A Tour of Langemark Part Two – Cement House Cemetery

Cement House Cemetery, three quarters of a mile south west of the village of Langemark-Poelkapelle, is, apart from a handful of British cemeteries clustered along the Channel Coast near Nieuwpoort, one of the most northern of the CWGC cemeteries to be found in Belgian Flanders.

Langemarck, as it was then, was in German hands for much of the war; captured in October 1914 during the First Battle of Ypres, the first German gas attacks in April 1915 had been launched from either side of the village which the Germans then continued to hold until the Third Battle of Ypres, and would retake during their spring advance of 1918.

The cemetery name comes, surprise surprise, from a nearby farmhouse which the Germans had fortified (by filling much of it with concrete – or cement) and a bunker does still exist among the farm buildings to the east of the cemetery.  Although the dates above the cemetery entrance are inscribed as 1916-1918, there are now also burials from 1914, 1915, and three from 1919, to be found within.

On entering, much of the cemetery is laid out in typical post-war concentration style,…

…in particular the western side of the cemetery, which we shall explore later,…

…but much of the eastern side is too, as we pass Plot VI (nearest camera above, and on the right below),…

…and then Plot II, on the left in this shot, before zooming in…

…on what are pretty clearly some of the original, wartime, graves.  The cemetery was begun in August 1917, but there were only a small number of graves here at the war’s end, compared to the 3,600 now to be found among the cemetery’s twenty one plots.  We shall of course return to these early graves, and the numbers actually buried here during the war, later, but for now, continuing our route up the northern boundary,…

…we reach the northern corner of the cemetery (the cemetery entrance now on the far right), where we find the In Perpetuity tablet (below),…

…and begin our tour proper looking at Plot II.  Of the 145 men buried in the plot, only 27 are identified, and throughout the cemetery the numbers of unidentified men, some 2,427 in all, over two thirds of the total burials here, are sobering.  The first three rows, designated Rows AA (front row above & below), BB & CC, are all burials made here long after the war,…

…because Cement House Cemetery is still open for burials, and a number of plots have been extended to accommodate the bodies that are still found to this day.  The graves in the first three rows, every one unidentified, although some regiments are known, are all fairly recent burials.  The seventeen totally unidentified men in the third row from the camera are some of the men uncovered by the Diggers during their Yorkshire Trench excavations, these men reburied here in September 1999, which suggests that the two rows nearest the camera have been added since, although the three older headstones are a bit of a conundrum.  But if you take a careful look at the cemetery plan (coming up, thanks as ever to the CWGC), you can see that these rows have been added to the plan at a later date, and are designated as Plot II Rows AA, BB & CC.

Turning to our left this is Plot I with Row K, the row of touching headstones, nearest the camera, and Rows I, H, G and so on beyond,…

…and the same headstones from a different angle, Row G now in the foreground, and Row K fourth from the front (actually fifth – you can now see, if you look carefully, the four headstones of Row J near the centre of the picture).  Row H, second from left, contains the newest burials in the cemetery, and I am certain that all these men barring the four at the far end of the row are 21st Century burials.  Now take a look at the cemetery plan, or plans, because as, on this occasion, we have ‘before’ and ‘after’ versions, you will find them immediately below:

First, the ‘after’ plan, although itself possibly no longer entirely accurate as new graves have been added.  But it does contain many of the ‘recent’ burials; you can see quite clearly where the three rows (AA, BB & CC) have been added in a different typeface to the other rows in Plot II in the bottom right corner of the plan, and, a little to the left, Plot I Row H, again with the number ’25’ added in a different typeface,…

…none of which exist on the ‘before’ plan, and I do apologise for the quality, but I could find no better, and it does, just about, serve the purpose.  There are other differences that I will point out as and when we encounter them, but in the meantime,…

…we continue on through Plot I, Row F now directly in front of us, and on the left,…

…Row E, in two sections, and the remaining rows of the plot,…

…which seems to finish with Row B (above & below).  Doubtless Row A will turn up at some point.

The final graves in Plot I that we have yet to see are the seven graves of Row M, and the three of Row N (far right & below),…

…beyond which there are two graves in Row O.

Stone of Remembrance,…

…and beyond, looking north east from the Stone, a final view of Plot I.  As has already been mentioned, the cemetery was begun at the end of August 1917, although by the war’s end, according to the CWGC, only 231 burials had been made here, all in Plot I.  Which is rather odd, considering that if you actually bother to count the number of headstones in Plot I at the end of the war (and therefore discounting the graves added to Row H) you will get a total of 136, whatever way you add ’em up.  If, however, you were to add to these the original five rows of graves in Plot II, you would then have a total of 230, which seems somewhat nearer the mark. Which leaves us with two explanations, and you can take your pick.  Either there were just 136 burials here at the end of the war, or there were 136 burials here when the British retook the village in September 1918, and in the remaining weeks, as the battlefields began to be cleared, the bodies of 94 men, the majority unidentified, were laid to rest in what is now Plot II Rows A to E, making a total of 230.  The tide of war having moved east, these 94 men could now be buried in regimented rows with no danger to the burial parties.  It’s a theory.

Moving on, this view looks south west from the eastern corner of the cemetery; note the headstones in the foreground, each inscribed with ‘Two Soldiers of the Great War’,…

…as we pan right, Plot III in the foreground.

Panning even further right, now looking roughly north west with Plot I in the background, these five headstones sit apart from the rest of Plot III,…

…and with good reason.  This is actually the elusive Plot I Row A, separated from the rest of that plot by not only a change in elevation but by a small wall as well (previous photo), where four men, just one identified, are buried under individual headstones; the fifth headstone, on the far right,…

…appears to signify a mass grave beneath, and here, because war is, we are going to get gruesome, the term ‘mortal remains’ suggesting something less than bodies as we imagine them.  A repository for body parts, I would suggest.  You must remember that the men who were clearing the battlefields after the war were just ordinary soldiers doing the most appalling, but necessary, job, in foul and dangerous conditions.  And what exactly do you do with the spare arms and legs and bits of torso that you’ve uncovered during your day’s work?  Incidentally, I think that this headstone is the 231st ‘burial’ of the original wartime graves mentioned by the CWGC.

So, turning to our right this is Plot III, Row AA in the foreground, another more recent row of burials, and another addition to the newer of the two cemetery plans.

Walking west along the corridor between Plot V on our immediate right,…

…and Plot IV on our left, we make our way…

…towards the Cross of Sacrifice,…

…and a number of special memorials along the southern cemetery boundary behind.

Three of these men are Newfoundlanders, all believed to be buried among the two and a half thousand unidentified burials in the cemetery.  Unusually, these four graves are designated as being Plot VIIA Row A.

Next to them, an interesting group of five headstones (not that there are ever uninteresting ones, but you know what I mean).  The headstone on the far left, inscribed simply ‘In Memory of’ at the top, remembers Lieutenant Harold Michael Openshaw, Norfolk Regiment; at its base are inscribed the words ‘Originally buried at Thulin New Communal Cemetery, but whose grave is now lost’.  Next to him, two Second Lieutenants of the Notts & Derby Regiment, and on the far right, a corporal of the same regiment.

These are the Pheasant Trench Cemetery Memorials, and the fifth headstone explains their presence.

Next to them, four more men believed to be buried somewhere in the cemetery.  These special memorial headstones are designated as Plot VIIA Row B.

Immediately next to the Cross and the special memorials, the first four rows here, thirty seven headstones in total, are the remainder of Plot VIIA (Rows C to F), and once more they appear on only the later of the two cemetery plans, as these too are much more recent burials; note the headstones with ‘three’ and ‘four’ soldiers inscribed on them, making, for example, a total of fifteen men actually buried beneath the seven headstones pictured here in Row C in the foreground.

Looking north past the Cross from Plot VIIA.  In the immediate post-war years, many more bodies, mainly from the fighting in the latter half of 1917, were brought into the cemetery from smaller burial grounds and isolated battlefield graves, and Plots II or III, depending on your earlier pick, to XV were created.

Known unto God.

Plot XIII, one of the two largest plots; of 300 men buried in the plot, just 49 are identified.

Another row of unidentified soldiers in the final row of Plot XIII, with Plot XVI behind.

Plot XVI (above & below) consists of the four rows of headstones nearest the camera and stretches right the way to the cemetery boundary in the background, fifty men in each row, 200 men in total.

Seven are identified.

Now at the far end of Plot XVI, this view looks north from the southern corner of the cemetery.

Panning left, we shall next follow the single row of one hundred headstones, split into Plots XIX, XX & XXI, that lines the western boundary.  Once again, if you check the two cemetery plans one final time, you will see that much of this row did not exist at the time the earlier plan was drawn up.

Unknown soldiers of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers; seventy eight of the men buried in the row are unidentified.

Continuing along the western boundary, ahead of us in the distance Plot XVIII, and immediately on our right…

…Plot XVII, this view looking east, the cemetery entrance just left of centre in the middle distance.

Plot XXI (above & below), at the northern end of the row of headstones along the western boundary, contains one of only two identified New Zealanders buried in the whole cemetery.  The vast majority of the identified burials throughout the cemetery are British, just 29 Canadians, four Australians and a single South African buried among them.

Further along the row there are ten headstones, all Second World War graves, and all but two airmen.

Beneath the last-but-one headstone in the previous shot the remains of two men are buried,…

…their bodies originally buried in the churchyard in Kanne, 120 miles away to the east on the Dutch border, near Maastricht, before being later moved here.  Sergeant Welch is buried in the last grave in the row.  There are a further ten Second World War burials in Plot XVII.

Looking south east across the cemetery, Plot XVIII  ahead of us.  Although removed in 1922, according to the CWGC there were originally some 500 French graves in what are now Plots XVI, XVII & XVIII, the bodies likely to contain not only casualties from the now little-remembered French attacks to the left of the main British advance during Third Ypres, but also, I would have thought, some men who lost their lives during the gas attacks of April 1915, and had lain on the battlefield ever since.  Post-1922 the plots were filled with more British soldiers brought in from locations where the continued upkeep of their graves could not be guaranteed.

All very well, except the original cemetery plan says they were German graves, not French.  Take a look!  Personally, I think French is correct and the cemetery plan wrong, as the Germans had their own cemetery just a mile away, where we shall find ourselves later in this tour.

Looking roughly south along the rows of, nearest us, Plot XVIII, and then Plot XVII and away in the distance Plot XVI, a total of 440 graves, less than a quarter of whom are identified.

The British soldiers reinterred here after the removal of the French/German graves in the 1920s came from locations far and wide across Belgium.  Bodies from five churchyards or communal cemeteries in the area surrounding Mons, some 54 miles south east of Langemark, were brought here; interestingly, bearing in mind that the British experience of the Great War began and ended at Mons, forty of these men were killed in 1914, and fourteen in 1918.  The churchyard at Hensies, forty seven miles away to the south east, contained five men that covered the whole war; one man was killed in August 1914, the other four in November 1918.  Meerendre (now Merendree) churchyard, thirty or so miles away to the north east near Ghent, contained the graves of four R.A.F. officers whose plane was presumably shot down in October 1918.  And there were many more locations, ranging from just a handful of men to several dozen, all of which were closed down in the 1920s and the bodies moved here.

Chauffeur alert!  Plot XIV,…

…and panning right from the same spot.  And so it continues; of the 180 burials in Plot XIV, only thirty three are identified.

Two more men of the Newfoundland Regiment among the unidentified burials in Plot XIV (three rows back in the previous two shots); note the single French grave in the far background.

Plot V,…

…Row A.  In some places in this cemetery it is almost a surprise when you come across an identified man, and here in Plot V 76 men out of 180 are named.

View from the centre of the cemetery looking roughly south towards the Cross of Sacrifice, Plot IV on the left, Plot VII on the right,…

…and looking the other way, Plot XIII on our right and Plot V on our right, towards the cemetery entrance, which is where we must now head.

Just to the left of the entrance, I am pleased to say, we find the ubiquitous CWGC information board.

As we leave,…

…here’s a trench map, published in November 1917 with trenches corrected to 17th October, that not only shows you the seven stops on our tour, all marked in different colours, but also the German dispositions, in red on the right, less than a month prior to the end of the Battle of Passchendaele (Passchendaele village is three miles south east of Langemark).  Just off the bottom of the map to the left the Welsh Memorial Park is marked as a blue dot, and continuing north east up the road towards Langemarck itself Cement House Cemetery is marked in pink, and our next two, brief, stops, are not so far up the road either, as you can see.

This entry was posted in Langemark. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to A Tour of Langemark Part Two – Cement House Cemetery

  1. Morag Sutherland says:

    Good morning! Just picked thus go
    One of the Mons reburiials you talk off is a relative of my husband. I have a lot if information on Alexander Nicholas Sutherland Hussars. I can email through if you want?
    His grand nephew and namesake lives in Ieper today and had a distinguished career with CWGC!!
    CAN YOU PM me your email please? Thanks

  2. John in Canada says:

    The vast number of unknown soldiers in this cemetery spawned a this question that I was unable to find an answer to on the CWGC website. Unknowns are classified according to the information provided by the battlefield clearance units, and perhaps again later if remains were exhumed and reburied during cemetery concentration. Regiment if known. Rank if known. Nationality, same. However, do the large number buried as “An unknown soldier of the Great War” possibly include German soldiers where no “friend or foe” determination could be made?

    • Magicfingers says:

      It is a question that I have deliberately steered clear of because, like you, I have never been able to find out the answer. What you do occasionally find, as in one photo in this post, is ‘A British Officer of the Great War’. but is that as opposed to a Canadian, or Australian, or a German? All I can say is that I have been working for some time on an ‘Unknown Soldier’ post with numerous different versions of unidentified headstones, and I guess I will have to address this during that post. More research required methinks. While we are here, could you possibly email me your current address, because I cannot find it? No, I shan’t be turning up on the doorstep any time soon. Honest guv!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.