A Tour of Langemark Part Seven – Ruisseau Farm Cemetery

As a grey Flanders day nears its end, we find ourselves at Ruisseau Farm Cemetery, about three quarters of a mile due west of the centre of Langemark.

The light on this particular day had not been good throughout, and by the time we arrived, with dusk approaching, we were right at the end of the photographic day.  To tell the truth, three of the following photos are frankly not fit for publication, the light, or lack of,  causing too much camera blur; no, I am not going to point them out, and they do help with the cemetery tour, hence their inclusion.

Cemetery entrance.  The original farm was captured by men of the Guards Division and supporting French troops on 8th October 1917,…

…the same date as the earliest ten burials in the cemetery.  The poplars in the left background are a little under five hundred yards away, the Steenbeek crossing the fields between the cemetery and the trees, about three hundred yards away, and only two hundred yards beyond the farm buildings that obscure the view in the right half of the picture,…

…as this map of our tour shows, Ruisseau Farm Cemetery marked in red.

On entry this is Row C, these first burials all men killed in late October, including one of just six unidentified men buried here.  Inset into the wall behind,…

…the ‘In Perpetuity’ tablets.  The French participation in Third Ypres is little remembered now, at least on this side of the channel.  Two French divisions would attack on 31st July to the north of the admittedly much bigger British effort (thirteen divisions), and they would continue to attack, alongside the British, until December.  The fields to the west of Ruisseau Farm would have seen both khaki Tommies and field blue Poilus advancing in October to cross the Steenbeek and attack the third line of German trenches, the Wilhelm Stellung.

Looking north east down the length of the cemetery.  You will notice a gap after the sixth headstone,…

…a marker showing that the seventh headstone had been removed for renovation at the time of our visit.

Two more unidentified men in Row D.  The cemetery plan, courtesy of the CWGC, can be found here.

Among the first burials in the cemetery, these five Grenadier Guardsmen were all killed on 8th October 1917, the Coldstream Guard on the far right the following day.

The cemetery contains 82 graves in total, of which twenty eight are guardsmen, and thirty artillerymen.

Although the cemetery was in use for the best part of two months, exactly half of the identified burials were made in the first six days, between 8th & 13th October,…

…and only ten men, on seven different dates, were buried here in November.

The twelve graves in Row B are all artillerymen (above & below).

The grave nearest the camera is that of nineteen year old Second Lieutenant John Ryder Clark, 196th Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery, who died of wounds on 20th October 1917.  I find myself stopping at the graves of these young subalterns more often these days; the contention that these were the men who won the war (or, if you prefer, ensured it was not lost) seems to me to be borne out more and more as I look into the subject.

Clark (above), a Londoner, went to Radley College – more recent alumni include Andrew Strauss, Ted Dexter, Andrew Motion and the inimitable Peter Cook, and the composer George Butterworth (check out ‘A Shropshire Lad’ on YouTube – wonderful stuff), killed on the Somme on 5th August 1916, was a teacher there before the war.  Radley College lost 235 boys, teachers and staff during the war, and a look at the relevant figures shows the horrendous casualty rate among the young men who joined up from some of the best-known public schools in the land (the table below is from John Lewis-Stempel’s excellent, in my opinion, ‘Six Weeks – The Short and Gallant Life of the British Officer in the First World War’, which I urge you to read if such things interest you).


97% of the boys who joined up from Harrow, Charterhouse & Eton, the three schools which top the list, gained commissions, and I doubt the figures for the other schools were dissimilar.  As an ordinary ranker in the British Army during the Great War your chance of being killed turned out, once such things had been calculated, to be about 11.5%.  Compare that with the 22% at the top of the table, and the point surely makes itself.  It also means that, theoretically, of the five young Etonians pictured in the top inset in the previous photograph, one would lose his life.  Take your pick.

Moving on, you will have noticed the single grave of Private R. C. Ralph, Northumberland Fusiliers hiding behind the four artillerymen two shots back; the only headstone in Row A, quite whether the ‘X’ pencilled on the headstone is of any significance who knows.

Panning right from the previous shot, now looking south, the reverse of John Clark’s headstone nearest the camera.

There is a single Grenadier Guardsman in Row D, Private John Davis Hockaday (possibly Hockerday, actually), three headstones down the row, who was, according to the cemetery index, killed in action on 31st August 1917, more than a month before this cemetery was started.  Perhaps he died on a trench raid, and was known to have been killed, his body not discovered until the October advance.  We shall probably never know.

Heading back towards the cemetery entrance – note the flames on the horizon, a by-product of industry, not crime or misfortune.

What a privilege, owning the farm that overlooks this little cemetery.

I do hope the current occupants feel the same.

Postscript: There are 248 names on my own school’s Roll of Honour.  There but for the grace of God (and sixty years).

The final two stops on this tour can be found in the fields to the south east of Langemark, on the way to St. Julien (Sint-Juliaan today), hence their absence from the trench map we’ve been using throughout the tour.  And so the penultimate part can be found here.

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13 Responses to A Tour of Langemark Part Seven – Ruisseau Farm Cemetery

  1. Andrea Corr says:

    Lovely to see these photographs.

    In grave D1 next to the two unidentified soldiers lies my great uncle William Corr. I can just make out the wording on your photograph above.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Andrea, thanks for your kind comments – I am so sorry the photo is not so clear, but I promise you that the light was fading and everything was much darker than these photos show. At least you can make the wording out, as you say.

      • Andrea says:

        Thank you. I found your tour of the cemetery and the explanations of the dates etc really interesting. I’m just grateful that kind people do such tours and post up photographs on the internet so that we can see them. I know that D1 is his grave courtesy of the CWGC but to see an actual photograph is very special.

        • Magicfingers says:

          I’m ever so glad I included it because I nearly didn’t and normally wouldn’t have done, as I mention in the post!

  2. Nigel Townsend says:

    I went to this cemetery in 1972 with my grandfather who was badly wounded in the vicinity on 7 Aug 1917 with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. When we were walking in the cemetery the farmer came across and introduced himself. My father spoke French and they got by in that language and a lot of arm waving. My father asked why the graves had not been collected like so many others in the large cemeteries.
    The farmer said that when his father returned to the farm there wasn’t much left except for the cellar which contained many bloody bandages so it must have been an advanced dressing station. When they came to collect the bodies his father refused them saying that they had died to protect their farm and his family would now look after them.
    It was a sobering moment amongst several others over the next few days as my grandfather ran his fingers over gravestones of people he knew in 1 RDF in another cemetery and on the wall of the Menin Gate.
    I see that you have a copy of the trench map around Ruisseau Farm. I have been trying to find out the map number and where I can buy a copy so that I can add some details to his story that I have written for following generations of my family. I would be grateful for the info. Thank you.

    • Magicfingers says:

      The map I used is Sheet: 20.SW.4 (Bixschoote) Scale: 1:10000 Edition: 4A Published: May 1917. Trenches corrected to 5 May 1917. Apparently you can buy a copy; here’s the link: https://maps.nls.uk/view/101464630.
      That is some story, btw. Thanks very much for taking the trouble to comment. My Grandpa fought in the Great War and was wounded too. Sadly he died in 1966 and I was too young to have spoken to him about his war years.

    • Andrea Corr says:

      Hi Nigel

      It was great to read your account of your visit.

      My great uncle fought at Ruisseau Farm in 1917, was wounded and then died of his wounds. He is buried in front of the grand cross in that cemetery. He was in the Northumberland Fusiliers.

      It looks a beautiful peaceful place surrounded by farmland (on Hoogle earth) and it was so good to read that the farmers family tends the graves.

  3. Nigel Townsend says:

    Hi Magicfingers. I did reply several days ago but it seems to have become lost in the ether. Thanks for the info on the map. That is a very interesting site. The ability to overlay the modern sat image withe the WW1 image answered one thing that has puzzled me for some time. The site of Signal Farm on hand drawn maps seemed much closer to Ruisseau Farm than the new farm. They moved it to a new location and abandoned the old one. Several of the other farm sites were never rebuilt either so I now have a better idea of the route he used to move forward according to the regimental history. If Covid settles down then I may risk flying back to Europe for another walk around the area. Need a grandchild first though! BTW, I do like your site, it’s informative and pleasant to look at.
    Hi Andrea, sorry to hear about your great uncle. Many people died on both sides because of the ego of a few men. I wasn’t careful with my wording, sorry. Commonwealth War graves tend the cemetery nowadays but the farmer wanted them to rest where they fell and preserved the area. If you have seen the photos of Passchandaele it was just mud and craters and low mounds where buildings had been. Many graves were lost when markers slipped into the ground or blown up. The farmer’s family apparently made sure these weren’t lost and kept the site tidy until CWG took over. Cheers, Nigel

    • Magicfingers says:

      Hi Nigel. Thought you might appreciate the map website – I have used it for many years. There’s another as well: http://digitalarchive.mcmaster.ca/islandora/search/ieper%20maps?type=dismax
      Don’t forget that many of the farms in the Ieper area couldn’t be rebuilt on the same site because the cellars had been incorporated into underground tunnels etc and there was no longer solid ground on the original site to rebuild on.
      Very much appreciate your kind words about my site.

  4. Kirsty HAMILTON says:

    Hi there, bit of a long shot but I’m researching my great, great uncle William Beetham, died 31 Oct 1917. He was one of the artillerymen buried in row B in your photos. You seem to have a lot of information on what happened, more than me anyway! Is there any chance you came across something about him?

    • Nigel Townsend says:

      Hi Kirsty
      I am sorry but I don’t. The honour for the photos and the site lie withMagicfingers, not myself. The info on my grandfather is the result of a lot of research. The commonwealth war graves commission site for this cemetery reveals that he was in A battery, Royal Field Artillery, under command of 159 Brigade. His personal regimental number was 10569. Age 23 yrs. It also reveals that his parents were Frank and Margaret Beetham of 28 Auchinraith Road, Blantyre, Glasgow. If you join a website such as Ancestry or Findmypast, then you can use this information to search for the medals he earned (on the medal roll), his military records, census data for him and his family. Just be aware that many people had the same name. Always try and get at least two different facts which relate to your relative before you assume it is a correct record. You may see scans of his military record documents. Unfortunately many WW1 military records were burned in the blitz so you may be unlucky.
      Your second research strand is the Unit history. This will let you know what his unit was doing before and on the day of his death. Every unit wrote a daily record known as the war record and these are available from the National Archives, make sure you select the right dates though. I chose several months before my G’father was wounded to see what they were doing and where they travelled. That allowed me to do some general internet searches and get contemporaneous photos. Findmypast May provide access to war records.
      I suggest you first look at thegunners.org.uk for their page on tracing and archive. It is very helpful and comprehensive. After that I suggest you do a general search for “159 Brigade, Royal Field Artillery” and WW1. There is quite a bit of info around. Note that many RFA Brigades had an A Battery so it’s not a useful initial search function. There were also many Brigades which were not artillery, so you need to use both terms together.
      Good luck, Nigel

  5. Nigel Townsend says:

    Hi Kirsty. Addendum
    Should add that 159 Brigade was also known as CLVIX Brigade. May help with searching.
    Cheers, Nigel

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