The Vlamertinge Burial Grounds Part Eight – Vlamertinghe New Military Cemetery

Half a mile due south of Vlamertinghe Military Cemetery, this alleyway leads us to our final destination on this tour.

The cemetery doubtless looks lovely in the summer months,…

…but it all appears somewhat bleak today, beneath an inclement sky.

Which is good, because I like bleak.  One day I might do a week-long trip around Flanders in the middle of summer, just to take a couple of photographs of as many cemeteries as possible looking beautiful with flowers in bloom and pilgrims present, but I make no apologies for generally touring in the winter months.  It’s when your boots are squelching and the wind bites and your fingers lose feeling and the rows of white headstones lie stark and unadorned – those are the times when, as you walk in the footsteps of ghosts, you can hear the whispers in the wind, even feel the breath on your collar – that’ll be Baldrick, usually – and the immense tragedy of the whole bloody affair hits home.  Or it does to me, at any rate.

Enough of all that.  Particularly because, as one nears the cemetery entrance, there’s this chap to contend with.  And unlike most Belgian sheep, who usually just give you the stare, this one sauntered up and began shouting.  And continued shouting.  Now, although secretly I was quite impressed with his bolshieness, it did all go on a bit too long, and I told him so,…

…but he was having none of it,…

…leaving me with the only option of ignoring his bleating and getting on with our visit.

On the inside of the pillars at the cemetery entrance…

…the words granting this land ‘In Perpetuity’ can be found in English,…

…French & Flemish,…

…and on entry, we find a cemetery containing around 1,800 burials and plenty of plots to explore.  This is a planned cemetery, in that the site had been chosen in advance of its use, following the closure of Vlamertinghe Military Cemetery in June 1917, a new cemetery being required for the inevitable casualties of the forthcoming Allied offensive (they would call it Passchendaele).  However as Plot II contains ten men who died in April, May & June 1915 (and who are not concentration burials brought here from elsewhere), and as the first burials from June 1917 can be found in Plot I alongside them, I think it likely this site was chosen because a handful of graves were already here.

Immediately ahead of us, on a slightly raised section across the cemetery,…

…the Stone of Remembrance, and beyond the Stone…

…a nice little building in which you can find the cemetery register & visitor’s book, and if you’re very lucky, you might even find Baldrick doing the honours, as in this shot.

This view looks south east across the cemetery from the raised section, the first two rows,…

…which continue here as we pan right, comprising Plot XIII, as far as the first gap (here’s a tip – when I mention gaps in rows, don’t necessarily look at the headstones, look at the flower beds; end of flower bed equals end of row.  Usually.),…

…the burials in the plot ranging from December 1917 to May 1918.  Fifteen, such as these two men buried in the front row, died in April 1918 during the Battle of the Lys.

Driver Eshton Haywood, Royal Field Artillery, killed on 16th April 1918 aged 22.

And in the row behind, two artillery officers, both killed in action directing their batteries on 11th October 1917.  On the left and pictured, the grave of Lieutenant Colonel Archibald John Saltren-Willett, Mentioned in Despatches, Commanding 66th Heavy Artillery Group, R.G.A., killed instantly by a fragment of German shell two days after his 51st birthday, and on the right, Captain (acting-Major) Philip Warburton Lee, R.F.A., just half Saltren-Willett’s age at 25, who was commanding 29th Battery when he was killed.  Their headstones are pictured in close-up below:

Looking back at the two rows of Plot XIII.  You might think these would be Rows A & B, a reasonable assumption, but you’d be quite wrong.  These are Rows G, in the foreground, and H behind, where the two artillery officers are buried; of Rows A to F, there is no sign.  Behind, after the gap, comes the first of the larger plots, Plot IX, and although we shall return to Plot XIII at the end of the post, I think we should sort out what is going on with the remainder of the graves at this end of the cemetery before we attempt to explore the rest, so,…

…we shall continue along the front of the cemetery, and I think the cemetery plan becomes near-indispensable at this point.  Next to Plot XIII,…

…the four headstones to the left of the tree are Plot XIV Row F, the five to the right of the tree Plot XV Row F,…

…and all are September 1918 burials apart from the two headstones furthest from the camera,…

…one of which is a special memorial to a man killed in July 1917 who is ‘believed to be buried in this cemetery’, the other one of only two October 1918 burials here.

The remaining burials in Plot XIV, just two more rows, G in the foreground and H behind, twelve headstones in total, are also all 1918 burials, those pictured in Row G from May & September 1918, all those in Row H from March 1918.

…and likewise, on the other side of the tree, these two rows are Plot XV Rows G, all burials from June or July 1918, & H, all burials from March & April 1918.  Further right,…

…we find Plot XVI, on the right here,…

…which consists of a single row of eleven headstones,…

…all burials from December 1917 & January 1918,…

…with another six burials beyond the gap, the first four British graves September 1918 casualties, then the final burial made here, an R.F.A. gunner killed on 10th October 1918, and at the end, the grave of two unknown German soldiers who died, presumably as prisoners, on 28th September 1918 (the headstone contains an error – the German for ‘two’ is not ‘zwe’).  And by now it will not surprise you to know that this single row is designated as Plot XVI Row H.  And to prove that there are exceptions to every rule, here we have a single row, split in two, and thus my earlier tip with regard to flower beds proves to be, on this occasion, rubbish, really.

So, as the cemetery plan shows, the four plots at the front of this cemetery, from left to right Plots XIII, XIV, XV & XVI, contain, respectively, two rows, three rows, three rows, and then a single row of headstones.  And of Rows A to E in all four plots, and in the case of Plot XIII Row F, and Plot XVI Rows F & G, there is no sign whatsoever, nor any indication of why they no longer exist, if indeed they did in the first place.

Anyway, returning to Plot XVI, or more specifically the headstones behind, the next eight rows constitute Plot XII,…

…Row C in the foreground here,…

…at which point we pan left, looking right across the cemetery.  If you check the cemetery plan, you can see that, taking this row as an example, four plots are covered as the row stretches across the cemetery; the first fourteen headstones are in Plot XII, those after the gap are in Plot XI, those after the next gap in Plot X, and those at the far end Plot IX, and thus it is throughout the cemetery, taking into account the changes in plot numbers.  And on this occasion my flower bed tip works just fine.  So we shall find ourselves zigzagging back and forth across the cemetery as we go,…

…paying our respects next at the graves of two artillery officers, one Canadian and one Australian, both Military Cross holders, casualties from late October & early November 1917 buried in Plot XI Row E.

Continuing across the cemetery, Canadian & British casualties from the second week of November 1917 in Plot X Row D,…

…the same row seen here from the other end,…

…and here three machine gunners killed on 20th September 1917 on the left, alongside three 10th Bn. London Regiment privates and a Royal Sussex man, killed two days later on 22nd September 1917, in Plot X Row G.

View from the north eastern side of the cemetery looking along Plot IX Row A on the right and Row B on the left.  Behind Row B, you can now see Row C, which we looked along from the other side of the cemetery.  Note the gaps (I think I have probably mentioned them enough now).

R.G.A. gunner killed on 12th November 1917 in Plot IX Row B, alongside two men killed the following day, the unidentified man in the centre one of only a dozen unknown British soldiers buried here (note the headstone of the Royal Army Service Corps man on the right bears no religious emblem),…

…and Canadian casualties in Plot IX Row D, these 4th Bn. infantrymen all killed on 5th November 1917.

Plot IX Row E, the burials all from late October 1917, Royal Field Artillerymen at this end,…

…and Canadian Field Artillery casualties further down the row.

Plot IX Row G, and another of the unidentified soldiers buried here, flanked by two men who died in mid-September 1917,…

…and early September 1917 casualties in the final row in the plot, Row H.

1st/8th Bn. Royal Scots private buried in Plot IX Row H.  This battalion had been the first Scottish territorials in France when they arrived in November 1914, but, due to severe casualties at Neuve-Chapelle & Festubert in March & May 1915 respectively, had been designated a pioneer battalion thereafter.  The man buried here, Private Edward Delargey, had been conscripted in 1916, and briefly found himself engaged in clearing and construction work on the old Somme battlefields when he first arrived in France in January 1917.  The battalion then enjoyed a fortnight’s rest before moving to Arras the following month, where, in wintery conditions, they once again carried out trench repairs and road maintenance.  It seems Delargey suffered from the cold, as he spent a week in a field ambulance because of it, and, shortly after he was discharged, on being given a pass to a local village, he promptly went missing.  Some six months later he was apprehended, only ten miles from Arras, court-martialled, and sentenced to death, his execution taking place on 6th September 1917.  He was just nineteen.

Beyond Plot IX we come to Plot I,…

…this German headstone at the start of Plot I Row D marking the grave of Leutnant Erich Reiher, Jagdstaffel 6, killed in an Albatross DIII while attacking a tethered balloon of 12th Balloon Section on 24th June 1917, aged 26.  Reiher had himself been involved in the destruction of a British balloon just four days earlier, the major difference being that the balloon crew had parachuted to safety.

Black Watch burials at the start of Plot I Row E, all killed on 2nd July 1917,…

…and, just as a reminder of the layout of this cemetery, if we follow Row E, on the left here, or indeed Row F behind, right the way across the cemetery, it becomes Plot II Row E after the first gap, Plot III Row E after the second gap, and then IV Row E at the far end.

Four R.F.A. drivers and a bombardier in Plot I Row F, all killed on 12th July 1917, and behind in Row G…

…these men, including the German soldier in the centre, all dying on 18th, 19th & 20th July 1917.

Still in Plot I Row G, and three Royal Flying Corps air mechanics, one 1st Class and two 2nd Class, the latter two killed on 14th July 1917,   Nineteen year old 1st Class Air Mechanic R. Shaw, who died the following day, the headstone on the right, was attached to the Royal Garrison Artillery; I initially wondered whether he might have been observing long-distance British artillery hits on German positions from a balloon, but all I can find is that all three of these men were definitely killed in action.  German bombing on a British airfield is the most likely explanation for the fate of the two 2nd Class mechanics; perhaps Air Mechanic Shaw was wounded at the same time and died the following day.

And two more R.F.C. men at the start of the same row.  Second Lieutenants Frank Ernest Bishop & Guy Stuart Ellis, 57 Squadron, flying an Airco DH.4, were on a reconnaissance mission* on the evening of 12th July 1917 when they were involved in a mid-air collision just west of Ypres.  Their plane was ‘completely wrecked’, according to reports, crashing somewhere near here, and both men were killed; I can find no evidence of what happened to the aircraft they collided with, leading to the conclusion that only Bishop’s & Ellis’s aircraft was destroyed.

*the DH.4 was primarily a longe range day bomber, and a good one, and it may have been combining dual roles on this particular day.

Artillerymen, Plot I Row H.  The cemetery was used by both Field Ambulances and local artillery units throughout its existence,…

…and there were medical services at Vlamertinge throughout much of the war, this map showing a main dressing station sited here at the start of Second Ypres in the spring of 1915,…

…and this diagram showing an advanced dressing station here during the Batte of the Lys in the spring of 1918.  Note that 16th Field Ambulance was charged with transporting casualties from the north of Ypres to Vlamertinghe, whereas 17th Field Ambulance would take casualties from the south of Ypres to the advanced dressing station at Brandhoek.

Crossing the cemetery once more, more artillerymen in Plot II Row G.  By now you will have spotted that, in almost every picture in this post, you are more than likely to find the grave of an artilleryman somewhere in the shot, and with good reason.  As far as I can ascertain, 1,001 of the men buried here are artillerymen; 544 R.F.A., 315 R.G.A., 12 R.H.A., 86 Canadian Field Artillery, and 44 Australian Field Artillery.

Baldrick has a moment of crisis, or something, as we reach Plot III.

More R.F.A. & R.G.A. burials in Plot III Row E,…

…and yet more at the end of Row G, from left, Royal Field Artillery, Honourable Artillery Company (attached R.F.A.), the only H.A.C. man, even if attached elsewhere, in the cemetery, and Royal Horse Artillery.

July 1917 burials in Plot III Row H, before, on our right,…

…we find Plot IV, around half of the burials within artillerymen,…

…and most of those Royal Garrison Artillery, their dates of death between mid-June & mid-July 1917.

Some of the Australian artillerymen buried here, these men killed in August 1917, in the final plot on this side of the cemetery, Plot VIII Row C,…

…and the final rows of the plot, the men in Row H on the right casualties from October 1917.

Looking north from the southern corner of the cemetery,…

…from where we pan east towards the final plots we have yet to visit.

Men killed on 31st July 1917, the opening day of the Battle of Passchendaele, in Plot VII Row B,…

…including three men of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, their dates of death known, if not their identities.

Two Australian field artillerymen in the final row of the plot, Row H, both killed in early October 1917; the personal inscription on the headstone on the left reads ‘Tis the luck of the game.’  And isn’t that the truth?

And finally Plot V, Row B in the foreground here.  A few headstones along,…

…these seven men from 95th Siege Battery, R.F.A., were all killed on 3rd August 1917, and include two men with the same, unusual, surname; Harcus.

Plot V Row C, these artillerymen and a single machine gunner all killed between 12th & 14th August 1917.

Looking across the cemetery, following Plot V Row E, another row of almost entirely artillery burials, these men all August 1917 casualties.

Machine gun officer and South African Railway Operating Company corporal, one of just three South African burials here, both September 1917 casualties, in Plot V Row H,…

…the final row in the plot.

Plot V Row H, and because we have a picture of him, we finish (nearly) at the grave of Lieutenant Frank Timothy Quinlan, Canadian Railway Troops, killed in action on 29th September 1917, aged 27.

This view, from the cemetery’s eastern corner, with Plot V nearest the camera, looks west, at which point we shall begin making our way back up towards the Stone of Remembrance, through Plots V & I,…

…and then Plot IX,…

…until we eventually make it back to Plot XIII, at the front of the cemetery.  You may remember that I mentioned, near the start of this post, that we would return to Plot XIII later, and with good reason.  It seems fitting to complete this series of posts by paying our respects to the man pictured on the left, and buried nearest the camera on the right, at the end of the second row of the plot, Row H.

Company Serjeant Major John Kendrick Skinner V.C., D.C.M., King’s Own Scottish Borderers, was one of two K.O.S.B. men to receive the Victoria Cross on 16th August 1917, in actions on the very left flank of the British advance towards Passchendaele*.  His citation reads; ‘For most conspicuous bravery and good leading. Whilst his company was attacking, machine gun fire opened on the left flank, delaying the advance. Although C.S.M. Skinner was wounded in the head, he collected six men, and with great courage and determination worked round the left flank of three blockhouses from which the machine gun fire was coming, and succeeded in bombing and taking the first blockhouse single-handed; then, leading his six men towards the other two blockhouses, he skilfully cleared them, taking sixty prisoners, three machine guns, and two trench mortars. The dash and gallantry displayed by this warrant officer enabled the objective to be reached and consolidated.’  Remarkably, having joined the Army in early 1900 aged just sixteen, Skinner had already been wounded six times during the Great War, to add to three wounds received in South Africa!  He was trying to rescue a wounded man when he was killed, shot between the eyes, on 17th March 1918, aged 35.

*seven V.C.s were awarded that day, five in the Salient, and two at Lens.

Which really does bring us to the end our visit to this cemetery,…

…and the end of our tour of the cemeteries of Brandhoek & Vlamertinge.  Never forget.

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14 Responses to The Vlamertinge Burial Grounds Part Eight – Vlamertinghe New Military Cemetery

  1. Morag Lindsay Sutherland says:

    thanks as always- we never did locate this cemetery on our MANY visits to the area so good to read the information and enjoy the photographs

  2. Andrew Brennan says:

    ‘Tis the luck of the game… so very true.

    Great coverage as always. Thanks for what you do.

  3. Steve Monk says:

    “It’s when your boots are squelching and the wind bites and your fingers lose feeling and the rows of white headstones lie stark and unadorned – those are the times when, as you walk in the footsteps of ghosts, you can hear the whispers in the wind, even feel the breath on your collar”
    Brilliant words Magic Fingers and so true.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Thanks mate. And it is absolutely true.

      • Jon T says:

        Yes brilliant words indeed. My visits so far to Ypres have always been in the full glory of the summer. Perhaps it’s time (when possible once more) to pay a visit at a bleaker time of the year…

        That’s said visiting the Somme in high summer by contrast is in a different way quite evocative as 1st July 1916 was a beautiful hot summers day, though of course it descended later into the mud, rain and cold as the months dragged by.

        • Magicfingers says:

          You have to do it! And don’t give up at lunchtime because it’s too cold. Keep going. The longer you are out and about, the better it is when you get back to hotel/Baldrick’s place (delete whichever doesn’t apply), an option not open to the soldiers. Seriously, I recommend it. And of course the lie of the land is so much easier to see without crops growing everywhere. I have done sixteen solo (non-coach tour) Flanders trips, I think, and only three have been during the summer months, and the last one of those was back in 2014. Actually, on checking, my Somme trips have been in either April or May, never yet high summer.
          Anyway, much appreciate your comments Jon. Many thanks.

          • Jon T says:

            Yes I agree about the crops – last year found ourselves in a couple of places where all we could see was maize and nothing of what we had come to look at all ! If this darn virus relents enough am actually hoping to head across next March, so we shall see…Hopefully Baldrick won’t be offended if we stick to our usual hotel ! 😉

          • Magicfingers says:

            He tells me he’s disappointed but he’ll live with it.

  4. nicholas Kilner says:

    Well trust you to go upsetting the natives! lol.
    Another superb post, and a great way to finish this series.
    The layout certainly is a curious one. I have my suspicions that this may at one time have held considerably more remains than it does now, as I’m sure you do too. So with that in mind, along with something we discussed at one of the previous cemeteries on this tour about the possibility of Americans having once been interred there, I did a little digging.
    Whilst the vast majority of the American forces were down on the Meuse-Argonne front it turns out that around 40,000 were sent to Flanders in June-July 1918, with the 27th and 30th Division being put in the line just south of Ypres from Dikkebus Lake to Kemmel and the Ypres-Comines railway line. From the sounds of it they took quite a beating in July during the 5th battle of Ypres, and as the crow flies Dikkebus lake is exactly 2 miles from Vlamertinge New military cemetery. Not too much of a stretch then to the possibility that the ‘missing rows’ may at one time have been filled with the men of the 27th and 30th AEF.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Cheers Nick! Much appreciated. Afa as the Americans of 27th & 30th Division are concerned, I shall say nothing at the moment except, well, I too have done plenty of digging, so let’s see where we end up going next tour. However, I have yet to find any actual evidence that there were Americans specifically at VNMC.

      • nicholas Kilner says:

        And nor will you I suspect, unless you happen to find the original GRRF of someone who was exhumed from there and shipped back to the US. That said, I wonder if the diaries of the American field ambulance service are available anywhere? that might give some clues.

        • Magicfingers says:

          I was going to add – I actually deleted it from my previous response – that it is American documentation we need on this one. The earliest pictures I can find from the twenties don’t help – as far as I can see the cemetery layout was the same as it is now except for a pavement/walkway between Cross & Stone.

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