Poperinge Part Two – Poperinge Communal Cemetery

Belgian war graves in Poperinge Communal Cemetery. 

Poperinge Communal Cemetery contains the earliest British burials in any of the three cemeteries within the town’s boundaries.

And, as we already know, and as the top sign tells us, Belgian war graves too.  Although they might not be quite as we expect.

It’s a wonderfully atmospheric cemetery, particularly this early in the morning,…

…and the first CWGC headstone I spotted,…

…actually wasn’t, this being the grave of an Imperial War Graves Commission worker…

…who died in 1938.  The IWGC became the CWGC in 1960.

The earliest British military burials in the town, four men killed on 21st & 22nd October 1914, are to be found in this row of graves.  Nearest the camera,…

…four more IWGC workers’ graves, three of whom died in the 1920s, and one in the ’50s.

Twenty three men were buried in this cemetery in two small plots in the early months of the war,…

…all but two between 21st October & 28th November 1914 (one is no longer here, as I will explain later).

The men buried in this row, all but one identified, were killed between 22nd & 25th October 1914,…

…twenty six year old Corporal H. Barrett, Worcestershire Regiment, his grave marked by the headstone on the left,…

…having the unwanted distinction of being the first British soldier to be buried in Poperinge during the Great War, his date of death 21st October 1914.

These eleven men share just two grave reference numbers, perhaps suggesting that the order, or condition, of these graves made exact post-war identification problematic, let’s say.

Just down the road from here, and the scene of our next stop, the British opened a bespoke cemetery on 23rd October, and for a short time both burial sites were used simultaneously.

To the right of these headstones, hiding behind the hedge,…

…another headstone marks the grave of Major Henry Bingham Whistler Smith-Rewse, Royal Field Artillery,…

…commander of 51st Field Battery, who was hit in the head and killed by a shell splinter on 22nd November 1914 when, under heavy fire, he left his dugout to attend to a report of a number of wounded men nearby.  He was 38.

And a little further on,…

…two more graves,…

…these the only men buried here who were killed in 1915.

With big thanks to the guy, already well into his day cleaning headstones, who kindly directed me to the CWGC graves (and specifically pointed out Corporal Barrett’s grave to me), I spy another likely-looking headstone in the distance,…

…and sure enough,…

…there’s another row of CWGC graves to be found along the cemetery’s south west boundary wall.

The first grave is that of another IWGC worker who died in 1928, that alongside a major whose death, on 12th December 1921, comes just outside the qualifying dates for a CWGC headstone, thus the non-regulation headstone you see here.  Quite why a fifty nine year old major in the Queen’s Westminster Rifles died in Poperinge in 1921, who knows.

The other eight burials are all officers killed during the First Battle of Ypres in October & November 1914.

Captain William Stewart Burdett Blackett, Grenadier Guards, aged 41, was wounded on 20th November 1914, subsequently dying in a French hospital in Poperinge four days later.

The grave next to William Blackett (left image) is that of thirty five year old Captain M. J. Hamilton (right image), Gordon Highlanders, mortally wounded by shellfire on 17th, and dying on 28th November 1914.

Captain John Frederick Strathearn Gordon was wounded on 14th November 1914 near Ypres, dying of his wounds in Poperinge on 19th November.  I am not paying money for a picture of him, I’m afraid, which would seem to be the only way.  The way of insolvency.  Instead, I shall remind you that many of these officers, and hundreds of others who fell in the early months of the war, had seen previous action in South Africa, at the turn of the century, and their loss, and the loss of their experience, would put a great strain on the British chain of command over the ensuing months leading up to the Second Battle of Ypres.

Next to Gordon, the grave of Lieutenant Geoffrey Archibald Loyd, Scots Guards, aged 24, another man, again like most of those buried here, who would have seen action at Mons, and the Marne, and on the Aisne, in those early weeks of movement, before finding death at First Ypres.

Second Lieutenant Archer Chernoke Downes (pictured), aged 22, Cheshire Regiment, had received his commission on the day war broke out, 4th August 1914, arriving in Flanders early in October.  He was wounded at Neuve Eglise while attending a wounded man and died in hospital in Poperinge on 20th November 1914; his brother had been killed at Ypres a month earlier.  Captain T. Mc. C. Phillips, the grave on the right, previously Mentioned in Despatches, also died of wounds received in action, in his case on 4th November 1914, aged 34.

The final two men I can tell you little about; Lieutenant Alma Cyril Thomas, The Queen’s, aged 23, died of wounds on 7th November 1914, and Lieutenant E. R. E. Hickling, just nineteen, Gloucestershire Regiment, died on 26th October 1914.  One other man, Lieutenant G. Williamson, Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, killed on 12th November 1914, was once buried somewhere close to these burials, but for some reason his body was removed to Ypres Reservoir Cemetery after the war.

And so, as we begin to make our way back towards the cemetery entrance,…

…the Belgian war graves we saw earlier come into view.

They too are receiving an early morning clean,…

…but it was the cross nearest the camera, with attached photograph, that made me look closer.

These graves are all of Poperinge citizens who died during the Second World War,…

…seventy two crosses in four rows, the names all to be found on the plaque behind the war memorial we saw last post (the plaque lists 101 names, the whereabouts of those not buried in this plot perhaps elsewhere in the cemetery in family plots – or maybe they have no known burial place at all).

So, war graves,…

…but not military graves.

A closer look shows that all the dates of death are 1940.  Poperinge was under Nazi occupation, of course, from 1940, and these poor people suffered the inevitable consequences.

Soapy headstones, one in the second row unnamed.

Time to leave these guys to their work and move on,…

…because we have plenty to fit in this day,…

…our next stop a very short distance down the road.  The photograph on this information board shows Second World War damage to the cemetery wall.

And here’s a cemetery plan (courtesy of me), should you ever visit, with the approximate sites of the British graves marked in red, and the Belgian Second World War plot in green.

Next, the first of the two CWGC cemeteries to be found within the town.

 

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2 Responses to Poperinge Part Two – Poperinge Communal Cemetery

  1. Nick Kilner says:

    Excellent. It strikes me as odd, but I don’t ever recall seeing headstones of IWGC workers in a cemetery before. Whether it is a rare occurrence or whether I have simply not been paying enough attention, I really couldn’t say. In truth I couldn’t entirely rule out memory failure either. I suppose both accident and illness played their part in claiming the lives of workers tasked with burying (not to mention exhuming and then reinterring) those long dead. Must have been a ghastly business.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Thanks Nick! You do come across IWGC workers on occasions – there’s a row of at least a dozen in Ypres Town Cemetery – available elsewhere on this site……

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