Poperinge Part Three – Poperinghe Old Military Cemetery

The entrance to Poperinghe Old Military Cemetery.

A few yards down the road from the communal cemetery we visited last post,…

…it may say 1914-1918 on the pillars at the entrance,…

…but this is most decidedly an early war cemetery, as we shall see.

Talking of early, it is still pretty early this glorious morning, and I could do with some breakfast.

And I spy the perfect spot.

A shaded seat,…

…and the perfect view. Does that make me weird?  Weirder?

Anyway, thus refreshed and revitalised,…

…let’s take a look around.

Cross of Sacrifice.

This lone headstone,…

…marks the grave of one of forty six identified Canadians buried here, all of whom died between 22nd April & 1st May 1915 – more about them shortly.  And why such a large space between the Stone of Remembrance in the background and the Cross?  Once upon a time this cemetery was far larger than it is now; no less than 800 French & Belgian military graves were once to be found here, along with around 500 civilians, all of whom were reinterred elsewhere after the war.  Most of the civilians were, it seems, victims of a typhoid epidemic that broke out towards the end of 1914, a local château serving as a typhoid hospital at the time.

Nor shall we overlook the seven headstones along the far boundary wall to the right of the Cross,…

…but the main part of this cemetery consists of these six rows of headstones,…

…all designated as Plot II, and containing entirely, with one exception, men killed between February & May 1915,…

…by far the majority, such as those pictured above & below, casualties of the Second Battle of Ypres, fought between 22nd April & 25th May 1915.

The headstone centre right in this shot is that of Lieutenant Harry Boulton McGuire, Canadian Infantry, who died of wounds on 24th April 1915, aged 24.  Next to him,…

…Captain Edwin Scott Bamford (pictured), Adjutant, 1st Bn. York & Lancaster Regiment, aged 29, who was severely wounded on 23rd April 1915 (reports say he actually died on the 24th ‘at the Poperinghe Clearing Station’, although his headstone says 23rd).  An account (abbreviated) of his death from a fellow officer is worth reading, not just with regard to Bamford’s death, but also the deaths of McGuire, and quite a number of the men buried in this cemetery; for what it’s worth, ninety two men buried here died between 22nd & 25th April:

“The battalion, having just returned to billets after a strenuous time in the trenches, were suddenly roused by the French, who were hurrying back, completely overcome by their first experience of asphyxiating gases. Our men were hastily organised, with other regiments, as a mixed brigade, under the command of Colonel Geddes of the Buffs, and immediately moved forward from the trenches near St. Jean, ultimately across open country in broad daylight, with fixed bayonets, to fill in the gap left by the French, in order to protect the flank of the Canadians. They made the attack through a fierce hailstorm of high-velocity shell fire and machine guns at short range, which nearly wiped out the whole battalion.  But in spite of the heavy casualties, they pushed on, as a Canadian officer remarked, ‘as if they were on parade’, and eventually reached a field which was under still heavier fire. At the top of the field was a hedge, on which the enemy’s fire was concentrated. Very few of the battalion got past it. It was here that the colonel was killed outright, and Captain Bamford, having done magnificent work during the whole attack, was mortally wounded. Some days after, General Plumer came to see the few remaining ones, and congratulated them on their gallant attack. Had it not been made the Germans would have broken through. To use the General’s own words, ‘They saved the situation’.”

More of the men who bore the brunt of the first gas attack in the British sector; one wonders how many of the Canadians buried here were gas victims.  Too many.

This is the cemetery’s north western boundary, and the headstones to the right, despite the small gaps, are extensions of the main rows of the plot; we shall pay them closer attention later.  While we are here, however, second from the left in the front row is the grave of Captain Henry Neville Bascomb Harrison, M.V.O., Mentioned in Despatches, Adjutant of 2nd Bn. D.C.L.I., who was shot in the early hours of the morning of 15th March 1915 whilst acting as a guide for the 4th King’s Royal Rifles, dying at 2.00 p.m. the following afternoon in Poperinge.

But now we shall cross to the opposite side of the cemetery,…

…past two sub-conductors and a private of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps (sergeant majors in the R.A.O.C. were called sub-conductors), this time in Row L; the first three rows, K, L & M, are almost exclusively Second Ypres casualties.

And now, for the first time, you can see in the background that the cemetery is more than it appears on first entering,…

…and in fact contains a total of 45o burials, twenty four of which are unidentified.

At which point, here’s the cemetery plan (thank you, CWGC).

Reaching the southern boundary,…

…these men on our left in Row L all early May 1915 casualties,…

…we find a group of officers in Row M; a lieutenant colonel, three captains, and an unknown man (maybe another officer).  I can tell you nothing about Captain Francis John Wyley nor Captain Jack Whyte (second & third graves from left) apart from what their headstones say, which you can read yourselves.  Captain Alexander Findlater Todd, Norfolk Regiment, on the far right (pictured) is a different matter.  He was an England rugby international, served in the Boer War, being wounded at Diamond Hill, and although already forty one on the outbreak of war in 1914, he volunteered and received a commission as a lieutenant in the Norfolks.  On 18th April 1915, a day after returning from leave, he was shot through the neck during the fighting on Hill 60, dying three days later at No.3 Casualty Clearing Hospital in Poperinge.  On the far left…

…is the grave of Lieutenant Colonel William Frederick Richard Hart-McHarg, commanding 7th Canadian Regiment, and another Boer War veteran, who was mortally wounded near St. Julien on 24th April 1915, during the first days of Second Ypres.  Up on the crest of the Gravenstafel Ridge, and unsure where the nearest German forces were, Hart-McHarg and a Canadian major left their trench and advanced some 300 yards down the slope, without a shot being fired, before they spotted German troops less than a hundred yards away.  Hastily retiring, Hart-McHarg was caught by enemy fire as they reached the relative safety of a shell hole; the major found help and Hart-McHarg was moved to a nearby ditch, from where he was evacuated after dark, only to die in hospital in Poperinge the following day.  Hart-McHarg was 46 and would be Mentioned in Despatches after his death.

Captain Edward John Farquaharson Johnston, headstone far left & pictured, Royal Scots, Mentioned in Despatches, killed on 12th April 1915 aged 32, alongside others who died in the days leading up to Second Ypres, buried at the start of Row N.

Behind, in Row O, I spotted this headstone of a D.C.M. holder.  Private T. Foley, Cheshire Regiment, gained his award for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty, his citation reading, ‘notably on the night of March 7th 1915, when he went out in front of our trenches to bring in some stretcher bearers who had lost their way. Subsequently he went out three times under heavy fire to bring in wounded men, and although wounded more than once himself he continued to carry out his duty’.  But not for much longer.  Three days later he would succumb to his wounds.

And now, at last, you can see Plot I, a single headstone guarding the entrance,…

…and although Driver Rewcastle is another Second Ypres casualty,…

…the men buried here in these two long rows,…

…143 of them, just two unidentified,…

…are all casualties of the First Battle of Ypres, which officially lasted from 19th October to 30th November 1914, and as such these are the first burials to be made in this cemetery.

Rifleman H. Marriott (far left), King’s Royal Rifle Corps, killed on 23rd October 1914, holds the unwanted honour of being the first burial in both plot and cemetery,…

…and although the first fourteen burials in Row L in the foreground…

…are October 1914 casualties,…

…all those remaining in both rows, except for two, were killed between 2nd & 27th November 1914; the First Battle of Ypres officially ended on 30th November.

Now there’s really only one way to do this,…

…which is to go along the rows, comme ça, until we get to the end.

So, as we move from light…

…to shade,…

…apologies to those of you…

…who might be finding this part of the post…

…a little dull,…

…because it just might be that there are others…

…who are going to be delighted to find a relative…

…or maybe the man they are researching,…

…right here among these pictures.

So after that magnificent, if I say so myself, piece of padding, let’s return to Plot II in the distance,…

…where we find Row P, and a single German headstone…

…marking the graves of two German soldiers who must have been wounded when captured, and who subsequently died and were buried here in what is officially the ‘German Plot’.

Burials in Row P.  Second from the right,…

…it’s a pity that Second Lieutenant Robert Henry Chester Abercrombie’s name has been spelled wrong for so long*.  Abercrombie, who had enlisted as a private in October 1914 and quickly risen up the ranks, was 24 when he was killed on 3rd May 1915 at Frezenburg, whilst commanding a company of 1/8th Middlesex Regiment who had been detached to escort the artillery, all the other officers having been killed or wounded.

*Opportunity knocks.  If you fancy contacting the CWGC on this one, and surely at some point having the satisfaction of being responsible for getting this headstone corrected after all this time, be my guest.

Still in Row P, these men killed in early May.  On the far right,…

…Captain Frederic Leonard Hingston, Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, killed in action near Ypres on 26th April 1915 aged 37.  A Boer War veteran, and Mentioned in Despatches in 1901, he had just returned to 1st Bn. D.C.L.I. after four years as Adjutant of 3rd Bn. when he was killed.

Looking back towards Plot I, now in the right background, with Plot II Row P on the far right,…

…and panning left,…

…until we once again reach the headstones near the north western boundary that we saw briefly earlier.  Pretty pointless looking at them from here, though,…

…so this is much more sensible.  On the far left is the grave of Captain Harrison, whom we met earlier.  The two other headstones nearest the camera in Row K, both unidentified, and the first two headstones on the right in the second row (see below), Row L, one of which is unidentified,…

…are the only burials brought to this cemetery post-war.

All were originally buried just 250 yards from where they now lie, a few yards north of Poperinge Communal Cemetery, but only Serjeant Fox could be identified, as the form tells us, by his disc,…

…the identity of the soldier on the right, despite four good conduct badges and other information, sadly still unknown. The headstone on the left is that of Second Lieutenant Charles Lancelot Arden Sharpe, Middlesex Regiment, who was killed in action on 26th April 1915.

The remaining headstones are all those of officers,…

…including another Canadian lieutenant colonel, this time Lieutenant Colonel Russell Lambert Boyle, commander of 10th Infantry Bn., who was wounded the same day as his fellow lieutenant colonel, Hart-McHarg, and would die in Poperinge on 25th April 1915.  In reserve when the Germans launched their gas attack on 22nd April, 10th Bn. were ordered to counter-attack at Kitchener’s Wood, Boyle telling his men; ‘We have been aching for a fight, and now we are going to get it.’ A Canadian major later observed ‘The colonel got five bullets from a machine-gun in his left groin – made a wonderful pattern of two and a half inches.’  Boyle was 34.  Buried on the right, Second Lieutenant James Fraser Glass, Seaforth Highlanders, died on 26th April 1915 aged 23.  And in the row behind,…

…of which it seems I failed to take a close up, so this will have to do, is, on the left, the grave of Captain & Adjutant Rupert Cholmeley Yea Dering, King’s Own Scottish Borderers, who was mortally wounded on Hill 60 on 18th April 1915 and died 0f wounds later the same day in hosital in Poperinge, aged 31.  Mentioned in Despatches after his death, Dering had seen action at Mons, Le Cateau, the Marne & the Aisne, Givenchy, La Bassée and Ypres.  At the time of his death he was one of only three surviving 2nd Bn. officers (another was his brother) from all those who had left for France the previous year.  Buried next to him, and pictured right, is Second Lieutenant Percy Wills, D.C.L.I., who was mortally wounded by a shell near Ypres on 19th April 1915, aged 25.

The final three officers…

…are among those buried here who died before Second Ypres.  On the left, Second Lieutenant Robert Edward Charles Groome, R.F.A., who, on 3rd March 1915, while returning along the Ypres-Neuve Eglise road after repairing a break in the telephone wire connected to a forward observation post, was hit by a shell and severely wounded in the legs.  Transported to hospital in Poperinge, he died the following morning, aged 19.   Lieutenant Colin Edward Cumming (centre) was another R.F.A. officer who also died in hospital in Poperinge.  On the evening of 24th February 1915, during a heavy German bombardment, Cumming had taken shelter in the dugouts adjacent to his battery along with his battery major when a German shell struck, wounding the major and knocking him unconscious.  It was while trying to help the injured officer out of the debris that a second shell found its target, Cumming dying later that night.  He was 24.  The major survived.  On the right, Lieutenant Robert Myles Heywood, The Buffs (East Kent Regiment), who died of wounds on 15th February 1915, aged 31.  Earlier in the day he had been leading his company to recover a lost trench, both of his senior officers having been wounded, when he himself was fatally hit.  Immediately behind,…

…a single man of the Chinese Labour Corps who died on 8th May 1919, the only burial made here after May 1915.  An accident clearing the battlefield?

No.  Convicted of murder, he was executed by firing squad in the courtyard of Poperinge town hall, and we shall come across him again later in this tour. A Good Reputation Endures For Ever.  Perhaps not for Ch’un Wang Ch’ih.

Panoramic view from the western corner of the cemetery,…

…and then it’s nearly time to move on.  But we still have those headstones along the boundary wall to visit,…

…and they are all special memorials, the two nearest the camera to men ‘known’ to be among the unidentified men in the cemetery,…

…the other five all ‘believed’ to be buried among them.

Back out onto the street, turn right, and our next stop isn’t that far.  One last thought, though.  The final wartime burial here, bar one on 24th May, was made on 7th May 1915 – I said at the very start that this is an early war cemetery – and yet the earliest burial (bar one) that we are going to find a quarter of a mile down the road at Poperinghe New Military Cemetery is 24th June 1915.  Which rather begs the question, doesn’t it?

This entry was posted in Poperinge. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Poperinge Part Three – Poperinghe Old Military Cemetery

  1. Morag Sutherland says:

    As always fascinating information
    I used to stroll here from Toc H if we were quiet…..totally unaware of the stories you have shared. Thank you as always

    • Magicfingers says:

      Thanks Morag. As you are one of the people who know Pop much better than me, I’m glad I came up with some new stuff for you.

  2. Steve Monk says:

    Always like reading about your travels, thank you.

  3. Nick kilner says:

    Fantastic post! I’ve got some digging to do, then I shall be back.
    I’m also more than happy to wing an email over to the CWGC. Consider it done.
    Really enjoyed this one, very nicely done.

  4. Nick kilner says:

    Further to my previous comment, my own digging in relation to Captain Bamford reached something of a dead end, but as promised I did contact the CWGC regarding the spelling of second lieutenant Abercrombie’s name.
    “ Thank you for your email below.

    Firstly, regarding Second Lieutenant Abercrombie, I have now placed a headstone amendment request into our works programme which will be assessed by one of our works teams when they are next on site. If an amendment in situ is possible this will be carried out in due course however if a replacement stone is required this will add some time to the process (anything up to 18 months).”

    Nice work Magicfingers, very well spotted

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.