The Elverdinge Burial Grounds Prelude – Red Farm Military Cemetery

Here’s a little something to ease those post-Daily Postcard blues.  And before any of you get that Groundhog Day feeling, yes, I did indeed publish a post, at the end of last year, all about Red Farm Military Cemetery.  However, much research and some deep delving by yours truly have unearthed so much more to the original story, the result of which is a new Red Farm post, actually considerably shorter than the original.  If you have read it before I seriously suggest a quick run through to refresh your memory, because the next post, which is a lot longer, be warned, and is coming very soon, will make a lot more sense if you do.

So, here we are at Red Farm Military Cemetery.  Even though sited right alongside the old Ypres-Poperinge road, about two miles east of the latter, and an equal distance west of Vlamertinge,…

…it is easily overlooked, or passed by, as car or coach speeds by on its way to or from the three Brandhoek cemeteries a little further up the road towards Ypres, in one of which can be found one of the most famous and most visited graves on the Western Front.

But that is for a later post.

Here, a short, wire fenced, grass pathway,…

…leads us towards the cemetery entrance,…

…where the Cross of Sacrifice greets us on entry,…

…beyond which there are just three rows of headstones.

The cemetery plan, courtesy of the CWGC, can be seen here.

Normally we would probably look at the burials in the front row first, but not on this occasion.

No, here we shall pay our respects to the men buried in the back row, Row C, first.  There are sixteen headstones in the row, five of which mark the graves of unknown soldiers.  Of these, two, the second and fifth headstones in the shot above, bear the inscription ‘Two Soldiers of the Great War’.

One of the other unknown men is identified as a serjeant of the Royal Garrison Artillery (right), the R.G.A. bombardier in the centre was a native of Ceylon, so his headstone tells us (below), and note also the rifleman on the left, with a military medal and bar to his name.  The two R.G.A. headstones, you will notice, feature different styles of emblem.

Including the unknown serjeant, there are actually nine men of the Royal Garrison Artillery buried in the row, including these six at the end,…

…and what they, and the three other identified men buried in the row, and I think it is safe to say the unidentified men too, all have in common, is their date of death.  All died on 27th April 1918.

And it continues, because seven of the eight identified men in the middle row, Row B, also died on 27th April (the other man is given a date of death of 29th April),…

…and it would seem reasonable to assume that the unidentified men, all but one pictured here in the centre of the row, died at the same time.

Before we go on, here’s a map, or two maps stitched together, so you can see where we are and what this area looked like for much of the war.  The old road between Poperinge and Ypres traverses the bottom half, the railway immediately below it, and Red Farm Military Cemetery is highlighted as a small red oblong halfway along the road (the farm itself is named).  The striking thing about this map is the profusion of British camps to be seen; I can count no less than seventeen named camps marked in an area of no more than three and a half square miles.

The start of Row A, and alongside another unidentified man on the far left, two more men (centre) who died on 27th April, the man on the right dying the following day.

Nearest the camera in Row A on the right…

…is this curiously inscribed headstone, and one wonders why these civilians are buried here.  Incidentally, this headstone has confused the CWGC and dictates their tally of seventeen unidentified men; to be clear, there are actually sixteen unknown soldiers in this cemetery, plus this headstone.

The final eight burials in the front row, including those above, are all later burials, men killed in May 1918 who were interred alongside those already buried here.

So in fact of the 45 – n0t 46, as the CWGC database tells us – military burials in this little cemetery, sixteen are unidentified, and of the other twenty nine, no less than twenty are men who lost their lives on 27th April 1918.  So what was it that happened that day that caused these casualties?

At about 12.30 on the afternoon of 27th April 1918, a German shell struck an ammunition dump somewhere within the shaded area of the above map from September 1916 (the same area as the previous map, Red Farm now a red dot), which was usually considered to be out of range of German artillery.  Whatever type of shell it was, it certainly came from German artillery up on the Pilckem Ridge, as the magenta arrow shows. The resulting explosion (and recurring explosions, it being ammunition that was hit) was powerful enough to devastate much of the immediate area, setting wooden huts on fire, destroying canvas tents, and causing many casualties among the men working or resting in the vicinity, or simply unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It also caused havoc at a dressing station close to Red Farm itself and at least some, quite possibly all, of the men buried here in Red Farm Military Cemetery are, it would seem, men who were already casualties awaiting transport to the hospitals west of Poperinge when they were killed by the blast from the explosion.

So, a seemingly anonymous little cemetery, but with a truly awful story behind its very existence.  If you find yourself passing by on the Poperinge-Ypres road, stop and spend a few minutes with these seldom visited men and women.

However, we are left with several obvious questions.  What happened to the other casualties of that dreadful day, and where are they buried?  What about those civilians?  And where exactly did the explosion take place?  I guess we have some searching to do.

So, leaving Red Farm, the modern farm building pictured above,…

…we shall turn to the west, towards Poperinge, and head for those buildings on the right-hand side of the road,…

…because it is in the fields to the north that we need to explore next,…

…and this road looks the likely way, especially as there’s a CWGC cemetery signposted up here too, and who knows what we might find when we get there.  Coming?

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9 Responses to The Elverdinge Burial Grounds Prelude – Red Farm Military Cemetery

  1. Morag Lindsay Sutherland says:

    the smallest of the cemeteries on the Salient – thank you for the report
    I look forward to Elverdinge next………

    • Magicfingers says:

      You are very welcome Morag. However, I think you will find that Bridge House:
      http://thebignote.com/2015/06/19/the-road-to-passchendaele-part-three-bridge-house-cemetery/
      is even smaller.

      • Morag Sutherland says:

        I will bow to your knowledge but Cousin George Sutherland aged 98 always said Red Farm the smallest…..maybe within his CWGC area of Poperinge x

        • Magicfingers says:

          There are, however, less identified men in Red Farm than in Bridge House – I would think it contains the smallest number of identified burials in the Salient.

          • Morag Lindsay Sutherland says:

            I wonder too if the lack of stone of remembrance is a factor in him saying that to us? because he is definitely the person who told us
            but maybe there is not a stone in Bridge house either………I need to revisit my photos and notes but for the moment I will let you do all the hard work – I look forawrs to the next instalment of the story

  2. Nick kilner says:

    Intriguing!

  3. sendergreen says:

    Yes, following along for the story, stretching awake towards breakfast. Time zones away.

    • Magicfingers says:

      It’s a goodie, I think. It won’t be long. But it won’t be there for breakfast tomorrow either, I’m afraid.

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