French Flanders: The Cemeteries on the Lys Part Nine – Estaires Communal Cemetery Part Two

If you were with us last post we were in Estaires Communal Cemetery.  And we still are.

Somewhere we are going to find more British Great War burials, as if the eight hundred buried on the cemetery’s north side weren’t enough.

And we seem to have found them, despite the absence of a Cross of Sacrifice to guide us.  It would, however, be remiss of us to simply ignore the French graves on our way,…

…and three of the grave markers in this photograph proved of particular interest.  The rusted iron cross just beyond my shadow…

…marks the grave of Emile Mille, ‘killed by the enemy’ on 11th October 1914, aged 47, and the other rusty iron cross…

…the grave of Gustave Hennebelle, also ‘killed by the enemy’ on the same day in October 1914, aged 49.

Just behind, the grave of Emile Constant Prevost, ‘shot by the Germans’ two days earlier, on 9th October 1914, aged 66.

To the right of these French graves…

…two unknown British soldiers flank the grave of Desire Blondel, ‘shot by the Germans’ on 11th October 1914 aged 52.  These civilian graves provide evidence that the Germans were in Estaires between 9th and at least 12th October 1914, and that during the few days of German occupation a number of the town’s civilians were executed.  Probably for no real reason.  Just the Germans’ deliberate and criminal policy towards the population of occupied territories.  Which is why civilian graves like these scare the living shit out of me.  Sorry.  But they do.  The collateral damage of modern – all – warfare; the civilians.  Doubtless most civilians were pretty unhappy to be invaded, doubtless some did things that by the rules of war entitled the Germans to shoot them, doubtless many were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, and we know that many died simply because it was German policy that they should, the latter course of action meaning that, unlike most soldiers in battle, they had absolutely no chance whatsoever of survival, their fate in effect pre-ordained by the invading forces.  Which is a simply appalling concept, made even more so by the fact that it was actually carried out.

The French soldier buried just behind is one Maurice Chevallier (above & below), who died for France on 12th October 1914.  This Maurice Chevallier was a brigadier-chef (cavalry equivalent to a caporal-chef in the French infantry, or a corporal in the British) of the 13th Régiment de Chasseurs à Cheval, killed in the days immediately preceding the French capture of Estaires.

And it was indeed French cavalry who would occupy Estaires on 15th October 1914, almost immediately handing the town over to the British, who would administer it for the next three and a half years.  On 9th April 1918, as the Germans smashed through the Portuguese defences a few miles to the south, their deepest incursion into the Allied lines on that first day would bring advance troops to the outskirts of Estaires before they would be halted, briefly, by British reserves.

Two more French graves among the British military burials,…

…and although neither say so, the dates, here 15th November,…

…and here simply November 1914, and the positioning of the burials among the British war graves, suggest that they were probably war casualties of some sort.

Time for the cemetery plan, I think, which shows where Plot I is sited in relation to Plots II to V, and appears to show many more French civilian graves among the British military graves here in Plot I than there are today (I count just five in the photograph above).

Anyway, as you can see, this is only a small plot, officially designated as Estaires Communal Cemetery Plot I.  The electricity pylons in the distance are those visible in many of the shots last post, just beyond the bulk of the CWGC burials in the cemetery.

Plot I contains just 98 British burials, of which 84 are identified.

The earliest, eight men buried in November 1914, are to be found in Rows A & B (above & below),…

…but most of the burials, 59 of them,…

…are men killed in either December 1914,…

….or January 1915.  Thirteen burials were made in February, and two Highlanders were buried here, although not next to each other, on 12th March, but the plot was no longer used after that.  Note that three of the unidentified men visible in the rows behind in this shot all have dates of death on their headstones.

Time to move on, back to the cemetery entrance on the left, the Cross of Sacrifice in the main British plot in the background,…

…this final shot incorporating the funeral, on the afternoon of 22nd February 1915, of Brigadier General Sir John Gough V.C. K.C.B. C.M.G., whose grave we paid our respects at last post.

We end with two photographs taken during the German occupation of Estaires in the summer of 1918 – in the inset a German soldier runs the gauntlet as British shells burst close behind him, while the main picture shows the after effects of such shelling.

Two short posts coming up next, as we visit two war memorials, the first here in Estaires, and the second a little further west at La Gorgue.

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4 Responses to French Flanders: The Cemeteries on the Lys Part Nine – Estaires Communal Cemetery Part Two

  1. Nick Kilner says:

    Two really excellent and informative posts! Some fantastic photographs too, it must take you months to find them all. Looks like Sir John had a pretty good turn out.
    Unusual to see so much bare soil as well, I guess they were about to start major replanting work.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Thanks mate. The photos do indeed take time – luckily I have been storing and/or scanning/photographing from originals for years based on ‘this might come in useful some time’. I also have a large Great War postcard collection – all originals in two huge acid-free volumes which also comes in very useful at times.
      Johnnie Gough – Sir John if you prefer (knighted posthumously) – did indeed have a good turn out. He deserved it. The game of historical ‘What if’ is always entertaining to play, and in terms of the Great War, I think the death of Johnnie Gough was one of the major ‘What ifs’. He really was that good, and might have had a huge influence at Loos, but more importantly by the time of the Somme, had he survived. He was known as a hugely able soldier, almost a visionary, and his career had been brilliant up until his untimely death – he was about to take command of a division and was headed for the absolute top. What if?

  2. Sid from Down Under says:

    Yet another great post with excellent photos, Monsieur. I’ve bee figuring how you get such clear shots of headstone inscriptions and think I’ve “got it”. Looking at the shadows, most are taken during “The Golden Hour” with the low sunlight at a slight angle to the face thus accentuating the lettering – or do you have some other magical technique? Whatever, your shots are excellent.

    I rather liked the French straight-talk inscriptions such as “Killed by the enemy” and “Shot by the Germans”. Not so liked, but necessary, the shocking aftermath of shelling in your last picture – the horses with the Frenchman walking by not taking so much as a sideways glance. Yet another example of the horrors of war – a term I’m sure is not fully understood by generations 100 years on

    • Magicfingers says:

      Thank you Sid. You will have noticed long shadows in quite a few posts over the years, and often clear winter afternoons are the best, imo, for the photos I take. And don’t forget that the typeface on CWGC headstones was designed to be able to be seen from all angles in all conditions (they didn’t consider snow, did they? Heated headstones……), so that helps. I don’t know. No magic, that’s for sure. Anyway, you’re a better photographer than me (he is, folks) – as I always say, I just have a good eye.

      And he’s a German in the photo (click & enlarge and you will see two steel helmeted soldiers with bicycles behind him). But your point is taken.

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