So this is it folks. Our final stop.
No, with apologies to Monty Python, not the building! But to get to our final destination we must follow the signpost on the left a little way south east, towards another cemetery where thanks are due to the CWGC and the landowner for the grass path which will get us the final part of the way there, as you will see shortly. Minty Farm Cemetery, incidentally, is over a mile from here in the other direction, and will feature on this site some time later this year, I would think. Or next year. Sometime.
So, this is your final chance this tour to gaze out over the mud of Flanders Fields and wish you were there! Although there is something to be said for armchair viewing.
Whilst we peruse these barren views, bear in mind that were we to visit in the summer, many of these fields would be above head high with corn, wheat or barley, the top of the Cross of Sacrifice the only clue to the casual observer that there is a cemetery hidden away in the midst of the crops. And in the summer, when the sun is shining and the wind ripples across the fields of green and yellow and everything looks so much prettier, and the cemeteries themselves, once you find them, look beautiful, flowers blooming at the bases of the headstones, it is always worth bearing in mind that the lie of the land – and consequently what actually happened here – becomes much more difficult to read, and on some occasions, obscured by crops, nigh on impossible.
This trench map shows the German lines in red, and the British front line in blue. You will recognise Yorkshire Trench & Caesar’s Nose from previous posts, and if you follow the German front line to the far right of the map you will find No Man’s Cot, the building after which the cemetery would be named,…
…smack dab in the middle of No Man’s Land, which is where we once again find ourselves as we make our way towards the cemetery.
The view away to the west, the church in Brielen, two and a half miles away across the Yser Canal, on the horizon in the centre. Somewhere over there, about half way to Brielen and a little to the left, we would find Essex Farm Cemetery, where this whole tour began. And harking back to my previous point, you would have no view at all from here in the summertime with the crops ripening. All worth bearing in mind should you ever visit.
I’ll give you another tip.
If you have nothing better to do whilst finding your way from road to cemetery, keep your eyes on the ground on either side as you walk.
I found these two pieces of shrapnel, once, very briefly, red-hot and flying through the air at unimaginable speed,…
…nasty, vicious things, responsible for so many deaths and injuries,…
…within easy reaching distance – well it had to be, really, otherwise I’d have disappeared into the mud – as we walked this particular grass pathway.
…eventually we reach the cemetery entrance (above & below),…
…and on entering we find just two rows of headstones, by far the majority men killed on 31st July, the first day of the Third Battle of Ypres. Here’s the final cemetery plan of the tour, as ever with thanks to the CWGC.
In fact exactly fifty of the 77 identified burials here died on that date.
Row B, containing thirty graves, is immediately ahead of us on entering, with Row A behind (below).
There are seven men who died before 31st July 1917 buried here, and we know, as we have seen in the other nearby cemeteries, and as the site of the cemetery is in No Man’s Land, that these seven men could not have been buried until at the earliest 31st July.
Row A contains 49 graves; note the poppy a little way down the row, which we shall return to a later. But beforehand, as we do with these little battlefield cemeteries in No Man’s Land hereabouts, lets just see if the Graves Registration Report Forms back up the dates on the headstones.
The original typed entries on the first Grave Registration Report Forms (above & below) give every man in Row A a date of death of 31st July or 1st August, although some were subsequently changed.
Likewise the men buried in the first half of Row B are all given 1st August as their date of death, the second half of the row containing all the other burials made here, the majority still in August 1917, only the last six men (final name above & the five names below) being added at later dates.
The CWGC website will tell you that the cemetery ‘was used from the end of July 1917 to March 1918’, but it wasn’t really, was it. This is another cemetery that tells the tale of the first day of the Third Battle of Ypres, or more specifically the Battle of Pilckem Ridge and its aftermath, and was then used on just a handful of days thereafter.
Back to the poppy, actually one of the Tower of London poppies which, along with a photograph, has been placed at the base of the grave of twenty one year old Seaforth Highlander Private Joseph French.
How old? 21? Really?
All but eight of the men buried in the row were killed on 31st July; note the Seaforth Highlander headstone with no religious symbol.
Moving to the far end of the two rows,…
…the first seven graves in Row A are all Highlanders from four different regiments – Black Watch (Royal Highlanders), Seaforth, Gordon & Argyll and Sutherland – all killed on 31st July and all sharing the same grave reference number of A1. Although there are ten men of the Welsh Regiment, all but one killed on 31st July, buried in the cemetery, forty six of the identified men here are from regiments of the 51st (Highland) Division.
Cross of Sacrifice,…
…and the view to the right, looking north west,…
…and to the left, looking south west. One of the striking things about this cemetery is the views that the Germans would have had from here of the British lines away to the west, even taking into account that it would not have been healthy to be standing here in 1917.
The final six graves in Row B are the six men who were buried here after the cemetery had been unused for quite some time, as we have seen. Closest to the camera, this machine gunner died on 10th November (officially the final day of the Battle of Passchendaele); the other men, one from each of the Surrey Regiments, died on 22nd October.
And next to them, at the end of Row B, these are the last burials made here, these final three men the only 1918 burials in the cemetery. Two are Highland Light Infantrymen, Corporal Boyle, nearest the camera, being the final burial on 21st March 1918; bearing in mind that 21st March was the date of the beginning of the great German Offensive of 1918, it would not surprise me if he had been killed and buried by the advancing Germans.
As we make our way back to the entrance in the background,…
…past the two silent rows of headstones, the land beyond gently rising to the crest of the Pilckem Ridge,…
…we shall pause to pay our respects at one of only two unidentified men buried here. It seems fitting that the final headstone of this long tour bears the inscription, ‘A British Private of the Great War – Known Unto God’.
The long trek back to the car. And as we go, a final thought. I wonder, although of course I have no idea, whether anybody has ever looked at these little cemeteries in No Man’s Land before in quite the way that we have on this tour. And one thing we have uncovered through the latter part of the tour is that there is a clearly a major problem in ascertaining the correct date of death for the men who fell, and were subsequently buried, in these cemeteries. Certainly we have seen many discrepancies between the dates of deaths on the headstones, and the dates of death on the Grave Registration Report Forms, but further research would need to be done to take it further, and I have neither the time, nor the inclination, to go down that road.
Which brings us to the end, the very end, after twenty two posts, of our Tour of Boesinghe. I hope you enjoyed it, I hope you learnt something along the way, and don’t ever forget, it’s not just the writer, it’s all the readers, all of you, who are keeping the memory of these men alive every time you read one of these posts. And that is what this site is all about.
This whole extravaganza is dedicated to Baldrick, without whom none of it would have possible,…
…and nothing like as much fun. He is having fun, isn’t he?
There’s an addendum to this tour that you can find if you click here.
Have followed your progress and read each installment along with your insights with great interest. Am now looking forward to your next mission, wherever that will be.
Thanks John. A few solo posts next, I suspect, more tours later in the year. I need a break!
Extraordinary and your photos well demonstrate the mud and slush endured by the troops – and the shrapnel find (nasty stuff) which I’m sure will now be “in your treasure trove drawer”.
I notice the Cemetery Plan refers to the “Great Cross” compared to “Cross of Sacrifice”. For we less knowledgeable types are you able to explain the two names?
Cheers Sid! The Great Cross thing is something that I have always failed to find a definitive answer for. The best I can give you is my own belief on the matter: Originally Lutyens’ so-called Stone of Remembrance was officially known as the Great War Stone (and that may still be the ‘official’ name). If you look at any cemetery plan for a cemetery with both a Cross & a Stone, the Cross is always the Great Cross, and the stone always the War Stone. Maybe the bloke who did all the original cemetery plans, or the boss of the blokes who did all the original cemetery plans, simply made a mistake and put the Great before Cross instead of War Stone, and the cemetery plans actually should have said Cross & Great War Stone. I dunno. The term Cross of Sacrifice appears to have been used from the start.
As always thank you. We visited maybe 3 years ago. I got the feeling not many people stop. And I wish I had had all this information when I strolled around paying my respects.
And as always, you are hugely welcome Morag. So pleased you enjoyed, and had visited some of the places on, this tour.
Thankee kindly for the dedication, good Sir. I’d posit most of the fun takes place off camera… Always a pleasure—well most of the time anyway! 😉
Can we do it again soon please????
You probably already know the answer to that…
So odd and yet fitting, the way that small cemetery floats like an island amidst all that mud, the very same mud those men slogged through a long century ago.
Joseph French who is buried in No Mans Cot Cemetery was my Uncle and I have left a picture of him with my London Tower Poppy which you featured.
His mother Elizabeth French (my Grandmother) went out to his grave in 1922 of which I have her diary, she went back to Scotland and wrote a tribute to all the Seaforth Highlanders from Garmouth and area in the Northern Scott newspaper.
In August 2017 I visited Fort George near Inverness which featured memorabilia to commemorate the centenary of the first day of the battle of Passchendale of which Joseph French was featured together with my Grandmothers story.
Hello Elizabeth Jane. Great to hear from you – as you can tell by the post I was struck by the photo of your Uncle, who looks sooo young, doesn’t he? Of course the poppies are very visible when you see them in CWGC cemeteries, and your poppy led me to the photograph (I have a couple of the poppies myself). Thanks for telling us about your Grandmothers’ story – and your story too, which kind of closes the circle one hundred years later.