Five hundred yards as the crow flies north east of Ration Farm Military Cemetery, our next stop finds us at Desplanque Farm Cemetery.
By which time the weather really had turned most unpleasant. These photos may not show it but believe me, it was nasty. Sleeting at times. And cold.
In situations like this, Baldrick and yours truly fall back on a basic premise; if the soldiers had to deal with these conditions day after day with no respite, we could deal with a few hours, interspersed by copious use of the heater in the car, and with the guarantee of a warm home to return to at the end of the trip.
May I quote you from the CWGC website:
“This cemetery has been subject to persistent serious flooding. As a temporary measure to facilitate access we have had to put down gravel but in winter months and when it rains the track leading to the cemetery is often inaccessible. We apologise for this unacceptable situation, which we and the French authorities are seeking to resolve.”
Perhaps we were lucky.
Desplanque Farm Cemetery is sited a couple of hundred yards south of La Chapelle-d’Armentières. The village, as it was then, was in British hands from October 1914 until the Germans took Armentières in early April 1918, but its proximity to the front lines throughout that time is evident by the many cemeteries to be found in the immediate area.
Thanks to the CWGC, the cemetery plan can be viewed here.
Shooting into the rain, as it always is, was difficult, but it does give you some idea of the conditions we were encountering at this point…
…as do these two photographs. Sorry and all that. Desplanque Farm Cemetery was begun during the early days of trench warfare in October 1914, and was used until June 1916, the cemetery serving the dressing station that had been set up in the nearby farm.
Cross of Sacrifice.
The cemetery consists of just four rows of headstones, 55 burials in all, of which only two are unidentified…
…both visible in the photo above. The burials here include a handful of Australians, all killed in the summer of 1916 (above & below).
More than fifteen regiments are represented among the headstones here. The men of the North Staffordshire Regiment nearest the camera in Row A (above) are all casualties from October & November 1914. Five of the headstones in the rows behind can be seen to bear the emblem of The Buffs (East Kent Regiment).
Row A again, this time from the southern corner of the cemetery. In 1916, after the dressing station was presumably moved elsewhere and the cemetery closed down, the farm was used as a British observation post.
Architecturally, as you will have noticed, this is an unusual cemetery, with its low rubble walls on just three sides.
As we leave, it occurs to me that, so far, we have met precisely no one on our travels today. Can’t blame folk really, but there is something special, if that’s the right word, about visiting these sometimes lonely places in conditions like this.
Nonetheless, Desplanque Farm is another cemetery I’d like to return to on a warm summer’s day. Despite the weather, as you may have gathered, I like this little place.
Back in the car, and some brief relief from the conditions outside. Thank heavens for Mrs B. Our next stop will find us at X Farm Cemetery. And you think this was the worst of the weather? Think again.
Brrrrrr !! As you say, it touches on the conditions our soldiers endured without a modern car heater and warm bed at night. Another wonderful insight thank you MJS
Cheers Sid! Honestly, when we do have lousy weather on our trips, it does sometimes beggar belief how the soldiers not only survived but actually fought in such dreadful conditions. Not so sure I could do it, I must say.
And thus my wish to acquire an ADV motorcycle before my much delayed trip to the battlefields. With tires that resemble a tractor’s. The farm tracks west of Courcelette and north of Mouquet Farm that surround the place my great uncle Arthur fell would look similar after a rain.
Undoubtedly they would John.
Much delayed, or getting closer?
Probably the best ham & cheese sandwich I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating (save for the one we had in a Dixmude bistro after a long day on the road, if you remember MF!)…
I most certainly do, Balders old man. At least at Dixmuide we had good weather. And we were in a bistro! But as you rightly say, it had been a very long day.
My grandfather William Henry Truscott K.R. Rifle Corps is buried there B5. He was killed just a few months before my father was born, so he never knew him. I have the notification of his death from the War Office. However, aged 87 my own father found out where he was buried, and too ill to go himself, I went and visited the grave. As you found, I too was up to my ankles in mud that day, but whilst sitting contemplating the cemetery, a WGC Gardener pootled up in a van…to lay turf! (In fact, the pond in front of cemetery was seething with frogs. The next time I visited it the pond had been filled in). He said that I could go and buy a rose to plant there and he would look after it for me. I did this, and underneath the rose I placed a box containing a lock of my hair and the info about my father. It was very moving…even more so for my Dad whenI came home and showed him the photos. and the pressed red rose. It is a beautiful place, and even more poignant because of its small size. I came across your website, and so thank you for visiting it and I am so pleased that you loved it too.
Thanks so much for spending the time to tell us about your Desplanque Farm experience Christina. As you know, I loved the place, and it’s wonderful to know I’m not the only one! I think the rose and lock of hair was a lovely idea too. I shall return there one day.
This is very interesting – I suspect Christina may be related to our famous Australian WW2 fighter ace pilot Keith William “Bluey” Truscott DFC & Bar (his father also was named William). It seems just too coincidental that Christina’s grandfather’s name was also William.
Bluey Truscott’s biography is well available via Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keith_Truscott and other articles – so I won’t go into full details here. Just Google Bluey Truscott. He flew Spitfires out of England and accounted for at least 16 Luftwaffe aircraft. A WW2 airfield in the northern Kimberley region of Western Australia is named after Bluey (it still exists albeit now a private airfield). Bluey was tragically killed in an accidental Kittyhawk crash into the ocean on 28th March 1943 age 26. He is buried in Perth’s Karrakatta Cemetery
Shortly after WW2 my late brother-in-law drove an LCM25 Landing Barge on five day trips between Darwin and Truscott Airfield salvaging war materials. Therein is another story of an epic overland walk for eight days in inhospitable country when the engines in his LCM failed
It would indeed be wonderful if Christina does have a connection.
We shall have to wait and hope, Sid. I’ve heard of Bluey Truscott, but I know a bit more now thanks to your good self.
Again your cemetery pilgrimage with its excellent photographs fills in the gaps in our own pilgrimage. We visited Desplanque Farm in July 2012 and the first observation was that the cemetery track was closed off by a loose fitting wire fence which had been pulled across, which I ended up climbing over the post. having driven past it many times since, the local farmer still has a tendency to forget that he is the proud recipient of a CWGC burial ground!
From several other burial grounds on the Rue Du Bois (Neuve Chapelle – Fleurbaix road) I notice many of these early 1914 burial grounds also closed; some 1915 and some 1916. When I studied the trench maps of the period it was apparent that the British second line “swamped” these burial grounds. At Despalanque the Bois Grenier line is apparent from December 1916 – the earliest trench map I have for this sector – but probably established shortly after the last burial.
Very nice email from Christina; seems to make all the work worthwhile!
Glad to hear it Stephen, and thank you. Always like to hear it when stuff on the site dovetails with you guys’ experiences. The dates of closure of these cemeteries is interesting, and of course meant that distances that had to be covered to bury front-line casualties increased. I don’t know how far you travelled in the area, but we visited the cemeteries between Laventie & La Gorgue a few months ago, so our tours of French Flanders will continue in due course. And yes, mails like Christina’s do indeed make it worth while.