Wieltje – Oxford Road Cemetery

At long last, here we are at Oxford Road Cemetery, no more than two miles north east of Ypres (Ieper).

I say at long last because I first visited this cemetery many years ago, one of the first Flanders cemeteries I had the privilege of looking around, and so, on occasions during this post, you will be able to compare now and then as we pay our respects within.

It’s a most unusually shaped cemetery, but there are reasons, so take a look at the cemetery plan before we go in, and I shall explain.  The original Oxford Road Cemetery comprised the slightly uneven rows of graves you can see in Plot I, and was only used between August & November 1917, by which time a second cemetery, Oxford Road Cemetery No. 2, had already been begun a hundred yards away to the south west, and these graves now form Plot V of the current cemetery.  The other three plots are all post-war burials brought here from graves found on the battlefields to the east and south east of Ypres, at which time two cemeteries became one.

On entry we find ourselves immediately in Plot III, one of the post-war concentration plots,…

…but as the headstones all face in the wrong direction,…

…it might make more sense,…

…if we look around this plot…

…at the end of our visit.

Plot III, the cemetery entrance now in the background.  We shall return.

So instead we’ll head towards the centre of the cemetery,…

…past the Cross of Sacrifice,…

…and explore the southern section, the second of the original cemeteries, first.  Or second, actually (still with me?) because on the way, and on the right of this shot,…

…and directly ahead of us in this one, is Plot IV.

Plot IV consists of eight rows of ten graves each,…

…of which only thirty are identified.

Plot IV Rows B & C, this shot taken during the summer of 2008.

The thirty identified men buried in the plot all died between June 1917 and late September 1918, the majority of the rest almost certainly killed between those two dates as well.

Just three of the men in the final row, Row H, are identified.

Moving on from Plot IV…

…to Plot V where, in the background, we see three shorter rows, from right Rows A, B & C, and then Row D and the rest of the plot on the left.  The five headstones facing us constitute Plot V Row BB,…

…a serjeant, a corporal…

…and three privates of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, all of whom died on 7th September 1917.

         

And the same headstones, once again snapped during the summer of 2008.

Looking roughly south across Plot V, once Oxford Road Cemetery No. 2, Row D in the foreground.

As the shadows lengthen in 2017, we go back to 2008 once more, and a selection of headstones in Plot V (below):

        

         

         

Back to the present, or near enough.  Today, the five plots that are now one cemetery contain over 850 graves,…

…of which almost 300 are unidentified.

Looking north west across Plot V from the south eastern corner, Row K on the left,…

…and Row K once more, this time from the south western corner.

Looking north east from the south western corner of the cemetery across Plot V, Row K now on the far right.

Moving a short distance along the western boundary, this view looks south east across Plot V, Row C nearest the camera,…

…and panning to our left,…

…and further left, Plot IV now on the left beyond the tree.

Back at the Cross, this view looks north east, Plot III just visible on the far left,…

…Plot II directly ahead of us, and Plot I in the distance.

Once again the headstones face away from us,…

…so we shall continue through Plot II,…

…and most of Plot I, the two views below taken ten years ago,…

         

…and look at the headstones in more detail on our way back.  This is Plot I Row DD (above & below), all five men losing their lives on 4th October 1917.  The man on the far left, Private O. Wood, was a member of the New Zealand Medical Corps – one wonders whether the other four were wounded men under his charge, and whether these five headstones are an example of a German shell finding its mark.

The scattered nature of the first few rows of Plot I (above & below)…

…is indicative of wartime burials, and I would not be surprised if there were once other graves here subsequently lost to German shellfire.

The Stone of Remembrance,…

…and I must say, and I don’t know about you, but I do like the plinth on which the Stone stands.  In the background…

…the memorial to the 50th Northumbrian Division, but if we zoom out a bit,…

…you can see a road just beyond us, between the cemetery and the memorial.  Now called Wieltjesstraat, this was once known as Oxford Road (see map below), and you now know how the cemetery got its name.

This trench map from April 1917 shows Oxford Road Cemetery in orange in the centre, the 50th Northumbrian Division Memorial in green, Wieltje Farm Cemetery in red, and in the bottom left hand corner, Saint Jean (now Sint-Jan) war memorial, which we shall briefly visit next post, in pink.  Neither cemetery was in existence at the time of this map, don’t forget, which shows the British front lines in blue just beyond the memorial, and the German trenches in red.

Another map, this time dated July 1917, shows Wieltje up in the right hand corner, the German front line slightly changed from April, and Ypres, only two miles away, in the bottom left hand corner.

They do a lot of staring, the sheep at Oxford Road.

Time to make our way back through Plot I, this view looking south west towards the Cross,…

…and the same view ten years ago.  Plot I Row A comprises the first two rows in these shots, where the earliest burials in the cemetery, nine men who died in August 1917, are all to be found,…

…as are three special memorials, the three headstones on the right in the first row.  By the way, the only, despite what you read elsewhere, 1918 burial in Plot I is Private J. Byrne, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, who died between 2nd & 3rd June 1918, and is buried next to the special memorial headstones, second from left in the above shot.

The special memorials remember two men ‘known’ to be buried here, and one man ‘believed’ to be buried here,…

…and are the only special memorials in the cemetery.  On the far right, Second Lieutenant H. F. Gough D.S.O. was killed in action on 21st September 1917.  Originally a lance corporal in the 11th Hussars before gaining his commission in the 8th Bn. North Staffordshire Regiment, Gough was awarded the D.S.O. for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when he rallied part of a neighbouring battalion who had lost all their officers, personally lead a counter attack to regain their lost positions at the point of the bayonet, inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy, and consolidated the recaptured position, remaining in charge until relieved.

Six artillerymen, three gunners, a driver, a corporal and a serjeant, all killed on 6th October 1917 (above & below), their graves all designated as Plot I Row DD1.

It’s difficult not to think that they too all died as the result of a single shell.

Of the thirty four identified New Zealand burials in the cemetery,…

…thirteen died in October 1917, the remaining twenty one in January or February 1918.

Plot I Row E in the foreground,…

…and ten years ago.

The single German headstone in the cemetery, alongside two unidentified New Zealanders,…

…is inscribed with two names, both casualties from early October 1917.

As, in fact, are all twelve identified New Zealand burials in Plot I, and most likely these unknown men as well.

Above & below: The grave of an unkown soldier, 2017 & 2008.

Still in Plot I, this time Row F in the foreground.  The man buried nearest the hedge, Private A. Newton, who was killed on 24th October 1917, is one of 151 deaths in total that the Essex Yeomanry suffered during the war, and the only one to die in October 1917.

Many of the men buried in this part of the plot are Canadians,…

…more than sixty of the 83 identified Canadians buried in this cemetery lying here in Plot I,…

…all men killed in October or November 1917.

What did I tell you?

Plot I Row N (above & below), with Plot II behind.

Plot II Row A (above & below).  Exactly half of the 34 identified Australians buried in the cemetery can be found in this plot,…

…which is, as mentioned, another of the post-war concentration plots.

Unknown burials in Plot II Row D.

Plot II, Row E now in the foreground.  One of two 1914 burials here (the other can be found in Plot III) is third from left in Row F behind.

Plot II, Rows G & H, 2017 & 2008 (above & below).

Time now to return to Plot III, where once again all the burials are post-war reinterments,…

         

…and once again the majority are unidentified,…

…the names of only 77 of 220 men buried in the plot being known.

Six rows in, this is Row F, in which nine of the ten men on this side are unidentified.

However the only identified headstone in the row, four graves from the right,…

…bears the familiar engraving of the Victoria Cross.  Captain Clement Robertson, aged 28, 3rd Bn. The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment), attd. ‘A’ Bn. Tank Corps, was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery on 4th October 1917.  On 14th December 1917, the London Gazette published his citation: ‘For most conspicuous bravery in leading his Tanks in attack under heavy shell, machine-gun and rifle fire. Capt. Robertson, knowing the risk of the Tanks missing the way, continued to lead them on foot, guiding them carefully and patiently towards their objective although he must have known that his action would almost inevitably cost him his life. This gallant officer was killed after his objective had been reached, but his skilful leading had already ensured successful action. His utter disregard of danger and devotion to duty afford an example of outstanding valour.’

Captain Robertson’s grave, back in 2008.  In 2017 a plaque and information board were unveiled at a ceremony which took place where Clement Robertson won his V.C. and, with luck and a following wind, I hope to visit and photograph the area in a couple of weeks time, so we shall hopefully return to Captain Robertson again in the future.

Immediately behind, in Row G, a row of New Zealand casualties, all from January or February 1918.  A number of the men in the row behind are Australians, killed in early October 1917; by a curious coincidence there are exactly the same number of identified Australians in this cemetery, thirty four, as New Zealanders.

On the other side, every soldier in the second part of Row G is unidentified.

Plot III Row J,…

         

…and, nearly back at the entrance, Rows L (foreground in both shots) & M, 2008.

The cemetery register and visitor’s book can be found inside the cemetery entrance, and on the right,…

…the ever useful map explaining, in the broadest terms, the war on the Western Front.

And so we leave Oxford Road Cemetery,…

…with a final glimpse back at the 50th Northumbrian Division Memorial.

Oh, come on!

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2 Responses to Wieltje – Oxford Road Cemetery

  1. Sid from Down Under says:

    I cannot resist – your staring sheep (“oi – what are you up to you intruder?”) – New Zealand is renowned for its sheep (and sheep jokes) but I suggest your sheep are simply “automatic lawn mowers and fertilisers” to help keep lawns in good condition.

    BTW is that frost (again) in several photos? Brrrr

    • Magicfingers says:

      Of course you couldn’t resist. They haunt my dreams, whatever their purpose.

      Yep, mucho frost.

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