The final part of this long tour of the Zillebeke area takes us to Larch Wood (Railway Cutting) Cemetery, some four hundred yards west of Hill 60, and the final resting place of many men who were killed in the almost continuous fighting that took place there.
This is not the most accessible of cemeteries, so Baldrick and I left the car across the road from the CWGC signpost and walked down the track the rest of the way.
It’s only a hundred yards or so, and as we walk, the cemetery comes into view in the dip alongside the railway.
The track ends at the railway, which we need to cross in order to reach the cemetery. With no train approaching, this view shows all three of the spoilheaps that I have mentioned before in previous posts about Hill 60; the hill itself is on the horizon to the left of the red light, the trees to the right of the same light are those growing on the Caterpillar, and the trees to the far right of the picture grow on the third spoilheap, known as the Dump. You can spot all three on the trench map below.
Above & below: Once across the track, the cemetery entrance is immediately on our right…
…although unusually, you will notice, the actual cemetery is still some way along the railway line…
…so we must walk a little further…
…before we enter the cemetery proper. The first headstones we see are those of Plot V; to the right, the headstones along the western cemetery boundary are all special memorials to men either known or believed to be buried somewhere in the cemetery. You will probably find the Cemetery Plan, courtesy of the CGWC, of use during our visit: Larch Wood (Railway Cutting) Cemetery Plan
Immediately to our left as we enter the cemetery, another row of special memorial headstones, again men known or believed to be buried here, lines the northern boundary wall. These are Special Memorials ‘A’ Nos 1 to 22, with Nos 23 & 24 facing the camera in the background.
Pictured two photos previously, these headstones along the western wall are Special Memorials ‘B’ Nos 9 (nearest camera) to 43…
…and to the left of the previous picture, still placed along the western wall, these are Special Memorials ‘B’ Nos 1 to 8.
When the cemetery was begun in April 1915 a small copse of larches stood here (check out the trench map), and it’s nice to see that a handful of larches, albeit of a different generation, stand here still. It’s difficult to ascertain how many burials had been made here by April 1918, when the German advance pushed the British back towards Ypres, but the cemetery was considerably enlarged after the end of the war with burials brought in from other Flanders battlefields and from numerous smaller cemeteries throughout much of Belgium. Quite why this cemetery was chosen, particularly bearing in mind its location and difficulty of access, I have yet to discover.
If you’re interested, these are the cemeteries from which men were brought, post-war, and re-interred here at Larch Wood: America Cross Roads German Cemetery, Wervicq; Bruges General Cemetery, St. Michel; Cortemarck German Cemetery, No.1; Eerneghem German Cemetery; Ghistelles Churchyard; Groenenberg German Cemetery, Zantvoorde; Handzaeme German Cemetery; Ichtegem German Cemetery; Leffinghe German Cemetery; Marckhove German Cemetery, Cortemarck; Oudenburg Churchyard; Tenbrielen Communal Cemetery German Extension; Thourout German Cemetery, No.2; Vladsloo German Cemetery; Warneton Sud-et-Bas German Cemetery; Wervicq Communal Cemetery and Extension; Wijnendaele German Cemetery, Thourout, and Zantvoorde German Cemetery (also known as De Voorstraat No.49).
Cross of Sacrifice. The cemetery now contains 856 burials and commemorations, of which 321 are unidentified and, as we have already seen, there are 82 special memorials to men known or believed to be buried here, as well as five memorials to men buried in German cemeteries whose graves were subsequently lost. We shall visit these five men later.
This panoramic view looks east across the cemetery from the Cross of Sacrifice (just out of picture to the right). The row of headstones stretching across the photo is Plot II Row J, and part of Plot III is visible to the left (see also photo below).
Many of the burials in Plot II Row J are men of the Dorsetshire Regiment who were holding the line at the foot of Hill 60 on 5th July 1915 when the Germans launched a sudden bombardment, demolishing much of the trench and leaving sixteen Dorset men dead. The body of Private Harry Woods, the centre headstone in the picture above, was found in eight pieces. Literally blown to bits. Tom Morgan’s excellent article about Hill 60 on his Hellfire Corner website notes that, despite their shock at losing so many of their comrades in such a short space of time, his friends ensured his remains were found and buried here alongside the other casualties of that desperate, yet sadly far from uncommon, day.
The views above look south east towards Hill 60 from Plot I at the southern end of the cemetery.
Here at the southern boundary the three wooded spoilheaps of, from left, Hill 60, the Caterpillar, and the Dump can be clearly seen on the horizon. Notice the small ridge that crosses the field directly ahead of us; this was where the entrance to the Berlin Sap, the tunnel that led to the two huge mines the British laid beneath Hill 60 and the Caterpillar that were detonated on 7th June 1917, once was. From here you get an idea of the length of the tunnel, some 1400 feet in total, and don’t forget that another gallery branched off nearer the hill towards the Caterpillar. The tunnellers used to joke that their tunnel would one day reach Berlin itself, hence the title ‘Berlin Sap’.
Northerly view from near the southern boundary of the cemetery looking towards the Stone of Remembrance, with some of the headstones of Plot I in the foreground.
Unknown graves in Plot I Row A (also visible to the right of the previous picture).
Looking south east along the headstones of Plot I Row A…
…and south across Plot I as the train thunders past on its way to Ieper (Ypres).
Setting sun over Plot I.
Westerly view across Plot I on the left, and Plot II on the right.
Plot II. Row J, with the Dorset men we visited earlier at the far end, is the sunlit row angled across the picture. Plot III is in the background.
Above & below: Headstones in Plot III.
Plot IV Rows B (left) & A (right), with special memorials along the wall in the background. The village of Zillebeke, and the squat tower of Zillebeke church, is visible in the distance. We shall visit what is often referred to as the Aristocrat’s Cemetery in the churchyard at a later date.
Above & below: The special memorial headstones visible in the previous photograph, with a Duhallow Block which records that the four men remembered directly behind were once buried in Wervicq (Wervik) Communal Cemetery but that their graves were later lost.
The single headstone to the right remembers Private W. H. Giles of the 16th Lancers who was killed in action and buried by the Germans at Groenenberg German Cemetery, Zantvoorde, but whose grave was also later lost.
The same Duhallow Block, Plot IV Row A, and Hill 60 just visible on the horizon to the far right.
Southerly view across Plot IV towards the Cross of Sacrifice and the railway beyond.
South easterly view from Plot IV.
Quite a number of the burials in Plot V, such as the unidentified officer nearest the camera, are of unknown soldiers.
Back where we started when we entered the cemetery; Special Memorials ‘A’ Nos 1 to 17…
…and in the background, Nos 18 to 22. The headstones to the right are Special Memorials ‘A’ Nos 23 to 42.
Last view looking down the length of the cemetery…
…before it’s time to head back towards the cemetery entrance.
Information plaque giving a brief outline of the war on the Western Front.
As we cross the railway line again, this time we look north west; you can clearly see the spires of Ieper (Ypres) beyond the trees to the left.
View looking south east, back towards Larch Wood Cemetery and Hill 60 in the centre distance, as we retrace our steps up the track towards the car. This track existed during the First World War (you can see it on the trench map), but I cannot imagine it was a particularly healthy place to be caught out in the open in those days.
Taken from the same spot as the previous photo, this view looks north west towards Ieper in the distance. The houses are on the outskirts of Zillebeke village, and the trees line the banks of Zillebeke Lake.
This view looks south west towards the area known as the Bluff, where a number of CWGC cemeteries that we have already visited (see A Tour of Zillebeke South) are sited, the nearest of which, Woods Cemetery, is within the trees on the horizon to the left of the photo.
Flanders’ icy fields.
Final view looking towards Hill 60…
…before we find ourselves back at the car.
Were we to drive just half a mile north west up the road from here, following the line of the railway, we would arrive at Railway Dugouts Burial Ground (Transport Farm), where the graves of many more men who were killed in the fighting around Hill 60 are to be found, and where we visited way back in Part Two of this tour of Zillebeke, a tour which is now at its end. Hope you enjoyed it.
Update 2018: Having revisited Hill 60 earlier this year, click here if you would like to find out more about what happened during April 1915 on Hill 60.
MJS you have surpassed yourself this time. Magnificent photos and captions.
Dare I say “The best yet”
Cheers from Down Under
Thanks Sid. You’re a gent. I do my best! Mind you, I was very lucky to be in Flanders that particular weekend, and the light that afternoon was so beautiful. It had started snowing late the previous afternoon under leaden skies (as you will see one of these fine days), but the next day…wow!
Thank You Sir for such beautiful photos and narration of a subject I’m most interested in. My great grandfather 2nd Lt Eric Brodrick is laid to rest at Larch Wood and I hope that one day I get to visit and pay my respects.
And thank you for your kind comments Fernando. Your Great Grandfather, Second Lieutenant Eric Brodrick of the Yorkshire Regiment, is buried in Plot IV Row B 11. There’s a picture of the row in one of the photos above. I hope you do manage to get out to pay your respects one of these days. You won’t regret it, I’m sure.
Thanks for pictures and information-have just returned from a visit to Larch Wood to see my relative and leave a cross he was Private Frank Clark of the 13th Glos (Forest of Dean ) reg which was a pioneer battalion so probably involved in the mining some where.
Dave, many apologies for not responding to your comment earlier; you nearly slipped through the net. Glad you found the site of use, and glad you found Private Clark as well. Next time I visit Larch Wood I too will pay my respects.
My Great Uncle was buried in Plot I, Row H. I’m wondering if you have any photos of this area?
Hi mel. I’ve checked and I’m afraid I don’t have any close-ups of Row H although it is visible in the background in a couple of the above pictures. Sorry.
Many thanks for showing these fantastic pictures of Larchwood Cemetery. My Great grandfather is buried there and i saw his headstone in one of your pictures. He is buried behind the Duhallow monument L.Brown of the Kings own Royal Lancasters. He was originally buried by the Germans in Wervik Cemetery and later re – interred at larch wood but his body was lost. I believe the cemetery was shelled at one point. I have a copy of the regimental diary of the night he was killed. 3rd April 1916 near Scottish wood. 16 were killed that night, he was posted as missing. Capt Adjutant E.L Barnes, 2lft C.A. Williams and Capt C.E.R. Bridson were the officers killed that night. The next night they were relieved by Canadians. Ironic because i live in Canada now.
Hello Phil! Thanks for your kind comments. I was a lucky boy that day weather-wise. And thanks for your Great Grandfathers’ story. I actually know Wervik (in German hands for most of the war of course) quite well and have recently found some trench maps of the area. It always strikes me as curious that men were brought from as far away as places like Wervik to be reinterred at cemeteries such as Larch Wood, particularly as there are many British military cemeteries much nearer to Wervik. Zantvoorde British Cemetery, for example, is much nearer Wervik and is a post-war cemetery – why were they not reburied there? I guess we’ll never know.
Hi Magicfingers, fantastic piece, however so much has changed now at Hill 60 and at the Catterpiller that I fear your photos are now no longer representative of the area. Are you thinking of revisiting any day soon.
The two French freedom fighters were executed (or shot whist trying to escape), whilst the train was stationary at Hill 60; a usual stop to have a second locomotive attached to give the traction required for the final part of the journey.
Hello Fearless. Funny you should say that. Watch this space!! And thanks for the kind words.
We visited here a few weeks ago, in 34 degree heat !
Paid our respects to all the men of course but made a special point to visit the grave of Private Harry Woods, whose horrible fate you describe so well. In case anyone is interested that incident and many others at Hill 60 and other locations is described in “A Sergeant-Majors War” which is a collection of the diaries kept by Sergeant-Major Ernest Shepherd of 1st Dorset’s (and later 5th Dorset’s). Its an old book now but worth picking up if you can find it.
We read extract’s of it while sat at the locations of trenches 38 and 39 at Hill 60 where he vividly described what happened on that very spot day after day.
Later we did the same on the slope between Authuille Wood and Leipzig Redoubt where described his experience on the first day of the Somme and the carnage and near misses he suffered there. Subsequently we tracked down the location where he was killed in January 1917 outside Beaucourt Sur L’Ancre having recently been promoted to 2nd Lieutenant. Finally we visited his grave at AIF Cemetery Flers where we placed a small wooden cross in remembrance of him and I must admit having heard his voice when I read what he went through at the locations we visited and getting a real sense of his courage and character, I shed a tear or two at that moment.
Sorry for the ramble but history suddenly became very and real and strangely personal for me having followed the footsteps of Ernest. we really must remember them all.
No apologies please. Rambling – and this was hardly a ramble, let’s be fair – is perfectly acceptable, indeed essential. Very interesting and much appreciated. I have a copy of ‘A Sergeant-Majors War’ and have read it three times, I think, if that’s a recommendation. Glad you went to Shepherd’s grave. I ought to do so one day.
Thanks MF, it’s amazing he managed to write a diary like that in those conditions and it really is a window into his and other men’s experiences in the trenches.
AIF Flers is a an odd place for him to end up as he was moved after the War by quite a distance from where he fell really. From memory I think around 25 men of his Company were lost that day but as far as I could tell there were only about half a dozen or so buried in a line at AIF alongside Shepherd. Did make me wonder where the rest were..
There are forty two men of the 5th Bn. Dorsets, all killed on 11th January 1917, whose names are on the Thiepval Memorial, Jon. I think that answers your wondering. Shephard was only identified himself on exhumation – originally he was listed as unknown – by a gold ring with E.A.S. on it. And there are quite a few unknown men buried in the same row as Shephard – what is the betting that some of them, likely all, are among the names on the Menin Gate? Interesting stuff, eh? All because of your rambling. Which we have established wasn’t.
I hadn’t realised they only identified him later thanks to the ring, very glad they did !
Many thanks for that and the rest of the information too – certainly brings home what a disastrous day that was for the 5th Dorsets, from what I have read so far sounds like it was a badly under strength attack that had been requested be put off but the powers that be insisted it went on. The initial attack seems to have succeeded but they were swamped by the inevitable German counter attack. Having stood at the site (a very unremarkable muddy set of fields) one can only begin to imagine what occurred there and the fear and horror of it all, like so many other countless known and unknown disasters in the War.
From memory that attack was just two Companies strong. when the British tried again a little while later they used something like three Battalions…
I hadn’t expected that visiting his grave would be such an emotional experience, but I am glad I went there.
Concentration of Graves forms sometimes give such info so I thought I’d check – and on this occasion he is clearly marked as an unknown soldier, later changed because of the ring. I really must pay him a visit.
Hi MF – bit of a late revisit to this discussion, it just occurred to me the other day whether the records you have access to that mentioned the identifying ring also states the original burial location at all ? Just trying to satisfy my curiosity on the subject…
Indeed it does: 57d. R1. d.0.6*. He was found with another, unknown, Dorset Regt man. I might well try and get back to Larch Wood on my next trip for some non-snowy pics.
*I think it’s a six – difficult to read.
Many thanks MF – forgive my ignorance but is there a handy online resource where I can locate that reference ? I recognise the form of it just need to find somewhere to view it…
When we were at Larch Wood all the roses were in full bloom and it was quite a picture. Mind you it was also 34 degrees C and we had walked from Lille Gate to Bedford House, up onto the Bluffs, then Hill 60, then Larch Wood before returning to the Bluffs, down to the Canal and then back to Ypres.
Mad dogs and Englishmen !
Actually have just found somewhere where I could search for the map and the 57D R1 puts him exactly where we walked around last year. Not enough detail for d.0.6 element though. How does that part work ?
57D R1 D.0.6. Okay, the square R1 is divided into four smaller squares. These are A, top left, B, top right, C, bottom left and D, bottom right, and we are in smaller square D, bottom right. These smaller squares are also divided, this time into a hundred tiny squares, and the last two numbers (0.6) refer to this; you read it by going along the horizontal axis at the bottom of the square from left to right, and then vertically. Thus our 0.6 is no squares along the horizontal axis, and six squares up the vertical axis. Lmk if that makes any sense.
Yes that makes perfect sense , many thanks MF. I will check where that puts the original burial site – possibly not quite where I was expecting it given the events of that day. Intriguing !
Thanks for the info on Larch Wood cwgc, I have visited the site a few times over the past 5 years because of the associated history re the underground bunkers and Berlin tunnel etc I find it a fascinating and peaceful place. The playwright Allen Bennet has a relation with a headstone ‘Known to be buried’ within the cemetery. I was interested to note that you parked opposite the track, as the lane is on a bend I’ve always quickly turned off the main road and parked on that bit just past the cemetery entrance, however it has caused some anxiety with the wheels slipping and sliding on the mud unless it’s high summer ! On my next visit I will be checking out the parking area that you sensibly used.
Sorry for the late reply Peter. Thanks for your comment; actually, I really need to return in the summer, for some non-snowy pictures. Or maybe even on a trip I am going on shortly…….