listing all the men buried in Row A, and the first two burials in Row B. And all appears as it should, the men buried in Row A (with the exception of a single signaller from the Royal Engineers) all men who died after 9th August, the date the cemetery was begun, as we have already seen. Apart from Second Lieutenant W. J. Finniger, that is, buried in Row A2,…
…who, by the time of the typed Comprehensive Report of Headstone Inscriptions Form, has become Pinniger, and if you check the photo that includes his headstone further back in the post, yep, it says Pinniger.
Anyway, continuing with Row B, here are graves 3 & 4,…
…graves 5 to 21,…
…graves 22 to 28,…
…and graves 29 to 44 – we shall look at the final two forms in a minute. And to save you working it out, according to these reports, every single Royal Welsh Fusilier bar one buried in Row B died on 31st July 1917. The very first Royal Welsh Fusilier in the row, Major Evan Davies (penultimate name, first form), is given a burial date of 28th July both on the form and on his headstone, but otherwise there is no suggestion here of eight fusiliers killed on 27th July, nor another the following day, nor a man on 2nd August, as their headstones tell us. All except Major Davies were casualties of the first day of the battle, according to these reports.
The grave of Major Evan Davies, Royal Welch Fusiliers, Mentioned in Despatches, at the start of Row B. Part of the 15th Bn. War Diary for 27th July is enlightening: ‘Reports having been received from the R.F.C. that the enemy had withdrawn from the front & second line of trenches, A Company was ordered to push forward and reconnoitre. Unfortunately the report proved false and the enemy was engaged in the second line, inflicting severe casualties on the company. O.C. A Company Major Evan Davies was wounded and taken prisoner as were a number of the N.C.Os and men. One platoon, D Company, in charge of an N.C.O. who went forward as support to A Company were badly cut up.” So Major Davies was in fact wounded on 27th July, and, although it would be some time before the Royal Welch Fusiliers would know of his subsequent fate, he must have died the following day in German captivity. Whether he was then buried by them, or simply laid to one side, we shall never know; what we do know is that wherever his body lay between 28th July & 9th August, it was then found and brought here to Dragoon Camp for proper burial.
By the way, if you look closely you will notice that the headstone next to Major Davies is that of Private H. E. Davies, Royal Welsh Fusiliers. Welch or Welsh? Who really knows?
So where, bearing in mind these forms are dated February 1920, did the subsequent change of date of death that appears on some of these men’s headstones come from? The headstones of eight Royal Welsh Fusiliers in Row B – Privates Price (Grave B9), Dawkins (B10), Davies (B11), Richter (B14), Gurner (B2o), Griffiths (B21), Thomas (B24) and Barnett (B40) – all bear the date of death of 27th July 1917, yet the Graves Registration Report Forms for all eight give a date of death of 31st July. Or could these men have been killed during the same reconnaissance mission that saw Major Davies fatally wounded? The war diary talks about the men of A Company suffering ‘severe casualties’ and the men of D Company being ‘badly cut up’, and the date of death (27th July) on the headstones would be correct. And if so, that means that the Graves Registration Report Form is the form with the incorrect information – which opens another can of worms, does it not? Luckily for me, I don’t have any real evidence that these men were killed on the recce mission (although it would be seriously interesting to find out, if possible, whether these men were all from either A or D Company, wouldn’t it?), just suggesting it as a possible reason for the dates on their headstones, so I shan’t be losing sleep over it, but are you with me on yet more contentious issues at this little cemetery?
And, looking at the above form, what about ‘Unknown Sniper’ at the top of the names? Clerical absent-mindedness perhaps, because it’s a strange thing to type, and the headstone certainly says only ‘A British Soldier of the Great War – Royal Welch Fusiliers’, but notice the tick next to the entry on the form. All seriously unusual.
The final form is in itself of interest, in that you will notice that Private Burgess’s entry has been crossed out and asterisked, followed by, further down the form, ‘This grave is vacant. Body buried in Artillery Wood B.C.’. And indeed his body is buried in Artillery Wood Cemetery – in Plot V, very definitely one of the post-war plots in that cemetery, as I battered into you last post.
So, that’s the story of Dragoon Camp Cemetery, as best I can tell it. And, as Baldrick gazes wistfully towards home, knowing the day is yet far from done, we must move on.
It’s been a long time since I last showed you this map, with the cemeteries (well, all but one) visited on this tour marked. You already know the ones to the west of the canal; on the eastern side, Artillery Wood Cemetery is marked in red, with Dragoon Camp in pink, both well behind the German lines at the start of Third Ypres, clearly showing that no burials could have been made in either until the land had been captured and the area was safe for burial parties to work in. The next cemetery we shall be visiting is a particular favourite of mine, and is marked in turquoise, but we have another, somewhat different, stop to make before we get there. Click here for Part Seventeen.