This post is designed to be read as part of the ‘Tour of Ploegsteert Wood’, so if you are reading it as a stand-alone post I suggest you disregard all references to the ‘Tour’, as they will make no sense. Alternatively, just read the whole ‘Tour’ anyway. Which does make sense. Anyway, before we visit the Ploegsteert Memorial I suggest a short detour. We are standing at what was once known as Hyde Park Corner, with the road from Mesen (Messines), down which we have just come, in the background, and the Memorial itself a few hundred yards behind us. This CWGC sign points us down a side road that briefly wends its way through the Bois de la Hutte, as the the wood to the west of the Mesen-Ploegsteert road is called, before emerging on the far side where we will find Underhill Farm Cemetery, once a burial ground for dressing stations that occupied two buildings situated nearby.
Map from December 1917 showing part of Ploegsteert Wood in the bottom right, with the signposts at Hyde Park Corner marked in blue, Red Lodge (later) in red, and Underhill Farm Cemetery in green.
First view of Underhill Farm,…
…and the cemetery entrance.
The cemetery was begun in the days leading up to the start of the Battle of Messines in June 1917,…
…and, unsurprisingly, we will encounter more men here whose headstones are inscribed with a date we have seen too many times before on this tour; 7th June 1917.
The cemetery continued in use until January 1918, before being occupied, although not used, by the Germans during the spring and summer. It was then used again by the British during September and October. Underhill Farm is essentially made up of just four long rows of headstones, punctuated by gaps; this view, with Row A nearest the camera, looks north east from near the Cross of Sacrifice. The building in the background is on the site of the original Underhill Farm where one of the dressing stations mentioned previously was situated. The cemetery plan, courtesy of those kind people at the CWGC, can be viewed here: Underhill Farm Cemetery Plan.
Visible in the background of the previous photograph, these special memorial headstones are to two Yorkshiremen killed in mid-October 1918 and who are, “Believed to be buried in this cemetery”, and three Australian casualties from January 1918, all three “Known to be buried in this cemetery”.
Another January 1918 Australian casualty.
Of the 190 casualties buried or commemorated here, 39 are New Zealanders, and you will notice a number of Maori names inscribed on some of the headstones pictured. After the Battle of Messines, the New Zealand Pioneer Battalion, to whom the Maoris belonged, were involved in constructing communication trenches from the newly captured Messines Ridge to the front line, during which time they suffered more than 150 casualties, with 17 men killed. Interestingly, by August 1917 sufficient Maori replacements had arrived for the battalion to be re-named the New Zealand (Maori) Pioneer Battalion. On a pedantic note, the Maori headstones should really be inscribed with ‘New Zealand Pioneer Battalion’ or ‘New Zealand (Maori) Pioneer Battalion’, but who’s counting? “E nga rau e rima”.
More New Zealanders, all killed at the very beginning of the battle. The New Zealand Division had taken over this sector, as far north as Wulvergem, prior to the battle, and had set up Advanced Dressing Stations both here and a mile away at Kandahar Farm; you can find our visit to the cemetery they left behind there by clicking here.
And yet more New Zealanders, flanking a British artillery serjeant, with, on the right, the only Canadian buried here.
Looking west from near the Cross of Sacrifice.
Above & below: Two decorated soldiers in Row A.
Corporal Francis Vercoe won a D.C.M. for gallantry near Ypres in January 1915, and just a couple of months later received a Dated Bar for rescuing a seriously injured officer despite being wounded himself, an action later depicted in the publication “Deeds That Thrill the Empire” (inset below). Less than five hundred Bars were awarded to the D.C.M. in the Great War, and apparently, only eighty of them were ‘Dated Bars’. Francis Vercoe was killed by a shell on 4th June 1917 whilst sitting reading outside his dugout. He was 28.
Headstones at the start of Row D in the western corner of the cemetery. You may have noticed by now that, like the cemeteries we visited earlier within Ploegsteert Wood itself, Underhill Farm is another cemetery enclosed by a simple wire mesh fence (yes, I know, and a hedge too). Personally, I’m unsure about the almost temporary feel that the fence gives this particular cemetery, and it strikes me that it would feel somewhat different were it surrounded by the usual brick wall. Discuss.
Continuing along Row D. The seventh headstone from the left…
…is that of Private Frank Brotherton, East Yorkshire Regiment, who died on 29th September 1918, aged 29. The little note left at the base of his headstone begins “Great Uncle Frank. We found you after 90 years” (see also the comments section at the end of the post).
Looking roughly east down the length of the cemetery.,…
…south east towards the Cross of Sacrifice and cemetery entrance,…
…and a final, north easterly view, looking towards the Bois de la Hutte in the background. The modern farm building, as mentioned,…
…is located on the site of the original Underhill Farm.
Just along the road from the cemetery, a CWGC information board is worth perusing (click to enlarge, of course) as not only is the information about Underhill Farm of interest, but we shall also be visiting the Rosenberg Chateau Plots at Berks Cemetery Extension in the next part of this tour. And unless you’ve read the text on the board you now have no idea what I’m talking about. Although, of course, being an erudite lot, many of you will probably know all about them anyway.
A few hundred yards up the road we come to Red Lodge, the site of the second dressing station mentioned earlier. Baldrick’s car is parked in approximately the same position as the wagons in the top left photo on the CWGC information board which, at my excellent suggestion, you have just been perusing.
Abandoned once again at the time of my visit, you’ll find an update in the comments at the end of the post – I believe you can now stay in the Red Lodge B&B.
Continuing our journey back towards Hyde Park Corner to rejoin the main road, there’s one more brief stop we need to make. Something of interest lurks within the trees. If we can find it, that is. Not being in the habit of giving up easily, after a bit of wandering up and down the road and subsequent crashing about in the undergrowth, eventually we do:
This concrete structure gives little away as to its function, although I have seen it referred to as the entrance to what were known as the Catacombs. Much of the Bois de la Hutte stands on a hill (Hill 63 on trench maps) beneath which were constructed, initially by Australian tunnellers beginning in August 1916, vast tunnels large enough to accommodate two battalions in relative comfort. There were separate cubicles for officers, room for stores, and double tiers of bunks throughout; I have read reports stating that, during the winter of 1917-1918, this was the only place in the area where ‘there was a chance to feel warm in bed’. Well, this structure is certainly not the main entrance to the Catacombs, which was much nearer Hyde Park Corner,…
…and once inside, it is clearly not the entrance to anything.
So what was it for? It took a while to discover the real reason for its existence,…
…which was actually to house the electricity generator for the Hill 63 dugouts and the Catacombs, hence these steel beams to give added strength to the roof,…
…and the massively protected western end, the end facing the German guns – in fact you can see in the foreground above & background below how much thicker the concrete is…
…compared to here at the entrance. This end was left open, initially because it would have been impossible to install the equipment otherwise, and subsequently to allow operation and maintenance to take place in conditions that would have been impossible in a totally enclosed space.
A quick fag in the bushes. We can see you Balders, we can see you.
Just before we leave, it’s worth noting that not only were tunnellers working beneath ground, but engineers were building dugouts to house officers and men above ground as well.
These were constructed using semi-cylindrical sheets of corrugated iron known as ‘Large English Elephant’ (but often referred to these days as Elephant Iron), covered with spoil from the excavations below ground for extra protection.
And if you look carefully, evidence can still be found among the trees and bushes that once again cover this now-peaceful hillside (above & below).
Winter sunset at Red Lodge.
Hauntingly eerie at night,…
…there are ghosts here.
All of which brings us to the end of our detour.
A short drive will take us back to Hyde Park Corner, the Ploegsteert Memorial, and its adjacent cemeteries, as our tour continues with: A Tour of Ploegsteert Wood Part Seven.
Many thanks for including our relative Frank Brotherton in this piece; it was lovely to see. Just to note that he was from the East Yorkshire Regiment and not the Scottish fusiliers. Many thanks. Elaine
Elaine, as you will have gathered I was most touched by the note you left for Great Uncle Frank; I visit a lot of CWGC cemeteries on my travels, and little things like that are reminders, should we need them, that these were real men with real lives and real loved ones. And I apologise for being a complete buffoon!! I have corrected his regiment, and much appreciate you pointing out my error.
Hi There I have been looking for the grave of my great uncle 2882 Private John William Barker Elshaw of the 48th Battalion australian army. He was fatally wounded on the 1st of July 1917 in ploegsteert wood and we think buried at Underhill cemetery, so all the reports say but I am having trouble finding any record. Please can you help. Cheers Debbie Smith.
Hello Debbie, There is a tour planned of Underhill Farm Cemetery in May this year. I can visit your great uncle Private John William Barker Elshaw’s grave on your behalf whilst I’m there. His address was a Perth one. I am also from Perth so I thought I could do that whilst I’m there visiting the grave of my 1C1R Victor James Mocatti, also of the 48th Battalion who was killed on 15 July 1917.
Regards, Tricia Engler
Hi Debbie. Of course I can help! Your great uncle is most certainly buried in this cemetery. His Plot number is C 19, and you can see his headstone in one of the above pictures (trust me, on my original you can just make out the inscription on the headstone which actually says J. W. Barker Elshaw). Find the photo (fourth from the top) that has the headstones of Dobbie, Bartlett & Wyatt. Two rows behind Bartlett’s headstone is an Australian headstone that you can see all of, with a plant to the left as you look at the picture of which just one spikey leaf curves in front of the headstone. That is your great uncle’s headstone. The CWGC website says the following: Native of England. Son of John Arthur Elshaw and Emma Elshaw, of 43, Mackie St., Victoria Park, West Australia.
I have enjoyed reading about this sector – I have a relative buried in La Plus Douve – A Sutherland KING- we have visited on more than one occasion – I know he was billeted in Red Lodge and hope you would have no objection to my local heritage society – Clyne Parish Brora Village in Sutherland Scotland using your modern photos of the billet? If you agree can you give me an exact name of how you would like to be acknowledged – many thanks indeed
Well I’m glad you enjoyed this section of the site Morag, and absolutely no objection from me with regard to you using some of the pics. I would be interested to know whether you are talking about online or in a book or leaflet. Either way, Magicfingers at ‘With the British Army in Flanders’, and a link to/address of the site will do fine. Lmk if you need any help.
My grand uncle was buried at red lodge near what I thought was hill 53 but maybe it was 63. He was in 25th battalion and was shot in the head on the 10/01/18 at 20yrs of age. He has a headstone William John robert Williams at Underhill farm. He was a scout. We have no pictures of him though 🙁
That’s a shame, but he is clearly not forgotten. I wonder whether there is a picture of him in his local paper circa January 1918?
I hope you don’t mind but I’ve linked to one of your excellent photos in a post on my blog about my Great Great Uncle Frank, who fought with the Dorsets around Point 63 in November 1914. Red Lodge appears to be the location of 1st Bn Dorsets’ HQ from 13th November 1914.
No problem at all Jonathan. I read the entry in your blog; most interesting. Love the ‘headmaster’ photo. The cemetery that was moved was at Rosenberg Chateau. You will find some photos of the Rosenberg Chateau Plots at Berks Cemetery Extension elsewhere on this site, if you haven’t already.
Aah, righto. I’ve added a comment on my post with that correction, Thanks again.
Hi I found your website, and found it very interesting, My Great uncle is buried here. His name is Robert Walmsley, and was killed in the woods. He was awarded the Military Medal.
A brave man, by the sound of it, Simon. Glad you enjoyed this post.
Hi, Ive enjoyed reading your site. My Great Grandfather was rescued by David Crawley whilst under fire an enemy shell bombed their barracks at Red Lodge. As David was awarded a medal for bravery this tells us alittle about their plight and gave me a clue on where to search. Thanks for the photos.
Hi Lisa. Your Great Grandfather was a lucky man! Glad you’ve enjoyed the site as well. Thanks for taking the time to comment.
Hi there (and hi to Lisa) – I am David Crawley’s grandson (named after him) – it has been wonderful to be taken on this guided tour, including the site of Red Lodge.
David Crawley (Auckland, NZ)
Hello David. Glad you found my site, and glad you enyoyed the tour. Thanks ever so much for commenting.
Hi there (and hi Lisa)
I am the grandson of the David Crawley Lisa mentions, and was named after him. How wonderful to have the chance to tour the site and to see where the events at Red Lodge took place.
The Western Front is a reminder of the imperishable ties between Australia and the UK. There is little memory of the 36th (Australian) Heavy Artillery Group that fought as part of the British Royal Garrison Artillery for most of the war. It was the first Australian fighting unit in France (Mar 1916). My late father was a gunner in the 55th Siege Battery (RGA numbering). 55SB spent a large part of the war in the regions around Arras and Ypres firing 9.2″ howitzers. They were at Ploegstreet for much of 1917. It is a tragedy that we have allowed politicians to turn Australians into foreigners in modern Britain.
Oh yes. Well said Ian. And I don’t think I knew about the 36th, although perhaps that’s just my memory! Is there anything published that would tell me more? I wonder if their War Diary is available? If I had the time I’d explore more.
Ah well, on to the Ashes….
Ashes, Smashes. I fear television and sponsorship is increasingly hostile to the sportsmanship of the greatest game. However, that’s a jaded opinion from a dreary old antipodean who really doesn’t think that all that is old is best. No emails and no digital material in them days.
I am currently developing a database that focuses on the 36HAG and 55 SB in particular. It will include War Diaries from both, with odd references to 54SB that fired 8″ howitzers. 36HAG, being part of general British heavy artillery, sometimes had no Australian units at all. Other times it had a mix of British and Australian batteries.
I hope to have the database finished before the end of the year, with lots of maps and pix to try and bring more undestanding to the diaries. All wars are horrible things but WWI was particularly awful as thousands of men on both sides lived and many died in appalling conditions just to gain a momentary territorial gain. As I believe Haig declared, it was his war aim to kill more of them so that they would give up. A lot of very ordinary people paid a terrible price for that kind of thinking. Now we see it all again in Iraq/Syria.
Sounds like a worthwhile project to me Ian. I’d be interested to hear more once it’s complete.
la maison étais la maison de mes grand parent de 1964 a 2009 famille dezeure
C’est très intéressant. Ces photos ont été prises en 2010.
My grandfather Frank Larmour was here with 13 Battn Royal Irish Rifles in August 2016. I’m following the battalion’s movements every day using the WO war diaries and plan to get to Ypres in 1917 to be there for the 100th anniversary of the day he was wounded. This is a really interesting site, thanks for sharing.
Hello Christina. That will be a worthwhile trip I am sure. Thanks for your kind comments.
Hello again! The trip to Ypres was just great, sobering and harrowing but also interesting and very fulfilling for us. The reason for this post is to let you know that Red Lodge has been bought by a Belgian girl called Sabrina and her small family and they have renovated it considerably. She told me she is working on making the ground floor of the house into an airbnb property for bed and breakfast – so might be worth keeping an eye on it this autumn. She was delighted that we had a connection with her house and knew something about its history, she’s very friendly and has excellent English. And as for me, I was thrilled to be somewhere where my grandpa would have had a little respite.
Hello Christina. Long time! Thanks very much indeed for the Red Lodge update. Sabrina is likely to get a visitor one of these days!
Hello Magicfingers, I enjoyed your tour. Victor James Mocatti of the 48th Battalion is buried at Underhill Farm Cemetery. He is my first cousin once removed. I’ve recently started researching his records as part of an online family history assignment and that is how I discovered that he is buried at Underhill Farm Cemetery. Victor was killed on 15 July 1917. A visit to Underhill Farm Cemetery will be undertaken when we next go to the U.K. I am only sorry that it won’t be for the 100th anniversary of his death.
Hello Patricia. I’m very pleased you enjoyed the tour, and thank you for taking the time to comment. I like the Ploegsteert area a lot, and there is so much to see! Enjoy your trip to Underhill Farm when it eventually happens; I don’t think your first cousin once removed will mind you missing the 100th and anyway, Flanders will be a less busy place once the 100 year celebrations are over.
My 2nd Great Grand Uncle Victor Stanley JONES, 28th Australian Infantry is buried in this cemetery in Plot C37. Thank you so much for your detailed post and the photos. I hope to one day visit but in the meantime am grateful to be able to see his resting place, I am sure I can make out his headstone from the maps and your photos and that will have to satisfy me for now. He died on Christmas Day 1917 from injuries.
Hello Karen. Thank you for taking the trouble to comment, and I’m glad you enjoyed this post. Private Jones’s headstone is certainly visible in the fifth photo – not sure about any others. If you do get the chance to visit, the whole Ploegsteert area is fascinating from a Great War point of view, but I’m glad I could be of help in the meantime.
I’m paying a visit to my grandfathers ,step father frank brotherton to pay our respects as we only recently found out there was a grave to visit .
Thanks for commenting Helen. I’m sure it will be a very rewarding trip.
The red lodge is not abandoned anymore, I live there since 7years and restored the building :)!
Hello Sabrina. Very good to hear from you. I had been told that you had renovated the house by a lady called Christina who told me last year:
“Hello again! The reason for this post is to let you know that Red Lodge has been bought by a Belgian girl called Sabrina and her small family and they have renovated it considerably. She told me she is working on making the ground floor of the house into an airbnb property for bed and breakfast – so might be worth keeping an eye on it this autumn. She was delighted that we had a connection with her house and knew something about its history, she’s very friendly and has excellent English.”
I think your house is wonderful and I am so pleased that it is no longer empty. I am also very jealous. What a wonderful place to live! Thank you so much for commenting.
This is brilliant! I can’t tell you how much it meant to me to find the house and see Sabrina and her family investing time and effort into making it into their home. Red Lodge was mentioned over and over again in the war diaries, my grandfather would have been there many times. Thanks!
Oh crikey. I am sorry for mis-spelling you Christina! Have corrected. I do hope Sabrina comes back because I want to find out what is happening this Sunday at the Ploegsteert Memorial as I’d quite like to be there, and she might know.
Don’t worry about it!:)
But do let us know if you get to Ploegsteert at the weekend, and if you do, post plenty of photographs please!
All the best.
Hello ChristinA!! Got it right this time. Never got close to Ploegsteert – well, drove past on the Armetieres road – on this trip. But I will return to Red Lodge one day and I will let you (all) know when I do. But still plenty of other fascinating places visited on this trip, although I was not as lucky as usual with the weather.