St. Jean – White House Cemetery

It’s a grey day as we arrive at White House Cemetery, three quarters of a mile north east of the Menin Gate, on the road to St. Jean (Sint-Jan) and Wieltje.

Cemetery entrance.

Before we go in, if we pan from left…

…to centre…

…to right,…

…you can see that this is a cemetery of two halves.

Beyond the Stone of Remembrance in the eastern half of the cemetery,…

…the graves of Plot III stretch away into the distance.  The final headstone on the right of the front row…

…is the only Indian Army burial here, Lieutenant C. M. A. Allardice of the 14th King George’s Own Ferozepore Sikhs, attd. 47th Sikhs, Mentioned in Despatches, who died on 26th April 1915.

The graves in Plot III are all in uniform, neat, regimented rows,…

…whereas those in the western half of the cemetery are more haphazard, and certainly far more unevenly spaced.  And by now you know what that means; one half of this cemetery, the western half, consists mainly of burials made during the war, and the other half consists entirely of post-war reinterments, hence the regimented nature of Plot III.

Plot I looking west, Row E in the foreground.  There are only four plots here, and one of those consists of one long row of burials, as the cemetery plan, with the usual thanks to the CWGC, shows.  During the war the first burial was made here in April 1915, and the last in April 1918, although the cemetery was not used consistently in between these dates.

We shall tour the cemetery in a clockwise direction, beginning with the rows along the boundary in this shot.

The sixteen headstones along the wall are all special memorials to men who are either known or believed to be buried in this cemetery.  In front is Plot I Row K, which continues with the ten spaced out headstones along the wall in the background,…

…but which starts, just inside the cemetery entrance, with these three graves, one undergoing renovation, slightly isolated from the rest of the row,…

…and visible in the left background here as we look back along the row from the other end.  The headstone on the far right is a continuation of Row K.

Looking east from Plot I Row I,…

…and panning left from the same spot.  Next to Row I on the right, the slightly indented row contains eight British Second World War casualties, all killed on 22nd or 23rd May 1940, and one Belgian, killed the following day.  Note the artillerymen buried in Row H, front left,…

…some of the 161 men of the Royal Field or Garrison Artillery buried here.  This view looks north from the southern corner of the cemetery, Plot I Row H in the foreground, and there are more special memorials along the western boundary wall on the left.

Twenty seven of them in total,…

…with a Duhallow Block explaining the circumstances (below).

Ninety men in total were originally buried in the four cemeteries named on the Block, the rest, identified or otherwise, now reinterred elsewhere in this cemetery

To the right of and beyond the hut in the background, along the far edge if the field, you can see where a water course passes beneath the road.  This is the Bellewaerdebeek, which flows from west to east (right to left) from here to Potijze and eventually, after some meandering, empties itself into the lake at Bellewaerde just north of Hooge.  Once upon a time a large white house stood on the banks here, and it is from this that the cemetery took its name.  Separated by a small gap at this end of the row of special memorials, a twenty eighth headstone…

…is simply inscribed, at the top, ‘To the memory of’.

Captain William Ernest Andrews, Royal Irish Rifles, was killed on 2nd August 1915 aged 23 and originally buried at Lankhof Chateau* (and also, originally, unidentified, as you can see on this Graves Registration Report Form), although his grave was later lost.

*we visited the bunkers that still survive at Lankhof Farm, where the chateau once stood, recently.

Part of Plot I Row C in the foreground, with Row B behind, and, after the gap, Row A.  The men in the foreground are Highland Light Infantrymen killed on 1st November 1917.

Beyond Plot I, Plot II consists of the four rows of graves pictured above, Row A just visible on the right,…

…and the first two rows on the elevated section beyond.  And at this point I must own up – although there were mitigating circumstances – about a small matter that will necessitate a further visit to White House Cemetery.  Four executed British soldiers are among the reinterments that now lie in this cemetery, and one recipient of the Victoria Cross, and I have photographs of the graves of precisely none of them.  Actually, that’s not quite true; the headstone of Private William Turpie, The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment), aged 24 and executed for desertion on 1st July 1915, is visible in the second row in both the above and previous shot, if you care to look for him.

The mitigating circumstances?  Well, not everything on these Flanders trips is planned, and sometimes one just spots a cemetery and decide to stop, which was the case in this instance.

Up on the elevated section there are only three rows of graves, the first two, Rows E (foreground) and F, as mentioned, still in Plot II.  As far as I can work it out, the evidence* suggests that the first original burial in the cemetery can be found in Row F, a man killed on 27th April 1915.  From then on the cemetery was used regularly until the end of August 1916, after which comes a curious hiatus, the next burials not being made for nearly a year, in mid-July 1917.  The final wartime burials would be made as the winter of 1917 turned into the spring of 1918; on 6th March eight men of the Rifle Brigade were buried here, followed by two Cameronians on 18th March.  A single machine gunner, who died on 10th April, would be the final wartime burial.  The sixty four men who are buried here with dates of death after that are all post-war reinterments.

*it isn’t complicated, just time consuming.  The fact is that the documents of every soldier buried here before that date contain a Concentration of Graves (Exhumation and Reburials) Burial Return Form, so we know they were all buried elsewhere originally, and later reburied here.  Private Richard Upstone, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, who died on 27th April 1915, is the first man whose documents show that his first, and only, place of burial was in this cemetery.

And here’s the form that shows exactly that.  What is most curious, and only uncovered by going through this process, is that the man buried next to Private Upstone is the very last man buried here, the machine gunner who died on 10th April 1918, Private W. W. Worthy (next to whom is one of the two Cameronians killed on 18th March), and on the other side are the men of the Rifle Brigade killed on 6th March.  The first burial next to the last burial!  What it does mean is that Private Upstone’s grave must have stood here, isolated, throughout the war (the next original burial by date is in Plot I).  Perhaps the elevated section of Row F was simply too dangerous to continue using.

All of which most likely makes us the only people in the world who know all this.  Moving on, designated as Plot IV, and consisting entirely of post-war burials, this is the final row in the western half of the cemetery.  About three quarters of the way down the row lies the body of Private Robert Morrow V.C., Royal Irish Fusiliers, killed on 26th April 1915 rescuing several men under heavy fire at Messines, aged 24.

Silent picket, still at work.

Cross of Sacrifice.

Across in the eastern half of the cemetery, now looking west from the northern corner of the cemetery with Plot III Row S in the foreground.

And another.

Looking south from the northern corner across the post-war reinterments in Plot III .

The cemetery contains well over 1000 Great War burials in total,…

…of which 322 are unidentified.

Unknown men in Plot III; just under half the graves in the plot are unidentified.

Finally we return to the Stone of Remembrance,…

…and take our leave.

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