Wieltje Farm Cemetery

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It seems strange, after more than seven years and over 800 posts, that there are still a handful of cemeteries within a stone’s throw of the Menin Gate, to the east of the City of Ypres (Ieper), that I have yet to show you round, so it’s high time we begin to put that right.

It was many moons ago now, 2008 to be exact, that I first visited Wieltje Farm Cemetery.  And I have never got round to publishing the photos I took that day, until now,…

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…most likely because these photos were taken on a little Fuji Finepix camera, long since superseded in the camera stakes.

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But now, as you will see later, I am rather pleased that I didn’t publish them, as, having returned to Wieltje Farm once more last year, what better opportunity to see what, if anything, has changed since my first visit.  And all in one post, too.

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The little cemetery sits in the middle of the fields just a mile and a half north east of the Menin Gate, traffic on the N38, the ring road round the north of Ieper, continually thundering past in the background.

The cemetery was only used between the very end of July 1917 and October the same year,…

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…hence just the single year inscribed at the cemetery entrance.  So, have a look at the cemetery plan, then we’ll take a quick spin around the place, followed by a closer look later in the post.

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Either side of the entrance, special memorials (above & below) remember twenty men whose bodies are known to be buried in this cemetery, but the exact whereabouts of their graves have been lost.

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Including the special memorials, there are 106 identified men buried or commemorated in the cemetery.  This is Row A…

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…and these burials are in Row C (above & below), with Row B behind.

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I don’t often visit Flanders in the summer months,…

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…and it’s quite nice to see the flowers in bloom occasionally.

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Row B with, in the centre, one of only ten unidentified soldiers buried here, according to the CWGC website.

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A single German, Unteroffizier O. Hofmeister, who died on 22nd September 1917, is also buried here, his headstone broken and mended at some point.

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Hooligans.

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Graves at the end of Row B, men killed towards the end of September 1917,…

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…and Row A once more.

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The cemetery register can be found at the far end of the cemetery.

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So, there you have Wieltje Farm Cemetery, 2008 vintage.

Time to move on to Wieltje Farm Cemetery, 2017 vintage this time.  And, apart from the change in seasons, other things are indeed different around here.  For a start, the mature trees along the road have all been replaced by these spindly youngsters,…

…and the hedge on the left of the alley leading towards the cemetery has grown into a monster!

The cemetery itself now appears as if in a desert or a wasteland, about the only thing that is unchanged,…

…even the N38 in the background denuded of its trees, if not its traffic.  That’s two things.

Cemetery entrance.

So here we are inside once more, the first five headstones of Row A nearest the camera in this shot, the row continuing along the wall on the left, Row B in the centre, and Row C on the right.

The Cross of Sacrifice, with once again the first five headstones of Row A on the right, but before we look at them, we should take a closer look at the special memorial headstones on either side of the cemetery entrance in the background.

The CWGC website says that there are twenty men remembered on special memorials but there are actually nineteen headstones in total on either side of the entrance, and the above gap in the nine to the left on entering maybe suggests that at some point one man’s body has been identified elsewhere in the cemetery, a headstone with his name erected, and his special memorial subsequently removed.  But you need to look closer.  The headstone to the right of the gap actually says the following; Two Soldiers of the Great War – Loyal North Lancashire Regiment.  And thus the gap has been left to respect the memory of a second unknown soldier, and there are indeed twenty men remembered on these memorials.  Not only that, but it is seriously unusual to find an unknown soldier, or two in this case, remembered on a special memorial headstone.  At the base of the headstone on the far left,…

…that of Private J. Parbery, Royal Lancaster Regiment, killed on 3rd August 1917,…

…the most poignant of messages has been left.

The cemetery was begun on 31st July 1917, the first day of the Third Battle of Ypres.  Eight men were buried here who died that day, and six of those eight are now remembered among these special memorials.

All nineteen men remembered on the special memorials are ‘known to be buried in this cemetery’, which is a puzzle, as there are actually only ten unidentified men buried beneath headstones elsewhere in Wieltje Farm.

It certainly suggests that although some of these men are buried here beneath a headstone with no name inscribed on it, others are known to be buried here, within the cemetery’s boundary, but have no headstone at all.  It may be that the gaps in the rows, in particular in Row C, mark their original places of burial.

Anyway, back to Row A.  These five burials are all from early August 1917.

The rest of Row A along the western boundary wall, the headstone nearest the camera,…

…that of Private F. Brettoner, aged 37, of the Yorkshire Regiment, later transferred to the Labour Corps, who died on 26th September 1917, sporting a wreath the like of which you see more often on graves in German cemeteries.

Row B,…

…and the first five burials in Row C, four Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and a Royal Engineer, all killed in early August 1917.

Looking north west along Row C, the five graves we have just looked at nearest the camera.

Continuing along Row C, these men all killed in September 1917.

Over in Row B, an unknown Serjeant of the Great War, Royal Field Artillery, on the left, alongside two men killed in August 1917 and, second from right, one of the two 31st July burials whose grave sites are known.

Returning to Row C, and casualties of early…

…and late September 1917.

The grave of Unteroffizier Hofmeister at the end of Row C.

As Baldrick signs the visitor’s book,…

…two views from the bottom of the cemetery…

…looking south, back towards the entrance.

Apart from the single German, all the men who lie in this cemetery are men from the United Kingdom except for these two final burials at the northern end of Row A, both made nearly a month after the cemetery had last been used.

On the left is the grave of Lance Corporal Edgar Harvey Robertson, Auckland Regiment, N.Z.E.F., killed on 24th October 1917 aged 21,…

…and on the right, Sapper William Hamilton, Canadian Engineers, killed the same day, aged 39.

Returning up Row A…

…one final stop at this grave that you probably spotted earlier.  Lieutenant Henry Latham Kerrich, Sherwood Foresters (Notts and Derby Regiment), a South African I believe, died on 27th September 1917, aged 21.

Okay, we’re leaving (looking cool Balders, and cold).

This might explain it.  Before we finish, let’s return to the special memorial conundrum from earlier.  If there are twenty men who are ‘known to be buried in this cemetery’, and yet only ten are buried beneath headstones with a version of ‘A Soldier of the Great War’ inscribed on them, then nine men are buried here with no actual marker to signify their grave.  It is generally accepted that when you a find a headstone with ‘known’ or ‘believed’ or ‘buried elsewhere in this cemetery’ inscribed on it, it means that the man rests under one of the ‘A Soldier of the Great War’ inscribed headstones in the same cemetery.  But that theory falls flat here at Wieltje Farm.  Nine men must be buried within the cemetery boundary in unmarked graves, but of course what we don’t know is whether this is unique to Wieltje Farm, because, if one extrapolates this across all the cemeteries we have visited, it might mean that many more men are buried in unmarked graves than we think.

Wieltje Farm Cemetery, 2017.  I wonder what it will look like in another ten years.

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12 Responses to Wieltje Farm Cemetery

  1. Marg Draycott says:

    Interesting post. Love these small cemeteries somehow more poignant than the large ones. Puzzles me how in such a small area they know someone is buried there but they can’t tell where. Beautiful blue skies

    • Magicfingers says:

      Hello Night Owl. Yes, me too. The larger cemeteries are almost mind-numbing. And it puzzles me too, although as we know many graves were lost to shellfire and I reckon that is the case with these men, i.e. they were recorded as buried here but by the end of the war no trace of their graves could be found.

  2. Steve Oliver says:

    Just another awesome post.

    Yesterday was the 101st anniversary of the first day that Canadians operated as a single unit under Canadian command and win the Battle if Vimy Ridge.

    I was there last year on April 9. How quickly time passes.

  3. Rob says:

    Thank you for the post. I’ll be visiting this cemetery next week. Jack Parbery is actually my great-grand-uncle (my grandmother’s mother’s brother!), and I didn’t even know he existed until recently, so I’ll go up (from Luxembourg) and pay my respects next weekend.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Hello Rob. Thanks for commenting; I’m glad I took a close up of Jack’s headstone – I presume, therefore, that you don’t know who left the little plaque at his grave – it doesn’t seem to be there in the earlier photos, so it must have been placed there fairly recently (last ten years)? I wonder if it is still there – I would certainly hope so. Good for you for going up there to see him, and have a good trip.

  4. Rob says:

    Hi there, Mr.Fingers – I went to Jack’s resting place last weekend in the howling rain! I couldn’t really do justice to the site, as it was torrential. We haven’t solved the mystery of who laid the plaque – my Nan’s mum was the oldest of nine children, so the number of ‘suspects’ is quite high. Most of Nan’s cousins have all scattered around the world now, from South Africa to New Zealand, and they’re becoming distant relatives to the extent where not much is really known about them. I’ll see her in a couple of weeks, so I’ll pick her memory and maybe do some phoning around. Might make for an interesting winter project. Jack himself would have been about 18 years old, maybe 19. Nan’s mum was born in 1896, so he would have been at least a year younger, maybe two. He could have been 20, but Nan thinks 18-19 more likely – he’d already been dead for 7 years when she was born, so she never really knew that much about him, especially with 7 other sets of aunts/uncles. Not sure how he ended up in the Royal Lancaster Regiment either – we’re all Northamptonians for generations. No connection with the Lancs at all, although I confess I have no idea of how regiments were formed and located back then. I think there was actually a Northamptonshire Regiment back then, but how he ended up in the Lancs is anyone’s guess. A Howe that ventures north of the Watford Gap is considered an adventurer, even now. Cheers, R.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Hey Rob. Sounds like you had ‘proper’ Flanders weather. Pity those poor soldiers. Look on it as a privilege to experience just a little of what they did. Does indeed sound like a winter project. All sorts of reasons he might have ended up with the Lancasters – maybe he was wounded and sent to them on his return to action – so you need to see if his papers still exist at the National Archives to get the whle story. Keep in touch on this one. Please. Oh, and I’m with the Howes when it comes to the Watford Gap.

  5. WOW says:

    Interesting to see it all again. my great uncle Henry Burnside is buried here along with 5 or 6 others from the 10th Battalion Enniskillen Fusiliers. They were gassed on 8th August 1917. I visited, with my family, about 15 years ago and do want to return at some stage. I was the first from our family to and several others have been since. Henry’s three brothers were also in the 10th Battalion, know as ‘the Derrys’-as they were from the City of Londonderry.
    In an interesting note, one of Henry’s brothers was subsequently a police officer in Northern Ireland in 1922 when he was badly wounded and taken prisoner by the IRA. He was off duty at the time and in ‘civvies’. He was interrogated by the IRA and instead of giving his actual christian name, he gave that of Henry (otherwise they may have shot him) and eventually he was released. But the IRA did eventually find out that he had given a false name and he was forced to emigrate! So after surviving WW1 he still had problems!

    • Magicfingers says:

      Hey WOW! That’s fascinating (particularly as there is a lot of IRA stuff elsewehere on this site, although Dublin-based as opposed to up north – see the Ireland Category). Thanks so much for the information.

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