The Vlamertinge Burial Grounds Part Six – Vlamertinghe Military Cemetery

Half a mile due east of Hop Store British Cemetery, and today only a mile and a half from the western outskirts of Ypres (Ieper), this is the entrance to Vlamertinghe Military Cemetery. 

Used by the British between April 1915 & June 1917, at which point, the CWGC website tells us, ‘the land adjoining the cemetery (marked in blue below, Hop Store in orange) was claimed for a military railway preventing further extension’,…

…although I can see no evidence on any maps (including that above) of any such railway.

It was the French who, on taking over this sector from the British in November 1914, first began burying men alongside the road in Vlamertinge, and they would bury several hundred here before the British would return to the sector a few months later.

An early look at the cemetery plan shows the location of the French graves,…

…which, as we pan from left to right,…

…are clearly no longer here, moved elsewhere in the 1920s,…

…explaining why we find this large space, mainly devoid of headstones, as we enter the cemetery.

Mainly devoid of headstones, but with a few scattered British graves, which,…

…if we take a look at this GRRF, are actually the first British burials in this cemetery, all six men killed in November 1914, and originally buried by the French among their own casualties.

So here, in the foreground, are the graves of Private Stephen Gracie, Cameron Highlanders, on the left, with the single unknown soldier on the GRRF on the right.  Originally identified as one Charles Cook, R.H.A., I’d love to know the process that later adjudicated that his identity was, in fact, unknown.  Or perhaps uncertain.  Or even unproven, perhaps, in this case.  Behind, to the right of the row of four headstones,…

…the grave of Coldstream Guardsman Arthur Davies.

In the corner of the cemetery, closest to us, this is the grave of Serjeant A. S. Fleming, Black Watch.  The single headstone behind him…

…is that of Gunner A. Warner,…

…and the third headstone from the camera here,…

…is that of Bandsman R. Spackman of the Wiltshire Regiment.  If you look closely at the cemetery plan you will see that these six graves are numbered within the plot of French graves.

And in case you thought I’d forgotten about them, these four men – three Green Howards and a Durham Light Infantryman –  are Second World War casualties, killed towards the end of May 1940 as the British retreated towards Dunkirk.

British soldiers visit graves in a somewhat overgrown, and clearly closed, Vlamertinghe Military Cemetery.  Judging by the number of graves beyond them, the close proximity of each of the graves in front of them, and the position relative to the photographer of the ruins of the church in the background, I think they are in the French Plot, perhaps pointing out one of the British soldiers buried among the French graves (the crosses also appear to have uniform inscription plaques, unlike British, but very like French military graves).

At which point we shall begin to follow the longest row in the cemetery, Plot I Row A,…

…in which most of the burials are men killed between April & June 1916, more than half of them Canadians.  The first two headstones on the left in this shot, Privates Torrance & Taylor, are also the first two wooden crosses visible in the post-war inset.

These two Canadian infantry officers, both 13th Bn., died a couple of days apart, Lieutenant Clifton Manbank Horsley, pictured on the right, already twice wounded at Festubert, killed in the front line whilst in charge of a trench mortar section on 22nd April 1916.

Continuing along the row, past more Canadian graves,…

…as the rest of Plot I comes into view, Plots II, III & VII stretching away beyond.

The cemetery contains 1,175 burials,…

…all but a small number identified.  No idea what Baldrick’s up to here, so,…

…we shall head towards the end of the row where, in the southern corner of the cemetery,…

…we find this curious, blockhouse-style building in which to shelter from the Flanders’ elements.  Although not required today.

View looking down the length of the cemetery from the end of Plot I Row A, the Stone of Remembrance at the far end in the background.

The burials in the plot cover quite a wide date range, from April 1915 to July 1916, these men in Row B June 1916 casualties,…

…and most of those in Row C (right), from December 1915 & January 1916.  Those in Rows D & E, on the left, are mainly from May & June 1915, behind which, among the long line of closely spaced headstones in Row F,…

…we find the earliest burial in this cemetery, barring those buried by the French, the Canadian private on the right dying on 21st April 1915.  The headstones next to him bear the date of 23rd April 1915, as do sixteen, in total, of the headstones in Plot I Rows F, G & H.  The previous day, the opening of the Second Battle of Ypres, had seen the Germans use gas for the first time on the Western Front, and some, possibly all, of these men, and doubtless some of those buried here in the following days, were victims of this new, terrifying, method of warfare.

Two Northumberland Fusiliers at the start of Row G, killed in early February 1916,…

…and two more 23rd April 1915 casualties, again quite likely gas casualties, further along the row.  The headstone on the left…

…is that of Major Joseph McLaren, 10th Bn. Canadian Infantry, Mentioned in Despatches, aged 32 when he died, and pictured right, with his original wooden cross in situ in the centre.

Continuing along Row G, this is the grave of Captain L. Shaw Farquharson, ex-Adjutant (1911-14) 1st Bn. Royal Scots, who died on 12th May 1915 aged 31,…

…and two more captains near the end of the row, on the right, Captain Norman Sinclair Stewart, Royal Scots, killed on 30th September 1915, and on the left and pictured,…

…the grave of Captain Guy Bonham-Carter, 19th Royal Hussars, attached Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars, who was wounded by a sniper on the night of 14th May 1915, dying the next day, aged 30.

July 1916 graves at the start of Plot II Row A, and further along…

…one of only five Canadian burials to be found in Plot II, compared to thirty eight in Plot I.

Second Ypres casualties in Plot II Row B, seven of whom are given a date of death of 27th April 1915 (the single Canadian grave says 22nd-26th April), along with one unknown soldier in the centre.  On the far left, with the wreath,…

…is the grave of Captain Francis Octavius Grenfell V.C., 11th Hussars, killed in action on 24th May 1915, aged 34.  On 24th August 1914, Grenfell was the only officer who survived a cavalry charge against massed German infantry; rallying his troops, and despite being severely wounded twice, he and some of his men then helped save a battery of field guns under very heavy fire.  His Victoria Cross citation, gazetted on 16th September 1914, says, ‘For gallantry in action against unbroken infantry at Andregnies, Belgium, on 24th August 1914, and for gallant conduct in assisting to save the guns of the 119th Battery, Royal Field Artillery, near Doubon the same day’.

Francis Grenfell’s twin brother, Captain Riversdale Nonus Grenfell, killed in action on the Aisne on 14th September 1914, also at the age of 34, is remembered at the base of the headstone.

Eton College has a plaque in memory of seven Grenfells who died for King & Country.  Or Queen & Country, three being victims of late 19th Century conflicts.  The other four were all killed in action in the Great War, and all were dead by the end of July 1915.  Along with Francis and Riversdale, their cousin, the Honourable Julian Henry Francis Grenfell D.S.O., a captain in the Royal Dragoons and esteemed Great War poet, had died in Boulogne, of wounds received at Ypres, on 13th May 1915, and Julian’s brother, the Honourable Gerald William Grenfell, a second lieutenant in the 8th Bn. Rifle Brigade, would be killed on 30th July 1915, aged 25, his body lost, and his name to be found today among the tens of thousands on the Menin Gate.

And here’s a photo of Francis Grenfell’s original grave marker.  Actually, this is a very early replacement, the inset showing the grave as it was when first erected, the plaque the same in both photos, but the wooden cross on which it is fixed in the inset apparently different.

Before we leave Grenfell’s grave, there’s a mystery to look into.  Yes, another one.  Unfortunately, one of the most irritating mistakes one makes when photographing military cemeteries is failing to photograph gaps.  Unlikely spaces between headstones.  I do my best, but my best on this occasion was poor.  However, the above shot shows the five headstones adjacent to Grenfell’s, with an inset showing the same graves, unfortunately from a distance.  Hence the unknown soldier on the right of the main picture is coloured blue in the inset, the next four headstones are coloured pink, with Grenfell’s headstone in red, and then a long green line, which actually shows a long gap between Grenfell’s grave and the next headstone.  Which is all a bit odd, because the black & white photo seems to show another grave right next to that of Grenfell, does it not?

Well, it may do.  There’s certainly a cross there, and what’s more, most of the inscription is legible, and what can be read clearly is the following; ‘G. W. Grenfell, 8th Bn. Rifle Brigade’.  The same Gerald William Grenfell (pictured) whose grave has been lost and whose name can be found on the Menin Gate.  I have read that after the war this grave was examined and no remains were found, the cross being just a memorial, but that still leaves unanswered questions (and I’d like to see the documentation, frankly).  Why was this grave inspected at all – hardly normal procedure – how well was the job done, and prior to that, why should a memorial cross have been erected here in the first place?  And by whom, because this fact was clearly unknown to those responsible for examining the grave, as they wouldn’t have bothered had they known, would they?  Until we know the answers, it is possible that Gerald Grenfell’s grave might not be lost at all.  Just no longer marked.  What do you think?

Further along the row, another 9th Lancer, Captain W. H. Roylance Court, on the right and pictured, killed on 24th May 1915, the same day as Francis Grenfell, and on the left, Second Lieutenant Thomas Lloyd Black, Royal Engineers, who died on 2nd June 1915; note his headstone bears no religious symbol.

Plot II Row E, and this is the grave of Driver Alexander Black, Royal Field Artillery, executed for desertion on 2nd October 1915.  Which was almost a year after he disappeared, soon after arriving in France in October 1914 and, believe it or not, or so the story goes, from the very train taking him to the front for the first time.  He was finally found, living with a French woman in Calais, exactly eight months later, and even then it would be another three months before his trial took place.  His execution was probably, given the circumstances, inevitable.

Two more 9th Lancers further along Row E, both killed on 13th May 1915,…

…the photograph left at the base of Trooper McPherson’s headstone…

…showing him with horse and lance – a soldier of a different era, almost, by the time he was killed.

Still in Row E, a 15th Hussars trooper on the left, and a 5th Dragoon Guards trooper on the right, both 14th May 1915 casualties,…

…before we move on to Plot III, the burials above in Row B at the start of the row from May 1915 and May & June 1916, those below from March & April 1916,…

…Lieutenant Cyril Henry Cooper, Royal Garrison Artillery, on the left, just eighteen years old when he died on 6th April 1916.

Nearly all the burials in Plot III are from the summer of 1915 or the summer of 1916,…

…and as we pan across Row E, continuing left,…

…Plot VII comes into view,…

…its six rows containing only men who died in May or June 1917,…

…these men in Row C killed in May,…

…and this gunner in Row E in early June 1917.

In fact, all the men buried in Row E, on the right, died between 1st & 4th June 1917, and those in Row F on the left between 3rd & 5th June 1917,…

…except one man in Row F in the background, who is given a date of death of 13th June and is buried near the middle of the row (directly to the left of the newest, white, headstone, centre back row above & below).  This is a good example of how to read a military cemetery, in that his date of death makes no sense, and immediately sets off alarm bells.

In purely practical terms, how exactly is a man killed ten days later going to be squeezed into the middle of an already completed row?  Well, he’s not, is he.  And when we check,…

…sure enough, Rifleman Seccombe’s correct date of death is 3rd June 1917, not 13th.  This is not to say that his headstone is incorrect, but I might bet you a fiver that it is!

The burials in Row D, in the foreground both here and the previous two photos, are all from between 29th May & 2nd June 1917.

In the western corner of the cemetery, just out of shot in the previous picture, lie three Germans, presumably wounded prisoners who subsequently died, one in June 1916, the other two on 19th March 1917.

Plot VII Row F, nearest the camera, the Stone of Remembrance (also below) and, in the background, the next plots we shall be visiting.

Panning from south east…

…to south west down the length of the cemetery.

On our right,…

…as Baldrick searches for headstones specific to our agenda, we find the remaining plots, the headstones of Plot IV in the distance, then Plot V and, nearest to us, Plot VI.  The CWGC website tells us that ‘The cemetery is remarkable for the care with which men of the same unit were buried side by side if they died at about the same time. There is also a very high proportion of graves of Territorial units, in particular Lancashire Territorials, who have nearly 250 graves in plots IV, V and VI.’

And it is Plot VI we shall look at first,…

…the plot stretching through thirteen rows to the far side of the cemetery, the burials within from March, April & May 1917, with a single row of June burials at the far end.

Men of the Royal Field Artillery, March 1917 casualties, in Plot VI Row A.

March 1917 casualties in Row B (foreground), and in Rows C & D behind,…

…and April 1917 casualties in Row E and behind in Row F.

Looking down the edge of Plot VI, close to the cemetery’s north eastern boundary, Row B in the foreground,…

…and heading towards the far end of the plot, past Row G, on the left here, the burials within all from mid-April 1917,…

…as are most of those in Row H (second row), except the first four headstones you see above, which are the first burials in the plot from May 1917.

The burials in Rows L (left) & M are all from May 1917 and include, a few headstones along Row L,…

…the grave of Second Lieutenant Harold Parry, King’s Royal Rifle Corps, killed by shellfire on 6th May 1917, aged 20.

Parry had written poetry before the war, and his teenage reflections would be published as ‘In Memorium: Harold Parry’ after his death.  The inscription at the base of his headstone says; ‘Death is the gate to the high road of life and love is the way (Harold Parry).’

Row N, the last row in the plot.  Other than these six unidentified men buried at the end of the row,…

…all the other burials in the row are men who died during the first half of June 1917, and they are, as mentioned earlier, the only June burials in Plot VI.

The final rows of Plot VI,…

…and the first few rows of Plot V, Row D nearest the camera, unfortunately from entirely the wrong angle to glean any information whatsoever about them from the headstones.  Suffice to say that the plot contains burials mainly from between December 1916 & February 1917, with a few from later,…

…the burials in Rows A & B (third & fourth from camera) all December 1916 casualties except for a man who died on 1st January 1917, those in Rows C & D (and E, come to that, although not pictured here) all from January 1917.

February 1917 casualties in Plot V Row G; unusually, there are more men, such as the gunner on the left, of the Royal Garrison Artillery, 125, buried in this cemetery than of the R.F.A., of whom there are 96.

More February 1917 casualties in Row H, in the foreground, above & below,…

…and behind in Row J (as is usual with plots of more than eight rows, there is no Row I, to avoid confusion).

At the start of Row H, the grave of Second Lieutenant Arthur R. R. Rowe D.C.M., Notts & Derby Regiment, killed in action on 7th February 1917 aged 29.

…and also in Row H, the grave of Private K. L. Walter, The King’s Liverpool Regiment, who died on 19th October 1916 aged 20. The headstone also bears the name of his brother, Able Seaman Eric Douglas Walter, even younger at just 19,…

…and one of 56 men who perished when H.M.S. “Champagne”, a British armed mercantile cruiser on loan to the French Navy but still with its British crew, was torpedoed and sunk by U-96 in the Irish Sea on 9th October 1917.  And here’s an extraordinary photo capturing the ship, back broken, in its last throes before disappearing beneath the waves, and young Eric Walter and his mates are just about to die……

The final plot we have yet to visit is Plot IV,…

…the burials within mainly from the second half of 1916.

September 1916 burials in Row D (above & below), including, above, an unknown soldier on the left, and a private of the Newfoundland Regiment (more normally, perhaps, associated with the Somme) on the right.

Also in the same row, this is the grave of Private Albert Rickman, 1st Bn. Royal Dublin Fusiliers, executed for desertion on 15th September 1915 aged 27.  Rickman had served throughout the Gallipoli campaign before arriving in France in March 1916.  On 1st July, Rickman’s battalion was in the second wave attacking across the Hawthorn Ridge towards Beaumont Hamel as the Battle of the Somme began; the battalion suffered over 300 casualties that day, and the following day Rickman went missing.  Apprehended on 20th July, he would not be tried until September, by which time the battalion had moved north to Ypres, hence his execution and subsequent burial here.

September 1916 casualties in Row E (above) and Row F (below).

Looking north east across the final rows of Plot IV, the burials in Rows J (right) & K (centre) mainly from November 1916, those in Row L on the left mainly from December 1916.  Before we leave, beyond Row L, the three headstones of Row M, in the middle distance directly in front of the brown hedge,…

…are two men of the Middlesex Regiment who died on 30th April 1918, and a man of the Gloucesters who died on 12th December 1917, three of the five final Great War burials made here.

North eastern view across Plot IV,…

…panning right, now looking east,…

…and now looking south east, the first plots that we visited and the cemetery entrance and Cross of Sacrifice on the right.

And here we are, back where we started, among the remaining graves in what was once the French plot.

We have one more cemetery, half a mile south, still to visit on this tour, but before we leave the village, I think we ought to take a look at the church and see if it’s open.  Next post.

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8 Responses to The Vlamertinge Burial Grounds Part Six – Vlamertinghe Military Cemetery

  1. Nick Kilner says:

    Brilliant post! Another really interesting cemetery.
    I wonder if Captain Bonham-Carter is a relative of the actress Helena Bonham-Carter? I shouldn’t be at all surprised. She was in the tv series ‘who do you think you are?’ some time back, but from memory they only really discussed her grandfather, who was involved in smuggling Jews out from under the Germans during WW2.
    That’s a remarkable photograph of HMS ‘Champagne’, I wonder if that was the full compliment or if some survived. Unusual to see an addition like that on a CWGC headstone.
    The Grenfell grave is a real conundrum, and puts me in mind of something Churchill once said about the Russians. If he wasn’t buried there then why did the IWGC assign him the grave? Which they clearly have on his GRRF. That makes no sense. As to who placed the cross there, the writing style and layout is identical to those both left and right of his in the photo, so it must have been done by whoever was carving them for the cemetery and not just by someone who knew him. He was also reportedly killed only six miles from the cemetery. Is it possible he was actually wounded and made it back to an ADS close to the cemetery? Stranger things have happened. Now, with all that said it seems there has already been an investigation into this by the commission. Judging by the GRRF, this happened when the wooden crosses were being replaced with the headstones we now see (or don’t see in this case). So why was there a question over this grave? Judging by the photograph it appears to all intents and purposes to be just like all the other graves doesn’t it. Well no, not quite actually. The ground in front of the cross appears to me to be much flatter than the ground in front of his cousins cross in the neighbouring grave, and given that G.W was killed only ten weeks after Francis you might expect the grave mounds to look pretty much identical. That of course is by no means conclusive, but it may be an indication that something is amiss. And then we have the apparent report that an investigation was carried out and “no remains were found”. That’s a document you really need to find!

  2. Morag Lindsay Sutherland says:

    Joyce Grenfell who did wonderful monolgues on TV in 1960s and 1970s was related to these men

  3. Alan Bennett says:

    I am currently researching the men who appear on the Mossley Hill church war memorial. Sergeant Charles Mercer 66919 Royal Field Artillery died 17th March 1918 and is buried at Vlamertinghe New Military cemetery. I know it is a long shot, but do you know anything about him or his unit. Charles was born in Liverpool in 1888 and before the war work as a footman for Colonel Charles Hosken France Hayhurst (killed in action on 9th May 1915 at the Battle of Aubers, near Ypres)

  4. Magicfingers says:

    Cheers Nick! And Alan. Good advice.

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