As a grey Flanders day nears its end, we find ourselves at Ruisseau Farm Cemetery, about three quarters of a mile due west of the centre of Langemark.
The light on this particular day had not been good throughout, and by the time we arrived, with dusk approaching, we were right at the end of the photographic day. To tell the truth, three of the following photos are frankly not fit for publication, the light, or lack of, causing too much camera blur; no, I am not going to point them out, and they do help with the cemetery tour, hence their inclusion.
Cemetery entrance. The original farm was captured by men of the Guards Division and supporting French troops on 8th October 1917,…
…the same date as the earliest ten burials in the cemetery. The poplars in the left background are a little under five hundred yards away, the Steenbeek crossing the fields between the cemetery and the trees, about three hundred yards away, and only two hundred yards beyond the farm buildings that obscure the view in the right half of the picture,…
…as this map of our tour shows, Ruisseau Farm Cemetery marked in red.
On entry this is Row C, these first burials all men killed in late October, including one of just six unidentified men buried here. Inset into the wall behind,…
…the ‘In Perpetuity’ tablets. The French participation in Third Ypres is little remembered now, at least on this side of the channel. Two French divisions would attack on 31st July to the north of the admittedly much bigger British effort (thirteen divisions), and they would continue to attack, alongside the British, until December. The fields to the west of Ruisseau Farm would have seen both khaki Tommies and field blue Poilus advancing in October to cross the Steenbeek and attack the third line of German trenches, the Wilhelm Stellung.
Looking north east down the length of the cemetery. You will notice a gap after the sixth headstone,…
…a marker showing that the seventh headstone had been removed for renovation at the time of our visit.
Two more unidentified men in Row D. The cemetery plan, courtesy of the CWGC, can be found here.
Among the first burials in the cemetery, these five Grenadier Guardsmen were all killed on 8th October 1917, the Coldstream Guard on the far right the following day.
The cemetery contains 82 graves in total, of which twenty eight are guardsmen, and thirty artillerymen.
Although the cemetery was in use for the best part of two months, exactly half of the identified burials were made in the first six days, between 8th & 13th October,…
…and only ten men, on seven different dates, were buried here in November.
The twelve graves in Row B are all artillerymen (above & below).
The grave nearest the camera is that of nineteen year old Second Lieutenant John Ryder Clark, 196th Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery, who died of wounds on 20th October 1917. I find myself stopping at the graves of these young subalterns more often these days; the contention that these were the men who won the war (or, if you prefer, ensured it was not lost) seems to me to be borne out more and more as I look into the subject.
Clark (above), a Londoner, went to Radley College – more recent alumni include Andrew Strauss, Ted Dexter, Andrew Motion and the inimitable Peter Cook, and the composer George Butterworth (check out ‘A Shropshire Lad’ on YouTube – wonderful stuff), killed on the Somme on 5th August 1916, was a teacher there before the war. Radley College lost 235 boys, teachers and staff during the war, and a look at the relevant figures shows the horrendous casualty rate among the young men who joined up from some of the best-known public schools in the land (the table below is from John Lewis-Stempel’s excellent, in my opinion, ‘Six Weeks – The Short and Gallant Life of the British Officer in the First World War’, which I urge you to read if such things interest you).
97% of the boys who joined up from Harrow, Charterhouse & Eton, the three schools which top the list, gained commissions, and I doubt the figures for the other schools were dissimilar. As an ordinary ranker in the British Army during the Great War your chance of being killed turned out, once such things had been calculated, to be about 11.5%. Compare that with the 22% at the top of the table, and the point surely makes itself. It also means that, theoretically, of the five young Etonians pictured in the top inset in the previous photograph, one would lose his life. Take your pick.
Moving on, you will have noticed the single grave of Private R. C. Ralph, Northumberland Fusiliers hiding behind the four artillerymen two shots back; the only headstone in Row A, quite whether the ‘X’ pencilled on the headstone is of any significance who knows.
Panning right from the previous shot, now looking south, the reverse of John Clark’s headstone nearest the camera.
There is a single Grenadier Guardsman in Row D, Private John Davis Hockaday (possibly Hockerday, actually), three headstones down the row, who was, according to the cemetery index, killed in action on 31st August 1917, more than a month before this cemetery was started. Perhaps he died on a trench raid, and was known to have been killed, his body not discovered until the October advance. We shall probably never know.
Heading back towards the cemetery entrance – note the flames on the horizon, a by-product of industry, not crime or misfortune.
What a privilege, owning the farm that overlooks this little cemetery.
I do hope the current occupants feel the same.
Postscript: There are 248 names on my own school’s Roll of Honour. There but for the grace of God (and sixty years).
The final two stops on this tour can be found in the fields to the south east of Langemark, on the way to St. Julien (Sint-Juliaan today), hence their absence from the trench map we’ve been using throughout the tour. And so the penultimate part can be found here.