Ypres – A Return to Ramparts Cemetery (Lille Gate)

It’s been a good few years now. 

Indeed it must be the best part of a decade since we last visited Ramparts Cemetery (Lille Gate), a cemetery that some of you will know well enough, I suspect.  But exactly how well, I wonder?

This time our visit coincides with Armistice Day 2018, exactly one hundred years since hostilities ceased, hence the cemetery turning into Oxford Circus for the afternoon.

Incidentally, the previous Ramparts Cemetery post was the very first stand-alone cemetery post (following the first tour, that of Ploegsteert Wood) to be published on this website. You can view it here – in those days I used to add tables with soldiers’ details – far too time consuming – if you wish to see what, if anything, has changed.

Beneath the Lille Gate,…

…the new, if ten years plus still counts as new, old-style (note the IWGC logo) cemetery signs are still in good nick,…

…and if you remember, or know the place anyway, there’s a slope leading up to the ramparts from just inside the gate (there’s a photo in the previous Ramparts post),…

…which takes us directly to the cemetery entrance.

The Cross of Sacrifice, placed at the eastern end of the cemetery, bedecked with wreaths as you would expect on this day of all days,…

…and for me, after years of visiting mainly empty cemeteries,…

…it was nice, for once*, to see so many people paying their respects, on this cold but sunny afternoon.

*no, not being churlish, just thinking photographically.

The cemetery, originally built above some of the many dugouts that had been burrowed into the Ypres ramparts, consists of nine rows of headstones,…

…although most of the rows contain large gaps in places, just to confuse us mere mortals.  We shall begin our tour at the far end, and to get there we shall follow the gentleman in the blue jacket in the distance on the left, passing, as we do,…

…the four headstones of the final row, Row I, which contains two burials from 1915 on the left, a single 1917 burial, and, on the far right, the headstone of Lieutenant Walter George Frederic Welch, Royal Field Artillery, and his date of death, 30th October 1914, is the earliest in the cemetery,…

…which is a curious thing considering he was the final burial made here.

The explanation is not complex, but is nonetheless interesting.  The GRRF above shows that Lieutenant Welch was originally buried in a permanent, though isolated, grave,…

…having been killed in action at Herenthage Wood during First Ypres.

By 1924 this impressive cross had been erected near his grave to mark the place where he was killed, and you will spot the location of his grave in the wood marked in red on the small map.

And yet for some reason, on 8th November 1956, forty two years after his death, his body would be exhumed and reburied here at Ramparts Cemetery the following day.  Now I doubt if we will ever know the true reason, but we can at least hypothesize.  Private memorials or grave sites are unusual, but there are some still some in existence, and as far as I know these days they are looked after by the CWGC, but in days gone by private memorials would have had to be looked after by the family, if they were cared for at all.  And if the family line were to die out (Walter George Frederic Welch was an only son, that I do know), then it may be that the CWGC took over responsibility for his grave and memorial, and it was then their decision to move his body.  Which doesn’t explain why Ramparts Cemetery was chosen, there being no other identified post-war concentrations here, whereas other cemeteries remained open for further burials.  The appendix at the end of this post shows some of the other forms associated with his exhumation.

Anyway, Row J will lead us the rest of the way.  We have seen this before, incidentally – a cemetery without plots but with the end headstones of the rows all marked as Plot I.

Snapper snapped.

Here’s the cemetery plan, with thanks to the CWGC.

At the western end of the cemetery we find these two rather grand ‘In Perpetuity’ tablets (above & below),…

…and if we turn round, now looking east up the cemetery,…

…you can see Row B on the left, Row C in the centre and Row D to the right.  But where, I hear you ask, is Row A?

Well, there isn’t one.  Not any more.  Row A once contained the first burials made here, eleven French casualties, for it was French troops who first used this site as a burial ground.  The six who are identified were all killed in late 1914, and you might be able to spot on the above Graves Registration Report Form that they were all removed long ago. There was also a British soldier buried with them, Private C. Thompson of the Royal Irish Rifles, whose name has also been crossed out, and who appears at one time to have had two different dates of death attributed to him (a typed date of 25.6.15 at some point replaced by 12.6.16).  We shall return to him later in the post.

So, with no Row A, here are the first six headstones in Row B, on the left, nearest the camera, in the previous two shots, all six names also to be found on the above GRRF.  It would seem that a lot of people have stood in front of these six graves, all New Zealand Maori (Pioneer) Battalion men, part of a working party caught by a German shell on the last day of 1917.  Incidentally, the cemetery plan suggests that there was once much more room beyond these headstones, and that at some point after the removal of the French graves the cemetery boundary (and the cemetery entrance) was moved closer to Row B.  It also appears that the ‘In Perpetuity’ tablets at the western end of the cemetery that we have just seen were once part of a larger structure of some sort; certainly they are marked on the plan as facing each other, unlike today (a photo in the previous Ramparts post shows exactly how they are currently positioned).

With the six New Zealanders now off-camera to the left, and Row D on the right (nearest the camera), among the burials in Row C in between…

…are four Australians who, along with the six in Row B behind, account for ten of the eleven Australians buried here.

Those in Row C were all killed on 16th September 1917,…

…the men in Row B,…

…all killed on 29th October 1917.

Left to right, Rows B, C, D & on the far right, J.

By-passing Row D for the moment,…

…and you can see the start of both Rows C & D in the gap between the first and second headstones here, we cross to Row J once again, where we find more New Zealanders at the start of the row.  The engineer on the left died in January 1918, but apart from five other 1918 casualties buried at the far end, all the other burials in the row, twenty eight of them, died in 1917.  Moving along the row we then find four more men of the Maori Battalion (below), all killed in December 1917.  Fourteen New Zealanders in total are buried here, all in Row B or Row J, and all but two killed in December 1917.

Originally known as the Native Contingent and Pioneer Battalion, the Maoris first saw action at Gallipoli, where the steadily increasing casualties caused them to be deployed as infantrymen with the New Zealand Mounted Rifles.  From 1916 the battalion would work as pioneers on the Western Front, digging communication trenches and drains, constructing barbed wire defences, laying light railway lines, working on farms behind the lines, and so on.  At this time they had been integrated with troops from the Otago Mounted Rifles, who had suffered severe casualties at Gallipoli (and may explain the two non-Maori names – Murray & Edmonds – you may have spotted on the previous GRRF).  They would find themselves on the Somme in August 1916, some of their number would join the New Zealand Tunnelling Company before the Battle of Arras in the spring of 1917, and in June 1917 they would be in Belgium for the Battle of Messines where they would suffer 155 casualties, seventeen of whom were killed.  In 1917 the remaining Otago Regiment men were replaced by Maoris, and in September 1917 they were renamed the New Zealand (Maori) Pioneer Battalion, and they would remain on the Western Front until the end of the war.  Of the 2,227 men who served in the battalion, 734 were wounded and 336 killed, a casualty rate of nearly 50%; nine of their number would receive M.C.s, and a further four, D.C.M.s.

Continuing along Row J, four men of the Manchester Regiment killed on 30th June 1917, all of whom were attached to the 2nd Tunnelling Company of the Royal Engineers, followed by four men of the Wiltshire Regiment killed on 2nd June 1917, the earliest burials in the row, and a Canadian sapper killed the next day.

The same headstones long ago, and, apart from the obvious absence of large trees, there are a couple of differences to be seen in this picture.  First, of course, there are only three headstones in Row I, in the right background, this photo taken long before the reburial of Lieutenant Welch.  The second difference is to be seen in Row D on the far left of the picture.  Follow the row past the wide gap and you will see three near-contiguous headstones followed by two single headstones, themselves separated by a gap.  Although the angle is not quite the same, the three headstones are pretty easy to spot, just left of centre, in the background of the shot below.  And beyond them?  Not two single graves, but a block of six, as you will see when we get there.

Anyway, back in Row J, and more Canadian casualties.  All ten Canadians who are buried here, nine of whom are tunnellers (the single Canadian infantryman is buried nearest the camera), all killed between June & October 1917, are to be found in this row.  The six headstones in the row immediately behind, Row H,…

…are six men of the Leinster Regiment,…

…all of whom were killed on 20th August 1915.  By now, from what we have so far seen, you might think that this cemetery contains mainly burials from 1917, but that is actually far from the case.  True, there are forty five identified casualties from 1917 buried here, but 136 of the 188 identified burials are men killed between 4th February & 25th August 1915.  These Leinster men were the final burials made here in 1915 (apart, perhaps, from Private Thompson, depending on his actual date of death, as you will see – I said we’d mention him again, and we will once more later), after which the cemetery was not used again until June 1917.

Returning to Row J and more Canadian tunnellers, with the first three Leinster headstones at the start of Row H behind.

Snapped again.

Northumberland Fusiliers, killed in early March 1915, in Row D.

The same headstones as in the previous picture, Row C behind, Row B at the back; the five headstones in Row B on the right are among the first burials made in the cemetery  in early February 1915.

More burials from March 1915 – fifty one of the men buried here died that month – in Row E,…

…and March & April 1915 casualties at the start of Row F.

Back in Row J, near the eastern end of the row, four Royal Engineers killed on 21st April 1918 (the German Spring Offensive was still under way at the time, a major attack in the Ypres Salient taking place just a few days before these men were killed).  By now, what will have become abundantly clear to all of you is that this cemetery is full of little groups of men killed on the same day, groups of men who were unlucky enough to be caught by German shellfire whilst working in or around Ypres, or who were simply passing through, towards or away from the trenches to the east, when death came from the skies.

And so it continues.  These eight casualties, four of whom are York & Lancaster men, all bear the same date of death, 9th August 1915, and share the same grave reference of H 7.  Another German shell?  Almost certainly.

Nearing the eastern end of the cemetery,…

…the graves in general…

…much wider spaced than at the other end,…

…and all among the twenty eight casualties from April 1915 buried here.

February 1915 – there are thirty three in total – burials in Row C (foreground).  The final headstone in Row B behind is that of Private Thompson, so perhaps at this point we should take a closer look at him (even if we can’t take a closer look at his headstone – I had no idea that he would be of particular interest), because it seems to me that there was serious potential for a wrongly identified burial here, and that, most likely, considerable work was done to ensure this did not occur.  Although, by the looks of it, it almost did.

After the French graves in Row A were removed post-war, so too was the body of Private Thompson, as we saw on the earlier GRRF.  Here we see his new burial place, Row B Grave 24, his details entered in blue pen, and although crossed out, you can see that his date of death at the time of his reburial was still given as 12.6.16., which has in turn been changed, in a different shade of blue, to 25.8.15.  Which, you would presume, would be the original date typed on the first GRRF.  Well you might think so, but to save you checking, the first GRRF gives his date of death as 25.6.15., and that is not the same, is it?  No.  So now we have three dates of death, in order of appearance; 25th June 1915, 12th June 1916 and 25th August 1915.

The reason I said that this could have resulted in an incorrect identification is borne out by the cemetery index.  Two Private C. Thompsons are listed, one of whom is not buried here (5123), but was thought to be at the time the index was printed.  His grave reference is given as A 12, which of course is the original grave reference of the exhumed Private Thompson (10302) now buried at B 24 and listed below him.  It would be nice to know how it was discovered that Private Thompson (5123) was buried at Le Treport Military Cemetery, but someone uncovered the fact, and his entry was crossed out on the above page.  Now look carefully at Private Thompson’s service number on the previous GRRF, and you will notice, beneath the 10302, a very faint 5132 (5132, note, not 5123 – another error, although inconsequential on this occasion), as if there was still an element of uncertainty about the identification.  Make of all this what you will.  We have probably got the right Private Thompson buried here, but I don’t believe I’d bet my house on it.  And I would want more evidence before accepting his date of death, too, which both the index above, and his headstone, give as 25th August 1915 (making him the final 1915 burial), despite there being no evidence whatsoever of this date on his original GRRF.

With Private Thompson’s headstone half in view on the left, the final nine headstones in Row C are all Royal Engineer casualties from February & March 1915, mostly men of the 1st (Northumbrian) Field Company.

And finally we arrive at the three contiguous – not so close, actually, when you get there – headstones near the end of Row D that we saw in the old photo earlier, three officers, two R.A.M.C. and one Dorsetshire Regiment, all killed in mid-March 1915,…

…and beyond them the final headstones of Row D, no longer two single headstones separated by a gap, because the gap has been filled by four unidentified soldiers since the old photograph was taken, four of only nine unidentified burials in the cemetery.

The Cemetery Index, although updated with the 1956 reburial of Lieutenant Welch, still shows just five unknown burials, none of whom, you will notice, are in Row D,…

…and the relevant GRRF hardly helps either, the only clue here being the change in grave reference number for the two men who now bookend the four unidentified soldiers, Captain Megaw of the Norfolks and Private Tiddy of the Cheshires, and a red asterisk on the far right which relates to another GRRF (see bottom right of form) which, if it still exists, must have four unidentified soldiers listed on it.  Unfortunately, as all the GRRFs on the CWGC database are linked to identified soldiers, there is no sign of this particular form.

By the way, if you were to look through all the burials in this cemetery you might come up with a figure of ten unidentified men, but you’d be wrong.  More careful checking reveals that there was once a French soldier buried in Row C 19 (above), and that following his removal after the war, his grave site has remained vacant and thus although there are 198 grave sites here, only 197 are in use, and as we know there are 188 identified men here, even my maths – actually, being an ex-darts player, my maths is pretty good – comes up with nine whose identities are unknown.  And detailed checking of the photographs also shows nine unidentified headstones.

With the last headstones of Row D now in the background, these three graves are the final ones of Row E, Cheshire Regiment men killed in April 1915.

Cross of Sacrifice,…

…and a final look across the cemetery, Row H in the foreground.

Unknown soldier.

Known woman.

Appendix

I wonder who chose his headstone inscription?  And I wonder what happened to the cross that marked his place of death near his original burial site?  By the way, his father was a Courtney-Welch, even though he, it would seem, chose to drop the ‘Courtney’.  Anyway, that, I think, is a pretty decent tour of Ramparts Cemetery, and I am betting you know the place better now than you did before.  I do hope so!

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14 Responses to Ypres – A Return to Ramparts Cemetery (Lille Gate)

  1. Morag Sutherland says:

    My goodness your knowledge is astounding
    But I do think it is remarkable how few mistakes were made in pre computer days when cross checking in the most horrendous of circumstances could not have been easy…
    I bet they never expected nor anticipated your perseverance 100 years down the line if you will pardon the pun

    • Magicfingers says:

      And your reading is pretty damned quick! Perhaps the cemetery will feel different next time even you visit, because you are familiar with the place, but I bet you didn’t know all this stuff! I agree with you – I tried to make the point, with regard to Private Thompson, that someone was diligent enough to check at some point.
      I love the pun! And you’re probably right!

      • Morag Sutherland says:

        I have seen misplaced numbers when trying to chase up someine on our memorial…very frustrating. I can still skim read fast …once a teacher who needed rekevant background information for pupils…. I will ‘re read Thompson carefully on laptop. I cannot rrad IWGC forms easily on my phone

        • Magicfingers says:

          Yeah, I learnt to speed read years ago – still comes in useful. Having worked in archives (not an archivist, I hasten to add) for twelve years until I (semi, maybe) retired yesterday, I am also very used to misplaced numbers but am less charitable than you. Just check your work, for heaven’s sake!!

  2. Sid from Down Under says:

    An awesome post ~ magnificent photography, documentation presentation and of course …… research. Morag mentions pre-computer days. As I slow-read the documents it crossed my mind just how many man-woman-person hours must have been spent by clerks or whomever, adding or cross checking entries and comments. The mind boggles thinking of the “public servant” hours that must have been spent on each individual’s documentation.

    The Isolated Grave stone memorial sketch for Welch is remarkable ~ does not nominate the type of stone ~ do you know what was used?

    Oh by-the-way …. welcome to the Club. In (semi) retirement you’ll find yourself busier than when officially working.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Thank you Sid. I don’t know what type of stone, I’m afraid, but I found another private memorial last night, also drawn by E.W. Todd in 1924, that will feature in our next French Flanders tour, and when it does.you will see it simply says ‘white stone’, which doesn’t help much really.
      My goodness, it’s been a busy day!!! Lol!

  3. Daisy says:

    Yes, excellent research as per usual Magicfingers and beautiful photographs of a well visited cemetery due to it’s proximity and walking distance from the centre of Ypres. Kind of strange to see a ‘crowd’ of people in a CWGC cemetery…
    The burial teams appear to have done an excellent job of identification due to those small groups killed on the same day and there only appears to be one multiple grave.
    I was interested to see the 4 Australians from the Salvage Corps. They would have been sitting ducks…
    With reference to your friend Lieutenant Walter George Frederic Welch, I tried to find where the original grave would have been. There was a Herenthage Chateau but if you check out this site there wouldn’t be anything left of the building;
    https://simonwithers.weebly.com/16428.html
    There is a Herenthagestraat near Geluveld but closer to the Hill 62 Memorial Park. Would be in this area? You would imagine the cross would still be there somewhere? It’s not far out of Ypers on the Menin Road.
    You should have gone and had a look Magicfingers!
    If you check the WW1 trench map corrected to April 1917 at the location it shows some huts there not far from Jar Trench.
    Love your work…
    Daisy

    • Magicfingers says:

      Thank you Daisy. You are too kind!! I have a map on which, last year, I plotted the Menin Road chateaux. I’ll fire you off a copy – and yes, I shall have to go and take a look.

  4. Nick Kilner says:

    Great work! Nice to see someone else was paying close attention too. Things could have so very easily been overlooked, as we’ve seen elsewhere. I did do a bit of a double take when I read the sentence stating that Lt Courtney Welch was an only child. I’d misread the engraving, my brain assuming a comma where there wasn’t one.
    Funnily enough a really stunning photograph of this cemetery (not that yours aren’t of course), popped up on Facebook just a few days ago. I’ll ping a copy to you.
    Really enjoyable read my friend, and another one to add to my ‘must visit’ list

    • Magicfingers says:

      Cheers Nick! Ah, the beauty of punctuation. Surprises me that you haven’t been there, although there’s no reason particularly why it should – I have never set foot in Poperinghe in fifteen years of visiting Ieper.

  5. Magicfingers says:

    ‘Tis true. I have, indeed, been told previously to get myself to Poperinge…….

    • Nick Kilner says:

      I’ve been told something similar on occasion, but I don’t think it was Poperinge they had in mind lol.
      The trouble with visiting the western front is that there’s over 400 miles of it. I suspect there are more than a few professional guides that haven’t done it all from end to end

      • Magicfingers says:

        Ha ha! I bet there are plenty. But if I survive another ten years I’m damn well going to make sure I have done it end to end.

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