A Tour of Boesinghe Part Eight – Boesinghe War Memorial & Churchyard

St. Michael’s Church, totally rebuilt since the Great War, of course, stands in the centre of Boesinghe, the village war memorial in the foreground.

The memorial remembers the men and women of the village who gave their lives in two World Wars,…

…the names on the front,…

…and the first seven on this side, all military casualties of the Great War.

An unusual and effective design, to my mind, and as we look at the names on the other faces of the memorial, many of whom are non-combatants,…

…I think at this point on our tour we should consider, and reflect on, the fate of the civilian population of villages like Boesinghe when the Great War came calling.

Within days of the outbreak of war refugees began to leave the towns and villages of east Belgium, crossing the country by any means they could find, but mostly on foot, the first wave arriving in the villages around Ypres a month later.

As the Germans advanced across the country some refugees moved yet further west, but the numbers of those who stayed in villages such as Boesinghe, believing that they were far enough away from the fighting to be safe, were soon swelled as more refugees from the north east, terrified as tales of German atrocities on the civilian population in Roulers (now Roeselare), just twelve miles north east of Ypres, reached them, began to arrive.

The population of the villages rose dramatically in weeks or even days, resulting in terrible pressure on local amenities, many of which were rudimentary, I think it’s fair to say, at the time.

After Boesinghe received its first heavy shelling during the First Battle of Ypres, many of the regular population became refugees themselves, packing what possessions they could carry and joining the throng moving west, but some stayed, despite the front lines eventually settling down just a few miles to the east.  Village life, of sorts, continued, despite the shellfire, and civilians, perhaps a farmer still toiling in the fields hit by a stray shell, lost their lives.

But on 22nd April 1915 the gas came, and there is no doubt that many more civilians, particularly those who had remained in the hamlets on the east side of the canal, died.

As the line was stabilised, the British & French evacuated all remaining civilians (most had fled by this time), and from then the village of Boesinghe, and all others in the Salient, was the province of initially French, and before long British, troops and, like all the other villages, would be utterly destroyed long before the end of the war.

But spare a thought for the civilians, born in these once-peaceful Flanders villages, some of whom, in April 1915, died a lonely, asphyxiating, dreadful death when the yellow cloud swept through their homes and took the breath from their lungs.

Heavy stuff.

Anyway, with due respect, we move on.  If you ever visit Boesinghe, don’t forget to visit the far southern corner of the churchyard where,…

…and easily missed if you are unaware of its existence,…

…a row of CWGC headstones…

…marks the graves of fourteen British soldiers killed during the retreat to the Channel Coast in May 1940, the corporal at this end of the row sadly unidentified.

Among the other thirteen graves are six men of the Royal Irish Rifles and four from the Royal Berkshire Regiment.  At the far end of the row, after a small gap,…

…and becoming submerged by autumn leaves (we’ll clean him up a bit),…

…is a single Great War casualty, Captain Edward Frederick Maltby Urquhart of the Black Watch, a veteran of the South African War, who was killed on 23rd October 1914, aged 37.  The Battle of Langemarck, one of the series of encounters collectively known as the First Battle of Ypres, took place between 21st & 24th October 1914.  To the north of the battlefield, the Black Watch were dug in on a line along the road north west of Langemarck, about three miles east and slightly north of Boesinghe, across the canal, with the Cameronians, and then French cavalry, to their left.  Unfortunately, in these days before proper trenches, the French cavalrymen had no entrenching tools with which to dig, and when the Germans attacked on 22nd October they were driven from their positions, exposing the Cameronians who were forced out of their rudimentary trenches.  Serious fighting continued throughout the day and into the next, as the men of the Black Watch attempted to restore the situation, eventually stabilising the line on the Langemarck-Steenbeck road by nightfall on 23rd October before being relieved by French troops the following day, after which the French took over responsibility for the whole Ypres Salient, as far south as Wytschaete, for the next few months.

Two Black Watch officers were killed during the fighting, and the bodies of both were brought back to Boesinghe churchyard to be buried.  As the Graves Registration Report Form shows, the second casualty, Lieutenant Charles Lindsay Claude Bowes-Lyon, was later exhumed and reburied in New Irish Farm Cemetery.  And of course the name Bowes-Lyon is already resonating among the Royalists among you, in that the Late Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, mother of the current Queen, was born Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon.  Charles was a cousin, one of less than 500 survivors out of nearly 1500 on board the ocean liner Empress of Ireland when it sank following a collision with a collier in thick fog on the Saint Lawrence River in May 1914.

It would be a short reprieve.  He had just turned 29 when he arrived at the front on 27th September 1914, and had already been slightly wounded twice in the month before he was killed.  The Queen Mother’s older brother, Captain Fergus Bowes-Lyon, would be killed in the fighting at the Hohenzollern Redoubt during the Battle of Loos on 27th September 1915.

Presumably the Urquhart family had their own reasons for wishing Edward’s body to remain here in the churchyard, as opposed to, like Charles Bowes-Lyon, later being exhumed and reburied in one of the British military cemeteries.  I suspect these Second World War casualties were buried here precisely because of the presence of a Great War burial already in the churchyard.

Now at this point, as we leave the churchyard, the logical Tour of Boesinghe would probably cross the Ypres Canal at the Boesinghe road bridge and continue down the eastern side.

However we are going to continue our journey up the western side of the canal to Lizerne, about a mile and a half north of here, where there are more tales from 1915, and 1918, to tell.  Oh, and a gold star to any of you who noticed that this final shot of the churchyard is from a different, more recent visit – there is no wreath on the grave of Captain Urquhart in this photo.

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6 Responses to A Tour of Boesinghe Part Eight – Boesinghe War Memorial & Churchyard

  1. Marg Draycott says:

    No leaves either. Really unusual memorial not seen one shaped like that before. Find it sad that these men are left in this cemetery wish they would have been reburied in a larger cemetery nearby. Perhaps I’m just being sentimental.

    • Magicfingers says:

      No leaves indeed. Hello M. A very unusual memorial, and as I said, I do rather like it. Your final point is actually an interesting one and there are times I do feel like that, particularly when I find an unknown soldier alone in a churchyard. But from a purely selfish point of view, which I accept, there is also a quite special feeling visiting men whom you know are seldom, or probably never, in the case of unknown men, visited. “Well I’ve made the effort to come and see you, and you are not forgotten”. Could discuss this for hours!

  2. Marg Draycott says:

    Hello yourself M. I agree almost self gratifying. Did we visit for us or for them. Makes me feel so sad to see them away from their comrades. There was one I read about a while ago his family asked for him to remain buried where he fell now alone in a farmers field as they bought that piece of land, again I find that so sad but …..the dead don’t know it’s the living who feel. As you say we could debate it for hours. Suffice it to say I am so glad you visited and shared the experience

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