A Tour of Boesinghe Part Eighteen – Colne Valley Cemetery (Part One)

There is a very good reason why this post is Colne Valley Cemetery Part One, and all will be revealed in due course.  But for starters, this was the first of four visits Baldrick and I have so far made to this cemetery, along with numerous drive-pasts – it sounds daft, but you’d be amazed how easy it is to miss this little place – and at times it has looked decidedly different from previous visits, which is not what you generally expect from a cemetery.

Once a little burial ground alone in the fields five hundred yards east of the Yser Canal, but gradually becoming enclosed by the large industrial estate that runs for two and a half miles from the northern outskirts of Ieper along the eastern bank of the canal,…

…the cemetery has seen better times, if that in itself isn’t an oxymoron.

The Cross of Sacrifice, which almost looks like a new cross on an old base, although it isn’t, and you’ll see why shortly.

As the industrial estate grew in the late 1990s, what was once an isolated cemetery became enclosed on three sides by the spread of modern industry.

Not only that, but, as these photos show, it was the cemetery that became the lowest piece of ground in the area,…

…with sometimes catastrophic results, and, unsurprisingly, most of the headstones are in a sorry state, green and grubby (see below), and you now know why the Cross appears two-tone.

The four rows of headstones here contain only 47 graves, representing just three regiments; a few less and this little cemetery might well have been closed down and demolished after the war, and the bodies moved elsewhere.  I suspect the modern industrialists would have been quite happy with that, but luckily for us, and the men who lie here (I was going to say undisturbed, but, as you will see later, that wouldn’t be entirely correct), here they all remain.  The four graves in Row A (foreground) are men of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, and are actually the final burials made here in January & February 1916.  Behind, Row B contains the graves of ten men of The Rifle Brigade,…

…and all the burials in Rows C (foreground) & D, bar four, are men of the Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment).  Here, with thanks to the CWGC, is the cemetery plan.

The first burials at Colne Valley Cemetery were two men of the Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment) who died on 12th July 1915, and are the fifth and sixth headstones from the camera in Row D on the left; over the next seven weeks the regiment buried a further 25 identified men in Rows D & C (right), and at least one man (probably three) whose identity is no longer known.

A couple of these headstones in Row D appear to have been replaced at some point, although not that recently, bearing in mind the chips on the replacements, which are also made of Portland Stone, not the Italian Botticino marble that is frequently found these days.  Private Ernest Butterworth, on the far right, is one of the two Duke of Wellington’s men buried on 12th July 1915.

The slope is very noticeable from this end of the cemetery, and explains why, unlike the other two cemeteries we have already visited, and the others we will visit, on the east bank of the canal, this cemetery could be used in relative safety even before the start of Third Ypres, being just behind the British front lines, and just out of line of sight of the Germans, whose front line was somewhere in front of the trees you can see on the horizon.  The deceased rattus rattus in the rather gratuitous inset had been placed, by what or whom I know not, on the cemetery wall and added, as Baldrick still reminds me every so often, to the quite eerie atmosphere of the cemetery on our first visit, exacerbated doubtless by the fact that here at the bottom of the slope all is much gloomier than at the top, and there’s this strange feeling of rising up out of the ground as one climbs the slope back up to the Cross……

It is rare to see headstones in quite such a bad state as these, although the damage appears to be mainly cosmetic, the names being still clear to see.  A good clean required, methinks.

Two men of The Rifle Brigade killed in January 1916.  The particularly poignant inscription at the base of the headstone of Lance Corporal Rees Benjamin Morgan, on the left, says, ‘He saved others. He could not save himself’, and the sentiment, as you’ll see later, is not unique in this cemetery.  Between the two headstones, in Row C behind,…

…one of only four unknown soldiers buried in the cemetery, and one of just two whose regiments are unknown (the second of which you can see in Row D behind).  As all the other men buried in Row C are from the Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment), and all died in August 1915, I think we can be fairly sure that this man is another from the regiment, and most likely the same applies to the man in Row D too.

The grave to the immediate right of the unidentified soldier’s headstone is that of Captain Maynard Percy Andrews, aged 44 when he was killed in August 1915.  Unusually, his fate is explained in French at the base of the headstone, and I’ll tell you a bit more about him next post.

In Perpetuity tablet in French & Flemish.  Colne Valley, along with Skipton Road, Huddersfield Road and others, were names given to some of the trenches hereabouts by the men of 49th Division.  The cemetery was begun by territorial battalions of the West Riding Regiment of that division in July 1915, and remained in use until February 1916.

Cross of Sacrifice, the German front line once crossing the fields in front of the trees on the horizon.

So goodbye to Colne Valley, January 2014-style,…

…and welcome to Colne Valley Cemetery, November 2015-style.  As you can see, parking here, particularly in the kind of muddy conditions I usually drag Baldrick (and Baldrick’s car) around in, is rubbish.

So what on earth is going on here?

The information board attached to the screen explains the work currently being undertaken…

…and the intention to raise the whole cemetery to attempt to address the flooding problem!

So what exactly is happening behind the screens?

Well, not a lot on this particular day, but without being too intrusive,…

…you can see that this is a major project; I suggest this is the only time you will ever see a Flanders CWGC cemetery looking quite like this.

Across the road,…

…it’s reassuring to see that the Cross has been carefully wrapped to protect it from the elements, bearing in mind it has spent the best part of the last hundred years exposed to them!

Looking east, Colne Valley Cemetery behind us, across the fields towards another little cemetery at Caesar’s Nose (I’ll explain the name when we visit).  The British front line crossed the field laterally just this side of the cemetery, the German front line at its closest no more than thirty yards, at this point, beyond, but before we head over there, I bet you’re wondering what Colne Valley Cemetery looks like post-renovation, and I will, of course, show you next post.

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4 Responses to A Tour of Boesinghe Part Eighteen – Colne Valley Cemetery (Part One)

  1. Chris Wouters says:

    I’m glad to read that the cemetery has been restored. It would have been a shame if modern industry would have slowly led to more degradation of this place!

    As the tablet in Flemish and French says:

    “The Belgian people gave this piece of land as an everlasting resting place for the heroes of the Allied Armies, fallen during World Wat I, and whose remembrance we honor here.”

    As the plaque says, the restoration should have been completed by end of March 2016, so I hope to see a picture of this place later on.

  2. Morag Sutherland says:

    My husband George visited here in 2004/5 and I remember it uber water only too well.i presume it us the perpetual damp that has caused what looks like green slime on the grave markers? I look forward to the updated post/photos

    • Magicfingers says:

      Yes, perpetual damp indeed. And long periods under water, I guess. So why do I love this little place? No idea, but I tell you what, let’s have a look at it post-renovation, shall we?

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