Mont Kemmel Part Twenty – Locre Hospice Cemetery & Loker Hospice

On the outskirts of Loker, which is actually behind us, because the sign is one-sided, and thus we are looking east here, back up the road towards Mont Kemmel on the horizon, there’s a cemetery. 

It is accessed down this grass pathway, and as we go, it’s worth gazing across these fields immediately to our left, Dranouter church on the horizon,…

…because, as this map from July 1918, with the area around Loker highlighted on the left, within which the cemetery is marked as a small green oblong (click to enlarge), and the main German lines around Mont Kemmel in blue on the right, shows, this cemetery was right on the most outlying German trench of all in this sector of the front (an extension of the same V-shaped trench that crossed the Loker-Dranouter road that we took a look at a few posts back) in the spring and summer of 1918.

It’s a smart little cemetery,…

…although a decent shot of the entrance would have meant trampling around in the adjacent field, and we don’t do stuff like that (and it was exceedingly muddy, which I find transfers with great ease to the outside, and indeed inside, of the car, and seriously pisses off Mrs Baldrick when she discovers it at a later date).  Incidentally, close to the current site of the cemetery stood the Convent of St. Antoine, which incorporated a hospice run by the nuns, which in turn accounts for the cemetery’s name.

The ‘In Perpetuity’ tablet, in three languages, is inlaid on this stone seat immediately inside the cemetery entrance, beyond which three lines of headstones, split into three plots, stretch all the way to the Cross at the far, western, end.  On the left of this shot,…

…four headstones from the start of Plot I Row C,…

…is the grave of Private William Jones, Royal Welsh Fusiliers, who was executed in October 1917 for desertion.  Working as a stretcher-bearer whilst already under a suspended sentence for desertion, on 15th June 1917, the day after the official end of the Battle of Messines, Jones went missing.  In September he handed himself in to the authorities.  He happened to be in Bristol, would you believe, at the time.  Returned to Belgium, he was sentenced to death, and executed on 25th October 1917 on Mont Kemmel.  Referring once more to the statistics quoted last Kemmel post, it might interest you to know that between 1st October 1917 & 30th September 1918, 2,596 men serving abroad faced a Court Martial for desertion, of whom seventy seven were executed, actually just one less than during the previous twelve months.

William Jones is one of two executed men buried here, the other to be found near the far end of Plot I Row A, on the far right of this shot, the gap at the first tree signifying the end of the plot,…

…from where we now look back at Plot I, the Kemmelberg on the horizon.  Of the nearly 250 burials in the cemetery, most were made during the second half of 1917, with just thirty five casualties from 1918 to be found here, most of those in Plot II.  The first burials were made on 6th & 7th June 1917, so I suppose this could be called a Messines cemetery, although only nine men were buried here during the course of the week-long battle, all at the far end of Plot I Row A, where you will also spot Baldrick failing dismally to get out of the shot.  Five headstones from this end of the row…

…we find the grave of Private Denis Blakemore, North Staffordshire Regiment, who deserted, for the first time, during the spring of 1917.  Arrested, he was given a suspended sentence of death at his Court Martial in May, so when he once again went missing on 7th June 1917, the first day of the Battle of Messines, only to be arrested some time later in Boulogne, his fate was pretty much sealed.  Unsurprisingly, his explanation that he was too upset to go into battle fell on deaf ears, and he was executed on Mont Kemmel on 9th July 1917, aged 28.

Looking across the three rows of Plot II.  The penultimate grave in Row C, along the boundary wall, is one of two German burials in the cemetery.

And in Row C we also find the graves of two senior British officers,…

…Lieutenant Colonel Richard Chester Chester-Master, D.S.O. & Bar, King’s Royal Rifle Corps, aged 47, buried here on the left, and Brigadier General Ronald Campbell Maclachlan, D.S.O., The Rifle Brigade, aged 45, on the right.

You will notice four names beside which ‘C2’ has been written in red, three officers, including Chester-Master & Maclachlan, and a private.  These are four concentration burials,…

…the officers listed here,…

…and Private Cameron here.  However all four were exhumed from the same map reference,…

…which is here, in the garden of the hospice, where we see the original graves of two, Lieutenant Colonel Walter Adams Nicholson, R.F.A., who died on 4th September 1917, and Brigadier General MacLachlan.  Actually taken on 28th January 1918, this picture shows an only slightly damaged hospice in the background, leaves still on the trees beyond; within three months there would have been no trees, and not much building either.

The hospice after the war – note the sign.  Do those still count as trees?

A look at the cemetery plan shows Plot III consisting of only two rows of headstones, the yellow additions by yours truly…

…marking thirteen 1940 burials along the southern boundary, all casualties from between 25th & 29th May 1940, with a fourteenth past the gap who is given a date of death of 1st June.  As the last men were evacuated from the Dunkirk beaches on 4th June, one has to suppose that some, possibly all, of these men were buried here by the Germans.

Cross of Sacrifice,…

…behind which special memorial headstones remember nine men who are known to be buried somewhere in the cemetery…

…but whose actual graves are now lost,…

…as the crossed-out section, still easily legible, of this GRRF explains.  The final name on the list, Private Edward Forster Taylor, Lancashire Fusiliers, killed in action on 18th July 1918, was also the final burial made in this cemetery, barring the Second World War graves.

A closer look over the cemetery wall…

…reveals a lone cross and a manicured grass pathway leading to it.  I suggest we go and take a look,…

…although we’ll have to return to the cemetery entrance in order to do so.  Closest to the camera on the left…

…is the final grave in Plot III Row A, and the second of the two Germans buried here.  Reservist Michael Prentkowski died on 13th April 1918, quite possibly in British captivity.

Back through Plot I,…

…to the cemetery entrance…

…from where we need to wend our way around the cemetery boundary,…

…and find that grass path,…

…at the end of which three little wooden crosses beneath the lone cross…

…tell us that this too is a war grave.  The significance, if there is any, of the two rather curious pieces of masonry placed on either side, I leave to you to determine.

But why, exactly, is Major William (Willie) Hoey Kearney Redmond, Royal Irish Regiment, buried here beneath a decidedly non-CWGC headstone?

Two Irish brothers and one son, all nationalist Members of Parliament, from left, Willie Redmond, brother John, & John’s son William Archer Redmond.  Only the son* would survive the war, John Redmond, leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, dying of heart failure following an operation on 6th March 1918.

*William Archer, following his father’s call for Irishmen to support the British war effort, served in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and later the Irish Guards for much of the war, attaining the rank of captain, along with a D.S.O.

Willie Redmond in uniform (left), and his gravesite in the Nun’s garden of Locre Hospice in June 1917, shortly after he died (right).  After the war, when it was proposed that Redmond’s body be moved into the adjacent cemetery, his widow Eleanor requested that it not be moved, the Nun’s concurred, and thus his grave, now cared for by the CWGC, remains where it was.

Redmond’s GRRF (left), and an illustration of Redmond leading his men that adorned the front page of the Illustrated London News on Saturday 6th May 1916.  Bearing in mind that this was just a week after the Easter Rising (about which you will find copious amounts elsewhere on this site) and right in the middle of the executions of the leading rebels, which took place between 3rd & 12th May, the line beneath the illustration will hardly surprise you; ‘The real Ireland, as opposed to the false doctrines of the Sinn Fein rebels: Captain William Redmond, Mr. John Redmond’s soldier brother, leading Irish troops’.

Report on Redmond’s death in the Evening Star, 3rd August 1917.

There’s even a short film in the Imperial War Museum archives…

…from which these stills are taken,…

…of a ceremony at the grave site which, as well as British, included both Americans and French officers (bottom right).

Willie Redmond had been the Nationalist Member of Parliament for Wexford, succeeding his father, since 1884 (on Willie’s death, his vacant constituency seat was won by Sinn Féiner Eamon de Valera).  Despite already being in his fifties, Willie Redmond, agreeing with his brother John, joined up soon after the outbreak of hostilities, joining the 6th Royal Irish Regiment on its formation in September 1914.  On the morning of 7th June 1917, Willie Redmond insisted on being allowed to lead his men forward following the explosion of the nineteen mines that were supposed to, and indeed did, decimate the German front lines before the infantry swept up after them.  According to reports, Redmond was twice wounded before being picked up by stretcher-bearers of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, 36th (Ulster) Division.  Thus the catholic Irish Nationalist was tended by protestant men of the North, but they could not save him, Redmond dying of his wounds back at the dressing station at the hospice.  He was 56.  Willie Redmond’s will, in which he stressed the importance of his catholicism, outlined his reasons for joining the British Army; ‘I should like all my friends in Ireland to know that in joining the Irish Brigade and going to France I sincerely believed, as all the Irish soldiers do, that I was doing my best for the welfare of Ireland’.

Lieutenant Colonel Rowland Fielding D.S.O., Commanding Officer, 6th Bn. Connaught Rangers, had the following to say, ‘Willie Redmond also is dead. Aged fifty-four, he asked to be allowed to go over with his regiment. He should not have been there at all. His duties latterly were far from the fighting line. But, as I say, he asked and was allowed to go – on the condition that he came back directly the first objective was reached; and Fate has decreed that he should come back on a stretcher. How one’s ideas change! And how war makes one loathe the party politics that condone and even approve when his opponents revile such a man as this! I classify him with Stephen Gwynn and Harrison – all three MEN – Irish Nationalists, too, whom you and I, in our Tory schooling, have been brought up to regard as anathema! What effect will his death have in Ireland? I wonder. Will he be a saint or a traitor? I hope and pray it may teach all – North as well as South – something of the larger side of their duty to the Empire.’

In the background, the buildings flank the road leading into Loker to the left.  The original hospice was just out of shot along the road off to the right of the shot, the new building (no longer a convent) in the centre background,…

…and what’s more, it’s worth zooming in a bit, because the hill on the north west horizon is Mont Rouge,…

…here seen from a not dissimilar angle at the war’s end.

Well, it most certainly isn’t Mont Kemmel, and despite the same photograph in the IWM collection being closer to the mark with ‘A German signal station on Mont de l’Hospice just outside Locre, one and a half miles west of Kemmel Hill.’, I think what you see here is German storm troops during what was their brief tenure of Mont Rouge, because the only other reference to any sort of Mont de l’Hospice I can find is copied verbatim from the IWM text, and I don’t think there ever was one, unless the locals referred to Mont Rouge as Mont de l’Hospice, which is longer and frankly a bit mad.

So as we return to the road, let’s also return to Loker in the spring of 1918, the Germans knocking on the door.  The last days of April 1918 saw a critical situation for the Allies on the Kemmel battlefield.  With the Kemmelberg itself in German hands, Loker now in the front line, and reports reaching the French defenders that German troops had been seen not only on the eastern slopes of Mont Rouge which, as we’ve just seen, lies to the north west of the village, but also on Mont Vidaigne, even further west, and the Scherpenberg, some 1,600 yards north east of the village, the possibility that the Germans would break this barrier of hills separating Flanders from the coastal plain, from where they could look down on the whole Allied rear area as far as the Channel Coast, appeared a serious one.

Which is why the village was the scene of so much heavy fighting in the latter days of April 1918, as we saw last post, changing hands several times; captured by the Germans on 25th April, it was recaptured by French troops on the 26th, lost once more on the 29th, and retaken by the French on the 30th.  It’s easy to think that once the Germans called a halt to the Flanders part of their Spring Offensive, the Battle of the Lys, on 29th April, that the fighting in effect ceased.

Not a bit of it.

The fighting would continue throughout May & June, the hospice the scene of a fierce battle on 20th May, for example, although the village would remain in French hands.

And talking of the hospice, here we are outside the new building we saw in the background a few shots back.  The original Convent of St. Antoine is now long gone.  Founded in 1872 as a home for sick elderly folk and converted into an orphanage in 1896, after its total destruction during the war it was rebuilt here, slightly closer to the centre of the village, in 1927, and is now a home for ‘neglected children’.  How very Victorian.

The top left corner of the inset photo of the original hospice points to roughly where the buildings originally stood, with the grass pathway leading to Locre Hospice Cemetery just beyond the house (and not visible here) on the opposite side of the road.

Map overlaid with an aerial shot of the remains of the hospice buildings, both from May 1918, with Locrehof Farm and the ‘V’-shaped German front line that we saw a couple of posts ago (and mentioned at the start of this post) immediately beneath the photo.

Outside the present buildings there’s also one of these,…

…which I’m sure is highly significant in its own way but, on a closer look, is actually the stuff of nightmares.

A wrecked Loker after the war.

Our journey now continues, and indeed finishes, back down the road, and back past the cemetery entrance, because a left hand turn a couple of hundred yards further down the road takes us to both our penultimate and last stops, all wrapped up in a single post.

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8 Responses to Mont Kemmel Part Twenty – Locre Hospice Cemetery & Loker Hospice

  1. Alan says:

    Thank you very interesting

  2. Daisy in Melbourne Australia says:

    Brilliant Magicfings… totally brilliant.
    Thoroughly enjoyed reading the post.
    So very well done.
    Thank you!

    Daisy in Melbourne

  3. Nick kilner says:

    Great post M! Those two lumps of masonry are slightly curious, but presumably just decorative. I would think they are cast, given that presumably final finishing would only be done on faces once the piece had been completely rough cut. Out of pure curiosity, what’s the red item to the left of the left stone?
    The GRRF with the scribbling out is interesting too, suggestive of a original mass grave, which given the DOD of the casualties would be in keeping. I would hazard a guess that rather than being ‘lost’ they were exhumed but unable to be separately identified and so were likely reinterred as Unknowns. Another one for your ’are the numbers correct’ list 😉

    • Magicfingers says:

      I agree on the masonry – I noticed they looked cast. My ’are the numbers correct’ list is rapidly becoming a book……

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