French Flanders: The Cemeteries on the Lys Part Eight – Estaires Communal Cemetery & Extension Part One

After our brief visit to the battlefield of Culloden, it’s time to head back to Flanders for your Bank Holiday, if you are in England, reading.  Our next stop on our journey up the River Lys is Estaires, where there is nothing at the gates of the communal cemetery to suggest what lies within.  No sign of a CWGC plaque here at the entrance, which might, unfortunately, cause visitors to pass on by.

Once inside, however, a Cross of Sacrifice is immediately evident.

And a big Cross it is, too, suggesting that there are quite a number of graves here.

Which indeed there are.  Eight hundred in fact.

Estaires Communal Cemetery was used for British burials from early November 1914 until June 1917, and the extension was created and used from April 1917 to April 1918, and again between September & November 1918.

The cemetery plan, courtesy of the CWGC, shows that Plots IV & V comprise the extension,…

…and that the headstones nearest to us in these shots are the start of Plot II,…

…where the most famous burial here is to be found in the very first row.

Brigadier General Sir John Edmond Gough VC, KCB, CMG, born in October 1871 and known as Johnnie, was the son of General Sir Charles Gough and nephew of General Sir Hugh Gough, both of whom had been awarded the Victoria Cross during the Indian Mutiny.  Commissioned into the Rifle Brigade in 1891, Johnnie Gough served in British Central Africa in 1896 and the Sudan in 1898, the same year he was promoted to captain, and through the Second Boer War between 1899 & 1902.  In 1903, as a brevet major, he participated in the Third Somaliland Expedition which was where he won his Victoria Cross (London Gazette citation below).

Appointed Aide de Camp to King Edward VIII in 1907, before the war he was Chief of Staff to Lieutenant General (at the time) Sir Douglas Haig based at Aldershot.  On the outbreak of war, and now a Brigadier General, Gough went to France as Chief of Staff of I Corps.  In February 1915, as planning continued for the forthcoming attack on Neuve Chapelle, Gough was chosen to command one of the divisions that would participate, bringing with it a guaranteed promotion to Major General.

Gough, second from right and inset, talking to Brigadier General E. M. Percival, with Haig and Major General Charles Monro on the left, France, 1914.

On 20th February 1915 Gough paid a visit to his old battalion, 2nd Bn. The Rifle Brigade, who were in the front line at Fauquissart, about four miles to the south east of here.  While there he was wounded in the abdomen by a German sniper’s bullet and by all accounts was doubly unlucky; it was thought that the shot was fired from over 1000 yards away, and struck him via a ricochet.

Moved by ambulance to the 25th Field Ambulance here at Estaires, he succumbed to his injury on the morning of 22nd February, and was buried here that afternoon, his grave and original wooden cross pictured above.  He was 43.  Two months later, on 20th April 1915, he was posthumously knighted.  Another of the seventy one British generals killed on active service during the war.  And perhaps one of the most costly.

From V.C. to unknown.  Buried to the immediate right of Gough, four unknown fusiliers.

Skirmishes took place around Estaires in October 1914 before the village was occupied by French cavalry on 15th of the month.  The French almost immediately passed the jurisdiction of the village on to the British, who would establish a field ambulance here by the following month.

The inset above shows a relatively early burial, purporting to be that of a private of the 2nd Bn. Scots Guards in December 1914; there is no sign of the communal cemetery intruding into the right in the shot, and it seems that at this time burials were being made a distance away from the French civilian burials.  The trees in the inset have been replaced today by the rather ugly concrete wall.

The only identified Scots Guardsman who was buried here in December 1914 is Lance Corporal F. Tolley, buried in Plot II Row C, the third row from the front, his headstone highlighted above.  Comparing this shot with the previous inset, I reckon it is highly likely to be his funeral.

Behind the British lines for most of the war, Estaires was captured by the Germans on 1oth April 1918, and would be retaken by the British in early September.

One of 56 New Zealand burials in the cemetery, front right, and, on the far left of the front row, the grave of Lieutenant Colonel Laurence Rowe Fisher-Rowe, 1st Bn. Grenadier Guards, Mentioned in Despatches, who died on 13th March 1915 aged 48.  The inscription on his headstone says simply ‘Died of wounds received in the Battle of Neuve Chapelle’.  The inset, positioned above his headstone, shows Fisher-Rowe’s original wooden cross.

Of the 827 identified burials here the majority, over 600, are from the United Kingdom.  This is Plot II Row G, and in the row behind,…

…Row H, the grave of Captain Thomas Joseph Fitzherbert-Brockholes, Adjutant, 2nd Bn. The Rifle Brigade, who died of wounds received at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, 14th March 1915, aged 27.

His brother, Roger, a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, would be killed whilst on mine-sweeping duty on the River Dvina in Russia on 2nd July 1919, aged 28.

Unknown British captain.  Only 63 of the men buried here are unidentified.

Along the northern boundary wall,…

…a row of special memorial headstones…

…remember nineteen men who are known to be buried here,…

…but whose exact place of burial has been lost.

Row J, and a man with two headstones (left & centre).  Often, if one finds a cross such as this, quite possibly a tribute to a much-loved officer by his men, or perhaps a post-war family memorial, although the serviceman’s details will be on the CWGC database, he will not have a CWGC headstone.  Captain L. C. F. Oldfield, Rifle Brigade (pictured below), died of wounds on 25th September 1915, and is buried along with a colleague who died the same day, Second Lieutenant Cecil L. Raymond Barker, on his right.

Serjeant Piper Alexander Martin, D.C.M., Scots Guards, killed on 9th February 1916 aged 39.  He had won his D.C.M. ‘for conspicuous gallantry and resource throughout the campaign when in charge of the stretcher bearers.  He has on many occasions picked up wounded men and carried messages under heavy fire, and has shown the greatest devotion to duty’.

Plot II Row N, one of the Jewish graves visible in the row behind through the gap in the centre.

The grave is that of Private Israel (Jack) Leventhal, East Lancashire Regiment, who died on 14th March 1915 aged 23.  Two rows further back, through the gap, you will spot a second Jewish burial, that of Private Harry Moss Levy, killed in May 1916.  The inset shows a Jewish grave with, I think, a second two rows behind, and if so, this is Private Leventhal’s original cross.  The off-white headstone two to the left of Private Levy, the first of six Germans buried here, presumably all men who were wounded, captured, and later died,…

…is that of Gefreiter Max Machold, killed on 15th March 1915 and buried in Plot II Row Q.

Another of the German graves, this time in Row U.  In the rows behind, some of the 139 Australians buried here, all but ten killed between May and early November 1916.

The final row of Plot II, Row W,…

…contains another of the six German burials (on the left), and then seven Indian headstones, from left to right:

Four of these men are identified, out of only six identified Indians in total buried here.

Plot III Row B, and in the background, the single headstone…

…of sixteen year old Private A. O’Hare, East Lancashire Regiment, killed on 13th March 1915, his headstone shared with a comrade who died the following day.

In the row behind…

…another unknown British officer.

Designated as Joint Grave Plot III Row D6, these two Royal Welch Fusiliers both died on the 22nd April 1915.  They both died on that date because they were both shot on that date.  By their own side.

Privates Major Penn (his first name was indeed Major – the ‘A’ on the headstone is incorrect) and Albert Troughton had arrived in France in October 1914, and both men had deserted together after, Troughton alleged, he heard his C.O. give the command ‘everyone for himself’ after a particularly intense and bloodthirsty attack by the Germans had resulted in several hundred casualties.  Unsurprisingly, this defence fell on deaf ears, and the two fusiliers were executed on 22nd April 1915 and buried together in this joint grave.

Three riflemen of the West Yorkshire Regiment, all killed on 9th May 1915.

As mentioned earlier, the British had first set up a field ambulance station here in November 1914, the town playing host to various branches of the medical services over the following years.

The 1st Australian Casualty Clearing Station, for example, was based here in the local Sacred Heart College for Boys between April 1916 & May 1917,…

…which explains the large numbers of men buried here, well over 200,…

…between May 1916 and May 1917 when the C.C.S. moved a little further north to Bailleul.

Heavily involved in the Battle of Messines in June 1917, in July the C.C.S. moved to Outtersteene, near the major British railhead at Hazebrouck, and then further back to Hondeghem, where it was based when Operation Georgette was unleashed by the Germans on 9th April 1918, within days moving once more, this time to Blendique, near St. Omer, as the German advance continued.  The two insets show, on the left, walking wounded awaiting evacuation on 9th April, and on the right, a seriously wounded Black Watch casualty being attended to at one of the dressing stations, possibly Lapugnoy, west of Béthune, on 11th April.

It is only as we near the end of Plot III, with Plot IV beyond,…

…that it becomes clear, as the cemetery plan showed earlier, that there are even more graves here than we have so far seen.  The two rows of headstones in the foreground are the final two rows of Plot III, Rows M & N; beyond, the headstones that we can now see on the left comprise Plot V,…

…and it is Plots IV & V that officially make up the extension part of the cemetery.

Looking north across Plot IV, Row B on the left, Plot V in the background.  Near the centre of the picture,…

…’Dujardin’, mort pour la France, 1914-1918.

The final rows of Plot IV – all the identified burials in the plot are men killed between April and September 1917.

Burials from the early months of 1918 in the first rows of Plot V (above & below).

Two more French casualties, both killed on 8th November 1917.

With which we reach the eastern end of the cemetery.

The grave (above) of Captain Eric Howard Harvey M.C. & Bar (photo inset below), Gloucestershire Regiment.  Harvey was destined for a career in the church, but war intervened, he volunteered in 1914, and served with distinction until killed in action on 30th September 1918.  His colonel referred to him as the ‘most beloved man in the regiment and the bravest man I ever knew’.

Further along the row, a decorated private of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry,…

…and two more of the German casualties.

Burials from late summer of 1917 in front of the Stone of Remembrance, including, in the centre, one of only six Canadians buried here, all but one casualties of Third Ypres.

Five special memorials,…

…to men, one killed in December 1914, three in February 1915, and one in March 1915, who are known to be buried here, but whose exact place of burial has been lost.

‘In Perpetuity’ tablet and welcome seat.  Very welcome.

Seven more special memorials to the south of the Stone,…

…including an Indian in the centre, again all these men known to be buried here, although their graves have been lost.

View looking north west with nearly all the cemetery visible, and in the middle distance on the right,…

…Plot V, where, I should point out,…

…nine graves beyond the single headstone in the centre are Second World War burials, men killed during the withdrawal of the British Expeditionary Force to Dunkirk at the end of May 1940,…

…and while we are in Plot V, this shot looking north over the cemetery boundary shows that blue skies do not necessarily bring warm weather.

Certainly one of the largest, if not the largest, burial ground I have yet come across in a communal cemetery.

Estaires church, the spire of which is visible above, survived much of the war reasonably intact until, like so many others along the Lys, it was reduced to walls and rubble during the spring and summer of 1918.

As we make our way back to where we started,…

…you might like to consider what has become of Plot I,…

…because I don’t remember seeing it.  I suppose the clue is in the title of the post,…

…so let’s hope we find it before Part Two.

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