The Vlamertinge Burial Grounds Part One – Brandhoek Military Cemetery

A couple of miles east of the outskirts of modern Poperinge, on the old Ieper (Ypres) road that the soldiers used a hundred years ago as they marched to and from the front lines, familiar green signposts invite us to take a right-hand turn. 

The three Brandhoek military cemeteries are all within a stone’s throw of each other, but to get to them, we need to cross the railway,…

…and once across the tracks,…

…and the new, and quite busy (for Flanders) Ieper-Poperinge road, so take care should you visit, the first one immediately comes into sight.

This is Brandhoek Military Cemetery, the photo taken over the boundary hedge as we make our way…

…towards the cemetery entrance.

Brandhoek, some four miles west of the centre of Ypres, began to develop as a medical centre in the early months of 1915, prior to Second Ypres.  As early as February a washing facility, with baths, had been set up hereabouts, and there must have been some sort of semi-permanent medical facility, presumably a field ambulance dressing station, here by early May, when the first burials were made in Brandhoek Military Cemetery.  From this time on a succession of field ambulances would use Brandhoek as their dressing station and it was clearly part of the chain of evacuation from the front lines to the west, primarily, I would have thought, because of the presence of the nearby railway, by far the quickest and easiest way to transport casualties away from the battlefield.  Note also the light railway marked on this map, crossing right through Brandhoek and passing very close to Brandhoek New Military Cemetery No. 3, marked in mauve, with a siding – Hospital Spur – which ends close to our current location (marked in red).

It was the summer of 1917 that saw Brandhoek’s capacity greatly increased, as three casualty clearing stations, two from the Somme and one from Arras, were relocated here during the build-up to the Third Battle of Ypres. It was also during this time that the area became more of a target for both German artillery and aerial attack, not specifically because of the medical facilities (wounded German soldiers were being treated here too), but because the whole area was, as a nurse working here in 1917 commented, ‘a huge city of canvas, [gun] batteries and ammunition dumps’.  Note the shell holes littering this 30th June 1918 aerial view.  Another nurse wrote in her diary, ‘There is a cheery little Military Decauville Railway for ammunition only, running immediately between our Compound and the main Duck Walk cutting our Hospital in two, and you are always having to wait to cross the rails while a series of baby trains puff through loaded to the teeth with shells, or coming back with empty cases’.

In April 1918, as the German Spring Offensive south of Ypres pushed the Allies west, Brandhoek (marked in blue, although unnamed on this map – Vlamertinghe in orange) found itself closer – about five miles – to the front line than at any other time during the war, and shelling once again increased, as did the number of casualties being treated.  And the Germans would remain close enough to shell Brandhoek throughout the summer of 1918, before the battles of the last hundred days saw it fall far behind the front lines as the tide of war swept east.  By war’s end, more than 2,000 men had been buried in the three Brandhoek cemeteries.

As we shall be concentrating on cemeteries served by dressing or casualty clearing stations over the next few posts, now might be a good time to remind you of how casualties were evacuated from the battlefields, and the above diagram, with a few coloured additions, serves that purpose well, and I don’t think needs any added words from me.

As you might expect, with a few days overlap in the first case, and a few weeks in the second, the three Brandhoek cemeteries can be followed chronologically, which is what we shall be doing.  Brandhoek Military Cemetery, the first to be opened, was in use far longer than the other two, the first burial being made on 8th May 1915, and the last on 25th July 1917, just three days after Brandhoek New Military Cemetery was opened.  The cemetery contains 671 burials of which only a handful are unidentified, the graves split into just two plots,…

…by far the larger of the two in front of us as we enter, as you can see on the cemetery plan, by kind permission of the CWGC.  The graves in the first nine rows of the plot are spaced well apart, between twenty four and twenty eight headstones per row, and are the earliest graves here; Rows A to G are nearly all casualties from 1915, rows H & J mainly from late 1915 or the early months of 1916.

The later rows are quite the opposite, Rows K & L containing 119 burials between them,…

…and Row N, nearest the camera, containing fifty.

Cross of Sacrifice.

View looking north west from the base of the Cross of Sacrifice, Row N in the foreground,…

…thirty seven of the men in the row killed between 9th & 22nd July 1917, during the weeks preceding Third Ypres.

Nearly one in every six headstones, and there are 669 in the cemetery, is that of an artilleryman, such as these R.F.A. men in Row N, all killed on 17th July 1917,…

…as is the first of the artillerymen buried further along the row, three headstones from the left.  Two versions of the R.F.A. headstone can be seen in this shot; six feature the Broad cross,…

…but one, on the left here, sports the Latin cross with the R.F.A. emblem at the top, probably because the man buried here served under an alias, and thus the headstone has five lines of inscription, as opposed to the more normal four.  The headstone furthest right marks the grave of Lieutenant Philip Henry Burt M.C., Royal Field Artillery (pictured), killed in action by shellfire during night firing on 23rd July 1917, aged 20.  He had received his Military Cross a month earlier ‘For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in accompanying another officer and a serjeant into a gun emplacement in which a serious explosion had taken place, bringing out the killed and wounded and extinguishing a fire caused by the explosion amongst the ammunition’.

Stone of Remembrance,…

…and the view looking south across Plot I, Row N still nearest the camera,…

…in which we find three men who died together, killed by shellfire, behind the lines, on 12th July 1917.  On the left, Private Hopkin Richard Davies, Gloucestershire Regiment, aged 27, in the centre, Lieutenant William Thomas Young, Royal Garrison Artillery, aged 36 (pictured, left inset, ten years earlier), and on the right, Major Walter Aitchison, Scottish Horse, aged 51 (both non-artillerymen, however, attached to the R.G.A.).  A pity, then, that the headstone of Lieutenant Young says 12th June 1917,…

…because it’s clearly wrong, as the highlighted section of this GRRF shows us.

To our right, this is Plot II, and we shall explore it much later,…

…but first we shall wander through Plot I, the layout of the cemetery dictating that it is, in general, arbitrary graves – every headstone tells a story – at which we shall be paying our respects.  The first four headstones in Row L are all officers, the two furthest right…

…both men attached to the Royal Flying Corps.  Captain Edward Arthur Wickson, Canadian Infantry (left & pictured) and Lieutenant Thomas Farquhar Lucas, Royal Warwickshire Regiment, were killed when their balloon fell to earth (whether through enemy action or structural failure I know not) on 16th June 1917.

A careful look at the relevant Graves Registration Report Form, from which this extract is taken, shows Lucas attached to 34th Balloon Section, but Wickson’s entry says ‘Garrison duty Batt, att. R.F.C.’  Why do I get a horrible feeling that Captain Wickson was on his first trip skyward?

Buried next to them, two Cameronian (Scottish Rifles) officers, on the left Second Lieutenant Joseph Henry Sanders, and on the right Second Lieutenant Alexander Sturrock Low (pictured), both killed on 23rd June 1917.

All the burials in Row L are from June & July 1917,…

…with more June 1917 casualties in Row K, many from earlier in the month,…

…where we also find casualties from the first day of the Battle of Messines, 7th June 1917.

Following the first burials in early May 1915, the cemetery was used regularly until the end of August 1916, after which, for the next nine months, only twenty seven men were buried here, an average of just three per month.  Things changed with the arrival of the casualty clearing stations in the summer of 1917.  Between 1st June and the final burial on 25th July, less than two months, a further 302 identified men, not far off half the total burials, would be added, over 200 of those casualties to be found in these four rows at the end of Plot I, Rows L, M & N in front of the Cross (above), and Row K (below),…

…beyond which, as we saw on arrival, the graves thin out considerably,…

…and the burials are in general from much earlier, before the nine month near-hiatus, these casualties at the end of Row J killed early in 1916,…

…and these in Row H in November 1915.

King’s Liverpool men in Row G – note two of only four unidentified men buried in the cemetery in the row behind – including two captains (above right & below left), killed on 28th September 1915,…

…and another captain further along the row, this the grave of Captain Benjamin George Gunner M.C., Adjutant 1st Bn. Northumberland Fusiliers, killed in action on 7th October 1915, aged 23.

Most of the burials, however, in Rows G, F (above) & E (below) are men who died in September 1915.

The grave of Private Joseph Lightbourn Trimingham, Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Corps, who died on 15th September 1915 aged 21, and is buried in Row E.  The CWGC database tells us that there were just five Great War Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Corps casualties, all men who died in 1918, and all buried in cemeteries in Bermuda.  And this clearly is not one of them.  This is a very rare headstone indeed, because it probably should have the Lincolnshire Regiment, to whom he was attached, inscribed upon it, along with the Lincoln’s emblem, particularly as the service number on the headstone is his Lincoln number, not his original B.V.R.C. number,…

…all of which you can see on this GRRF and inset from the cemetery index.

Further along Row E, two Border Regiment privates killed on 3rd September 1915,…

…and here, on the left, the grave of Major Arthur Webster Young (pictured), Sherwood Foresters (Notts and Derby Regiment), who died on 13th September 1915 aged 46.

Despite the general chronological order of the burials in this part of the plot, what must originally have been larger gaps in the rows were filled later in the war; here men who died in August (left) & September (right) 1915 sandwich a casualty from 7th June 1917, the first day of the Battle of Messines, in Row D.  Neither the headstone of the man on the left, nor that of the H.A.C. man on the far left in Row C behind, is adorned with a cross of any sort, although one does have some religious text, which you see occasionally, and always seems a little odd to me.

The grave of Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Frederick Sargeaunt, Royal Engineers, who was killed by shellfire near Zillebeke on 31st July 1915 aged 44, in Row D.  Almost directly behind him in Row C lies another Lieutenant Colonel, Charles Conyers of the Leinsters, killed in action on 12th May 1915 aged 46; unfortunately I have no picture of his grave.

September 1915 casualties at the end of Row C,…

…and behind, Row B where, seven headstones along the row, and pictured in the inset above,…

…we find the grave of Lieutenant Colonel James Clark C.B., Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, who was killed whilst leading a counter-attack at Hooge on 10th May 1915, aged 56.

Nearest the camera at the start of Row B lies Lieutenant Ronald Philip Ochs (pictured), Middlesex Regiment, who was killed in action on 26th September 1915 aged just 18.  His headstone is pictured in close-up immediately below, but while we are here, the final headstone in the corner in Row A behind,…

…is that of Captain Arthur Ernest Bullock, R.A.M.C., attached Middlesex Regiment, aged 26, who also died on 26th September 1915.

Back in Row B, the grave of Second Lieutenant Arnold Bexley Vansittart, 11th Prince Albert’s Own Hussars, who died on 12th May 1915, aged 25, and indeed the majority of the burials in Rows A & B, thirty six out of fifty one, are from May 1915,…

…including the two men pictured above, Lieutenant Wharton & Captain Erskine, their headstones in close-up below.

Lieutenant Guy Fitzgerald Wharton – the gap in the inscription is gratuitous – Durham Light Infantry attached King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, who died of wounds on 9th May 1915 aged 20,…

…and Captain Thomas Barrie Erskine M.C., Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders attached Gordon Highlanders, who died on 20th July 1915 aged 25.  I like the ‘Son O’Mine’ in the personal inscription at the bottom.

Another alias.  We see a lot of them on our travels, and is there not a current CWGC project to list them all?

And that brings us to the end of Plot I, this view looking back at Row B and, in the background, Row A, because if we turn to our right,…

…we are now looking at Plot II, Row B in the foreground, and Row A behind,…

…these the burials at the far end of Row A in the corner of the cemetery, one casualty from 7th April 1916 on the left, the two other men killed on 7th May 1916,…

…and in front, at the end of Row B, four of sixty Canadian burials in Plot II (as opposed to only three in Plot I).  These men died in early June 1916, the man on the far right given a date of death of between 2nd & 4th June.

View from the north west corner of the cemetery looking south east, Plot II Row B immediately in front of us,…

…and panning left…

…and further left, now looking roughly north east.  The second grave from the start of the second row in this picture, Row C,…

…is that of a man we have encountered before on this site.

Brigadier-General Frederic James Heyworth D.S.O., G.O.C. 3rd Guards Brigade, Guards Division, killed by a German sniper at long range whilst making his way to the front line trenches to inspect a newly blown German mine crater near Bellewaarde on 9th May 1916, aged 53.  I gather the single word ‘Djenan’ on his headstone, chosen by his wife, has an association with his service in the Sudan in the mid-1880s.

More Canadian casualties, these men buried in Row C, and all killed in early June 1916.  The two Canadian Mounted Rifles men on the left have both been given dates of death of 2nd/3rd June 1916.

April 1916 Canadian casualties in Row D,…

…and also a French-Canadian private who died in May 1916 and who shares his name with the most skilled Grand Prix driver of them all.  I would be very interested to know what percentage of Canadian troops were French-speaking in the Great War.

Row E, and on the left (and pictured), the grave of Lieutenant James Windsor Lewis, Welsh Guards, killed in action on 6th June 1917 aged 39.

Two Royal Engineer Second Lieutenants near the end of Row E, killed on 25th July 1916 & 25th June 1916 respectively.  Now, if you’ve been doing this as long as I have, seeing two dates like these next to each other in such circumstances immediately sets alarm bells ringing, and a quick check, showing both men to be 96th Field Company, added to the cacophony.

Here are the relevant GRRFs, Plot II Row E beginning halfway down the form on the left, and continuing on the right, with Best the last name on the left, and Andrew the first name on the right.  At which point I rest my case.

In the row in front, Row F, July 1916 casualties,…

…and continuing along the row, these Welsh Guardsmen casualties from June & July 1916,…

…and more June 1916 burials at the start of the row, including, on the right, one of three Royal Flying Corps men buried here (as opposed to the two unfortunate men attached to the Royal Flying Corps whom we visited earlier), Air Mechanic 2nd Class Frederick Henry Edward Brand, who died of wounds on 13th June 1916, aged just 18.

One of these three graves at the end of Row G is of great interest to us.  The man buried in the centre…

…is Private D. Reedy, Lincolnshire Regiment, who died on 27th April 1918.  Reedy was another victim of the terrible explosion at Hagle Dump that we have looked into in great detail in recent times, and that caused at least sixty deaths; presumably, he was horribly wounded by the blast and died in transit, or soon after arrival at the medical facilities here at Brandhoek.

Plot II Row H, the longest row in the plot (above & below), contains twenty six burials,…

…twenty one of which are Canadians who, barring one, died on 3rd or 19th August 1916,…

…such as these two 73rd Bn. Canadian Infantry lieutenants, both killed on 19th August.

Two Welsh Guards in Row J, an officer and a private, who died on 1st & 2nd July 1916 respectively,…

…the little note left at the base of Guardsman Caldwell’s headstone brief and to the point.

R.F.A. casualties in Row L, these men killed on 4th July 1917,…

…and later July 1917 casualties in Row N,…

…where we also find seven Royal Scots, the first six all killed on 10th July 1917,…

…and which brings us to the end of the plot.

View across Plot II (above & below) from the northern corner of the cemetery,…

…and panning left, looking south,…

..and now south east.

As you already know, this is just the first of three cemeteries within a few hundred yards of each other, and frankly, I’d have nothing much to talk about in the next two if we don’t move on soon!

And, just across the road, it seems pretty clear which way we need to go next.

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12 Responses to The Vlamertinge Burial Grounds Part One – Brandhoek Military Cemetery

  1. nicholas Kilner says:

    Excellent! Some more superb research and some great ‘spots’ in there too. I still find it remarkable, given that these headstones are replaced from time to time, that when doing so no one at the CWGC takes a moment to check that the details they are about to have carved are actually correct. Now sometimes it does tale a little detective work, and those one can forgive, but incorrect dates and spelling mistakes are really inexcusable IMO.
    I do like the note left at Guardsman Caldwell’s grave, thats perfect. Interesting to see the resting place of the Brigadier General too, that was another tremendous article

    • Magicfingers says:

      Thank you Nick. Muchly. This post was begun on December 19th last year, so it’s taken a while to knock together. On the subject of inscriptions, ever visited a cemetery where the actual name of the cemetery is wrong……as in it is correct at the actual cemetery, but wrong everywhere else. I have. It is even wrong in the original IWGC ‘The Silent Cities’ tome from 1929, of which I have a reprint. Coming soon(ish).

      • nicholas Kilner says:

        Well now thats a new one on me, how very bizarre! Though one thing I have discovered is that once a detail is wrong in one place, its invariably wrong everywhere that follows. I’m intrigued to know which cemetery it is… ya tease lol

        • Magicfingers says:

          I can do teasing. Honestly, I was amazed, but I am sure I am right. Coming in four posts time on our current tour, I think, which is a clue, but only if you know what the next three are, two of which are pretty obvious, I would have thought.

  2. Jon T says:

    Fascinating as always and so important I think that the men buried in these more “out of the way” cemeteries are remembered and honoured as much as those laid to rest in the better known ones.

    I would imagine that these cemeteries “behind the lines” as well as the small battlefield ones you see dotted around in what was No Man’s Land get precious few visitors, especially these days when immediate descendants of these men are no longer around either.

    On my first visit to Ypres we went round the well known ones (in the company of an excellent guide I might add). Last year we travelled around on our own and made sure we visited a number of these less well known ones amongst other places. Had hoped to do so again this year but alas that has been postponed until next year all being well…

    • Magicfingers says:

      Thank you Jon. Very much appreciated. It took me the best part of ten years to eventually explore Poperinge and the cemeteries between there and Ieper – still a couple I have yet to visit, nearest to Ieper, strangely. The problem with these cemeteries, as opposed to ‘front line’ cemeteries – to which we shall be returning in a few months on this site – is what to talk about! Hopefully, I have managed to find enough to keep you interested, but this is but Part One of this tour – we shall see if I have retained your attention by the time we get to the last one! Lol! And having said all that, the next cemetery is actually one of the most visited of all, despite being behind the lines, as you will see soon.

  3. Jon T says:

    Intriguing ! My interest is piqued already !

  4. Morag Lindsay Sutherland says:

    thank you as always………..a friend of mine was named after William Coupar – note the different spelling – he lies here and it is the only time I walked this way as we paid respects to the man from Dundee……what a lot I missed

    • Magicfingers says:

      I suspect that this cemetery is seldom visited apart from those visiting specific soldiers as you did – unlike the next one on our tour!

  5. Margaret Draycott says:

    Excellent post M, fantastic amount of research resulting in a great deal of detail and personal stories, which I love the best after all it is about the individuals and not just masses of headstones.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Thank you muchly M. Pleased you enjoyed this one because, as I keep whinging & whining on about, these are tough to write. Please see recent reply to Daisy about my current lack of email, or computer, come to that………

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