The Elverdinge Burial Grounds Part Three – Ferme-Olivier Cemetery

Ferme-Olivier Cemetery, the road to Elverdinge, three quarters of a mile to the east, on the left. 

Just about beyond the range of the German gunners, although the village down the road certainly wasn’t, the cemetery was first used in June 1915 and would be in fairly continuous use, due to the close proximity of a field ambulance dressing station, until early July 1917.

The other direction leads to Poperinge, three and a half miles away to the south west.

And here’s our map once more, Hagle Dump Cemetery in mauve, bottom left, Hospital Farm Cemetery in pink in the centre, and our current location in green near the top.

Cemetery entrance, looking through the archway to the Stone of Remembrance (below),…

…from where this view looks north west towards Plot I,…

…and then panning left, the rather random layout – which will be explained in due course – of Plot II now ahead of us,…

…and further left, towards the far more structured Plot III.

There are 404 identified burials in this cemetery, 401 of whom are British, and three of whom are German,…

…and the somewhat busy cemetery plan, thanks to the CWGC, can be viewed here.

Although the village of Elverdinge (Elverdinghe at the time) received more than its fair share of artillery bombardment from German guns on the Pilckem ridge for much of the war, not much remaining by war’s end, its château (above), just to the west of the village, and a thousand yards east of this cemetery, survived reasonably intact.

Which is a most curious thing, bearing in mind, being a mile and a half behind the Boesinge front lines, it was used as advanced army headquarters, troops were billeted in it and in the woods around it, particularly during Third Ypres, and, as we have already seen in previous posts, the whole area was littered with camps, dumps and dressing stations for much of the war.

The suggestion that there was an understanding between the German & British gunners that if the British refrained from targetting Pilckem Château (was there one?), the Germans would do likewise with Elverdinghe Château, seems somewhat far-fetched to me.  On 23rd April 1916, for example, two companies of Durhams, billeted actually in the château, were subject to German artillery fire, one shell scoring a direct hit on the building, and perhaps the trees that screened it from the Germans played a bigger part in its survival than they are given credit for.

I tell you all this because the graves in Plot III are chronological, and bear witness to the various occupants of the château and its environs during the first half of 1917, in particular the 38th (Welsh) Division, the Guards Division, and various units of the Royal Artillery.  The earliest graves are at the rear of the plot, and the latest at this end, which means we shall be looking at them the wrong way round, which really doesn’t matter one iota.  On the far left, nearest the camera in Row G,…

…lies Second Lieutenant Marc Andre Noble, Royal Field Artillery, just 20, who was killed by shellfire on 1st July 1917 whilst attempting to rescue some wounded officers.  Noble had been the youngest of twenty boys who, in 1907, had attended Robert Baden-Powell’s first ever scout camp on Brownsea Island off the Dorset coast, from which the whole Boy Scout movement would emerge.  How appropriate that, at the time of visiting, the Brookwood Scouts had left a scarf and woggle at the grave.

Two headstones along, this is the grave of Lieutenant Colonel George Trevor Gregor V.D.*, Royal Field Artillery, aged 47, killed on 1st July 1917 by a German shell that struck the officer’s mess, which was either in the village, or maybe in the château itself.

*the Volunteers Officers Decoration (V.D.) was instituted in 1892 for long and meritorious service by an officer in the Volunteer Force.  It was superseded by the Territorial Decoration in 1908.

And next to him, another R.F.A. officer, Major Jack Frederick Bligh M.C., killed in action the same day, most likely at the same time.

Further along the row, an acting bombardier (similar to a lance corporal, the rank renamed lance bombardier in February 1918) of the R.F.A.,…

…and a guardsman and two R.F.A. gunners.  The beautiful mauve poppy,…

…can be seen once again here, between the second & third headstones from the left.  The very next grave, four from the left – idiot-me failed to take a close-up – is that of Private George Watkins, Welsh Regiment, who was executed for desertion on 15th May 1917.  Watkins had served at Mons, was twice wounded in 1915 and had fought on the Somme in 1916, but in early 1917 he went missing from his unit in the Ypres area and it would be three months before he was apprehended, court-martialed, and shot.

These things are turning up in cemeteries all over the place these days, and you will spot a few in this burial ground.  An explanation, of some sort, can be found here.

An Irish guardsman and two more R.F.A. officers, late June 1917 casualties, at the end of the row.

Looking north east across Plot III Row G towards the Stone and cemetery entrance,…

…and panning left, two more pieces from the art installation visible at the base of the headstones in Row E,…

…the first between the graves of these two guardsmen, one Irish and one Coldstream,…

…and another at the end of the row, where these South Wales Borderers, killed in early June 1917, are buried.

Row D, on the left, all casualties from May & early June 1917,…

…and at the start of Row C, nearest the camera, one of only half-a-dozen unknown burials in the cemetery; five graves along lies Private Robert Hepple (his real name was actually Hope), Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, who was executed for desertion on 5th July 1917, aged 23.  Close-up?  Hm.

R.F.A. corporal who died on 12th March 1917 in Row B,…

…before we finally reach Row A.  Beyond, we shall be visiting Plot II shortly, but first,…

…the headstone in the very middle of the fifteen that make up Plot III Row A belongs to Second Lieutenant Francis Michael Myers, M.C., South African Veterinary Corps, Suffolk Regiment, attached Royal Flying Corps, who died on 14th February 1917.  He had been awarded a Military Cross for leading a raid with the 11th Suffolks in October 1916, and was attached to 20th Squadron R.F.C. as an observer on 13th February 1917.  The following afternoon, his FE two-seater pusher was damaged during aerial combat and its pilot, Lieutenant F. J. Taylor, wounded, necessitating a forced landing.  Bear in mind that observer sits in front of pilot in an FE, and the consequences of hitting telephone lines on landing become obvious.  Myers was killed, aged just 20, his plane possibly a victim of Leutnant P. Strähle of Jagdstaffel 18, who claimed an aircraft downed over Zuidshoote (now Zuidschote, near Lizerne, about two and a half miles north east of here) that day (Lizerne, for those of you unaware, has its very own category on this website).

Plot II now, the rows lettered in the opposite direction to Plot III, thus here we have Rows J & K, with Row L in the right background.  The Geman grave in Row K…

…is that of Leutnant Alexander Kutscher, who died on 1st May 1917, aged 34.  Kutscher, a pilot with Jagdstaffel 28, was mortally wounded in combat over Poperinge, landing his Albatross D. III behind British lines but subsequently dying of his injuries.  I can find a record of a single victory to his name, that of a British FE2b, shot down in August 1916 whilst flying a Rumpler C. I.  The man who shot him down, Lieutenant Edwin Stuart Travis Cole M.C., and whose final victory this would be (I know not why), would serve in, and survive, two World Wars and die in 1984.  Cole called the incident ‘the finest day I’ve lived so far’ and went on to describe his fight with one of four Germans with which his patrol had become engaged, ‘He had a wonderful machine & [was] the finest flier I’ve ever been up against. We each tried to better each other from 12,000 feet to 800 feet & when we got near the ground I managed to get in some good shots & down he came, burst into flames just before hitting the ground & the machine went vertically into a pond. I landed in a field next to him & rushed over; thousands of Tommies & people were watching & a cheer went up from all of them. However we got the poor fellow out, the doctor found him with 5 shots through the heart so there was no chance for him. It was all frightfully exciting. Fortunately I did not have a shot in my machine’.  You will probably have noticed that this is also an example of another, because we have seen this before, German headstone that has been broken, vandalised, if you like, at some point in the past.

And this, in Row J, is the grave of Colonel Ernest Octavius Wight, Divisional Assistant Director of Medical Services, 49th (West Riding) Division, Royal Army Medical Corps.  Wight had seen service in India, the China Hills, the Burmese frontier and Lushai in the latter years of the 19th Century before retiring in 1907.  He had nonetheless accepted the post of D.A.D.M.S. to the Territorial Forces in 1908, and was killed in action on 19th December 1915 by a German shell as he was attempting to extricate some of his motorised ambulances from a dangerous position.  He was 57.

Unusual to see a headstone with the deceased’s age inscribed at the bottom – his next of kin probably had to pay for the privilege, too!

Behind these graves, the casualties in Plot II Row K are from late 1915, another of the six unknown men buried here on the far left.

Further forward, eight casualties (two of these headstones have two names) all killed on 19th or 20th December 1915, and all designated as Plot II Row H Grave 1.

At the start of Row F we find another German leutnant, and a closer look shows him to be a man of some significance.

Leutnant Hans von Keudell was born in 1892 and began his military service at the age of nineteen with a Uhlan unit; indeed he fought with the Uhlans in both France and on the Eastern Front in the early months of the Great War, receiving his commission and joining the Imperial German Flying Corps in June 1915.  His first combat missions were on bombers, before, after single-seater training in the early summer of 1916, he became one of the founder pilots of Jagdstaffel 1, shooting down a Martinsyde Elephant on 31st August 1916 for his first victory, I think flying a Fokker triplane (he would later fly both a Halberstadt D. III and an Albatross D. III), and would be a double ace – ten victories – by year’s end.  Awarded the Knight’s Cross with Swords of the Royal House Order of Hohenzollern in January 1917, he downed his eleventh victim at the end of the month, before being appointed commander of the newly-formed Jagdstaffel 27.  On 15th February 1917 he would score his new command’s first victory, and his twelfth and last.  Whether on the same flight or not I don’t know, but certainly on the same day, flying an Albatross D. III, he was shot down and killed by Lt. Stuart Harvey Pratt of 46 Squadron, R.F.C., flying a Nieuport two-seater, his plane crashing behind British lines.

Further along the row, two machine-gunners killed on 8th February 1917,…

…and more machine gunners in Plot II,…

…which also contains the remains of forty one men of the Monmouthshire Regiment,…

…buried together in two mass graves in Row E, the largest (designated grave E2) pictured above and marked in yellow on the extract from the cemetery plan (inset below); if you look closely, quite a number of these headstones are inscribed with two names, but whether any actually mark individual grave sites is open to question.

On 29th December 1915, a single shell fired from a German naval gun based in Houthulst Forest, eight miles away to the north east, caught the men of the Monmouths on parade in Elverdinge village, killing outright forty one men of 3rd Battalion.

With the greatest of ironies, the men were preparing to leave the area for a period of rest well away from the front lines.

The smaller of the mass graves, containing just three of the Monmouth casualties, and designated as grave E3, is sited slightly apart from the other, and marked on the earlier inset cemetery plan extract as the green block.

At one end of Row C, the grave of Second Lieutenant Cecil Clyde Marshall, 21st Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery, killed somewhere to the north of Elverdinge on 24th June 1917, aged 19,…

…further along the row, burials from 1916 (left) & 1915 (right),…

…and an unknown soldier at the other end of the row.  Behind, a second unknown man is the only burial in Plot II Row D, and a third unidentified soldier beyond him is designated as Plot II E1.

Plot II in the foreground, the Cross of Sacrifice in the background,…

…and in between, Plot I.

The latest burials in the plot are to be found at the front, these men in Row A casualties from August, September & October 1916,…

…and those in Row B from April, May & July 1916.

Plot I Row D with, from left, Welsh Guards, Grenadier Guards, Scots Guards & Coldstream Guards casualties from June & July 1916.

Nearer the Cross the burials are mainly from 1915, such as these men in Row G.

At the start of Row I, the grave of Lieutenant Colonel Frederick George Howard D.S.O., M.M.O., Royal Engineers, who died on 19th October 1915 aged 43.  A veteran of various operations in India in the 1890s, he was Mentioned in Despatches in October 1914 and received a D.S.O. in February 1915 for ‘services in connection with operations in the field’, which probably translates as ‘time this bloke got a gong’.

Further along the row, two K.O.Y.L.I. men killed on 4th August 1915.

Which brings us to the final rows,…

…and the earliest burials in the cemetery, eight of these nine men in Row L casualties from June 1915.

Cross of Sacrifice,…

…this view looking south east across the cemetery from in front of the Cross,…

…and then panning left, as Baldrick and the cemetery entrance come into view.

And so, with shadows lengthening as the sun sets across Plot I,…

…and with a final peek over the cemetery wall, we must take our leave.  We’re heading west next, and a little bit north.  Three quarters of a mile away, Canada Farm British Cemetery awaits.

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14 Responses to The Elverdinge Burial Grounds Part Three – Ferme-Olivier Cemetery

  1. sendergreen says:

    ‘time this bloke got a gong’.

    Reminds me of the old Monty Python RAF Banter sketch.

    “Bally Jerry, pranged his kite right in the how’s-your-father … ” etc.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Well, it was sort of intended to, and I bet I’m right! Not that I am suggesting he didn’t deserve one. If you’ve ever eavesdropped on people who have a bit of money and own yachts and are British, they still talk like that; “Caught a force fourteen off the point, old man, and but didn’t like the cut of his jib, and had to tack for home”, or some such nonsense…….

  2. sendergreen says:

    And Father Jack would have used profane speech to reply to a cup of tea.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Believe it or not, I wouldn’t have understood the Father Jack reference until recent years, but I know enough now – the missus was a fan – to picture who you mean.

      • sendergreen says:

        I’ve bought several old pre-2000 BBC comedy series, some on recommendation, some blind… and I’ve not been disappointed yet. I heard a rumour years ago that newer editions were going to be content edited, so I went on a purchase spree.

        Back to our subject cemetery visit. Both German headstones show damage I see. Does the German War Graves Organization do any maintenance of the stones where German fallen are buried in Commonwealth Cemeteries ?

        • Magicfingers says:

          Very wise of you. Not BBC, I know, but ITV, nor comedy either, but I cannot recommend the four, I think, Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes series from the ’80s & ’90s, highly enough. I have really enjoyed them, and full of top British actors. With regard to German headstones, no, the CWGC have total responsibilty, as far as I know.

  3. Margaret Draycott says:

    Have you two quite finished. But your right about the British of a certain class, time has stood still for them. A very miscellaneous mix of dates and ranks and regiments, the Monmouth’s story particularly tragic. First time I’ve seen a cemetery without a boundary wall on the road side feels exposed, I like to think of them secure and contained. A great and informative post M.

  4. Nick Kilner says:

    Great post! Really interesting. Amazed that the Chateau survived as well as it did. Do you know if it’s still standing?

    • Magicfingers says:

      ‘Ello ‘ello. Thanks mate. And yes, the chateau is still there.
      You will find a recent comment from Margaret somewhere who may be having the same problem you had recently re: getting comment emails – you know what I mean – anyway, I dumped the explanation on you, so as and when – and I know you are a busy boy right now – would you do the necessary and explain please? When you have the time.

      • Nick Kilner says:

        Will do. Curiously your reply has only just popped up, so I’m not entirely sure I’m out of the woods with it yet.

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