Poperinge Part Eleven – Gwalia Cemetery

Before we begin a new tour, and we really shall be doing so soon, here’s an addition to our tour of the Great War sites in and around Poperinge.  We’re a couple of miles to the north east of the town today, and that’s Gwalia Cemetery in the distance. 

There’s little else to be seen around here,…

…and the cemetery gets few visitors,…

…but that, in a way, is what makes a visit even more special.

So where exactly are we?

Well, here’s a map that you may be familiar with, Brandhoek & Vlamertinge both marked near the bottom along the Poperinge – Ypres road, with the area surrounding Gwalia Farm marked in the top left hand corner.

A close-up shows that a hospital was set up just to the south west of the farm buildings, the cemetery marked in mauve a few hundred yards away.  Note also the three camps marked on this small map extract, and the railways crisscrossing the fields,…

…so although today this appears to be a lonely cemetery,…

…during the war this whole area would have been a hive of activity swarming with men, horses and vehicles, many making their way closer to the front lines away to the east, or returning to the numerous tented camps dotted across the landscape.

The cemetery was opened in early July 1917 during the countdown to the Third Battle of Ypres, contains 469 burials according to the CWGC, and is divided into two plots, each of eight rows, Plot I nearest the camera.

The Stone of Remembrance (above & below) greets us on entering.

Looking south east, back towards the cemetery entrance, the modern farm buildings in the right background.  The earliest burials in the cemetery, all men who died between 4th & 7th July 1917, can be found in the front row,…

…which is shorter than the others because there were once a few Belgian graves, long removed, at this end, as indicated on the cemetery plan, courtesy of the CWGC.  The burials in Row B are mainly from June & July 1917,…

…except the final five burials, these men casualties from June 1918.  As are the artillery graves at the end of Row C behind, although most of the burials in the rest of the row are from June & July 1917.

The bulk of the cemetery grew in a chronological fashion, the earliest burials at the start of Plot I at the front of the cemetery, the later ones from the autumn of 1917 and the spring & summer of 1918 in the background at the far end of Plot II.  The graves in Plot I Row D,…

…and the headstones, some touching, of Row E behind,…

…are mainly burials from July 1917, with a few 1918 burials at the end.  And this is the case for much of the cemetery; most of the rows contain burials from 1917, and most have a handful of 1918 graves at this end, on the western side of the cemetery.  These 1918 graves can also be followed chronologically, but the other way round, with the earliest at the far end of the cemetery, and the latest in Plot I Rows B & C near the front of the cemetery, as we’ve already seen.

Looking east across the first few rows of Plot I, Row E now nearest the camera,…

…the headstones closely packed, the burials pictured all from the final days of July 1917.

Plot I Row F, the six burials nearest us from May & June 1918, the remainder all from August 1917, including eight killed on 17th August, a date that will be significant later in the post, for questionable reasons.

Plot I Row G, the burials mainly from July & August 1917, the five burials at this end of the row from May 1918, which is also the case with the final six headstones in Row H, the final row in the plot, behind.

A faded photo, visible in the previous shot, left at the base of the first of the 1918 graves that end Row H,…

…which also contains the graves of fourteen men of the 9th Bn. Lancashire Fusiliers, eight of whom are pictured here,…

…and six here.  All were killed on the morning of 4th September 1917 during a German air raid on Dirty Bucket Camp, a name you should be familiar with,…

…but if not, it is marked on this map extract, Gwalia Cemetery again added in mauve.

The first four rows of Plot II contain mainly men killed in September 1917, such as these three Royal Field Artillery casualties and a single man of the Royal Garrison Artillery in Plot II Row A.  Over a third of the burials here are artillerymen – 116 R.F.A, 46 R.G.A. and a couple of R.H.A. men – and there’s also a single man of the South African Heavy Artillery visible among the R.F.A. & R.G.A. casualties in Row B, the second row in this shot.

Still in Row A, one of only five Canadian burials here, four of whom, like this man, served with the Canadian Railway Troops.

Ah, Croydon, always close to my heart.  Behind, in Row B,…

…a number of Queen’s men, all killed on 26th May 1918,…

…and more May 1918 casualties buried at the end of Plot II Row C.

The remaining burials in Row C are mainly from the last week of September 1917,…

…as are those in Row D, nearest the camera here, with those in Row E on the left from October & November 1917.

Looking due north, Plot II Row F in the foreground.  After the Third Battle of Ypres ground to a muddy halt, for five months between November 1917 & March 1918 the cemetery was used only sporadically, just fifteen burials taking place during that time.  The burials in Row F are all from April or May 1918,…

…and those in Row G are from June & September 1918.  The final burials to be made here, eight men who died on 26th September 1918, are to be found at the far end of Row G and in Row H, the final row.  Three Germans are buried in this cemetery, two beneath the headstone on the left here at the start of Row H,…

…both presumably wounded prisoners who subsequently died a day apart, on 16th & 17th August 1917.

After a short gap, the next two headstones in the row are also both men killed on 17th August 1917,…

…and one wonders why these two men of the British West Indies Regiment, one from Jamaica and the other the Bahamas, were buried here, close to the two Germans, one of whom died on the same day, and thirty yards away from all the other British soldiers killed on that date who, as we saw earlier, are buried in Plot I Row F.  What do you think?  Seems odd to me.  The next four burials are all from April 1918, beginning with the East Surrey man on the right here who, according to his headstone, was attached to the Royal Army Service Corps – some feat that, considering the Army Service Corps did not receive its ‘Royal’ prefix until 27th November 1918.

Continuing along the row from the far end, the four headstones in the centre in this shot…

…mark the graves of four Chinese Labour Corps men,…

…the two on the left casualties from 19th November & 8th December 1917,…

…and the two on the right on 16th & 20th March 1918.

Briefly ignoring the penultimate headstone in the row, the lone burial in the cemetery’s western corner is another from 1917,…

…this Royal Scots private dying on 18th September 1917.  Returning briefly to the British West Indies burials, at the end of August 1917 this final row, if it could be called that, contained two Germans, then a gap, and then the two British West Indies men.  Bearing in mind that the two rows in front did not exist until April 1918 at the earliest, these burials, and the two Chinese burials from later in 1917, must have initially been deliberately set apart from the rest of the cemetery.   Or am I making something of nothing?  And before you mention it, although the site of his grave in the corner here is also unexplained, I don’t think the placement of Private Jacob’s grave has any bearing with regard to the other 1917 graves in the row.

The final burials made in the cemetery, seven men who died on 26th September 1918, are to be found at this end of Plot II Row G, along with the R.F.A. man in Row H on the right nearest the camera in this shot, the penultimate headstone we just ignored, who died on the same day.

It’s a bit of a trek to get to, but on a nice winter’s day,…

…Gwalia Cemetery is a good place to be.

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10 Responses to Poperinge Part Eleven – Gwalia Cemetery

  1. Morag Lindsay Sutherland says:

    I have been in this cemetery when we wardened from Talbot House – my husband quite often used to tae a drive out there if the duties were quiet……….but it is off the beaten track for many

  2. Steve Monk says:

    Thank you M for all your posts this year, may I wish you and all your readers and contributors a Very Happy New Year.
    My plans to go back to Flanders fields this year were scuppered, but hoping to get back there in 2021.

  3. Margaret Draycott says:

    So glad you visit these out of the way cemeteries. Pardon my ignorance but why does the name Croydon mean something to you?
    Happy new year to you also Steve and likewise hoping to visit this year booked for end of June fingers crossed.
    Stay safe and take care everyone

  4. Magicfingers says:

    Well off-the-beaten-track visits is one of the things I am able to do with Baldrick’s chauffeuring skills. And it’s one of the things I like to do.
    And to answer your other question, I am a proud Sarf Londoner born & bred in Croydon – didn’t leave until I was nearly fifty.

  5. Wim Aellemeersch says:

    I paid a visit to this cemetery today ,11-11-2021,to honor these heroes. Thank you for your explanation. After this I cycled through the autumn, 11th of November, to the hospital farm cemetery little further.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Hello Wim. How good to know that someone was at Gwalia yesterday! Well done you! Glad you appreciated this post on the cemetery – it’s a lonely little place but well worth the visit, I am sure you agree. Thanks for your comment.

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