Before we begin a new tour, which we shall be doing soon, there’s a cemetery, one of the largest to the east of Ypres, in fact the very first CWGC cemetery that I ever set foot in, back in 2005, that I have yet to show you round. And it’s about time I did.
Some of you probably know it, I expect, and in fact Baldrick & I have now visited four times, although admittedly the third and fourth visits were on two consecutive days, mainly because I had failed to take a photo of, or even find, the one Victoria Cross holder buried here on the first day! Anyway, at long last, I have done what I can, so we’ll give it a go. And it’s a big place!
Hooge Crater Cemetery is sited on the south side of the Menin Road, as you can see. There was once a light railway that ran along the south side of the road during the latter war years, right past the current cemetery entrance.
The classic view of the cemetery on entering,…
…with the brick circle surrounding the Stone of Remembrance signifying the position of the famous Hooge Crater.
What? You’re right! Of course it doesn’t, the crater, blown in July 1915 and long since filled in, once being over the road beyond the trees where Hooge Chateau once stood. There are still craters beneath the trees over there, but from later in the war.
So if anyone ever tells you that this is the site of the Hooge Crater it is nothing but a tall, tall tale, I promise you.
Hooge, its château, and the surrounding area (very much including the land on which the cemetery stands), were the scene of heavy fighting in both 1915 & 1916, but the cemetery was not begun until 1917, and as those burials were brought here from the fighting taking place a couple of miles to the east, its position has little to do with the fighting at Hooge itself, and it would be misleading to cover the Hooge fighting in detail in this post – and anyway, much of it has been related elsewhere on this site.
On either side of the Cross there are brick buildings housing the cemetery register…
…and In Perpetuity tablets, and if we stroll towards the western building ahead of us…
…and look roughly south, Plot II in the foreground, down the length of the cemetery (above & below),…
…you really can see how large this place actually is. The cemetery is oblong in shape, six plots deep and, in general, four plots wide, as the cemetery plan, courtesy of the CWGC, shows.
Heading back to,…
…and beyond, the Cross,…
…now looking west, the headstones of Plot III nearest the camera. Turning to our left at this point, however, and looking down the length of the cemetery,…
…we are presented with this open space,…
…which is both intentional and necessary; beneath this section of the cemetery, the warren of old dugouts and tunnels made it impossible to erect headstones,…
…and I would love to have seen the face of Sir Edwin Lutyens, the cemetery designer, when he found out. The blame lies with 177th Tunnelling Company, R.E., who were stationed here between November 1915 (taking over from 175th Tunnelling Company, who were responsible for the mine that resulted in the Hooge Crater) and August 1917 (Third Ypres), and who, when not engaged in mining activities beneath No Man’s Land, spent much of their time building dugouts beneath the Menin Road.
Thirty one special memorial headstones line the cemetery’s eastern boundary, evidence of burials once known or believed to have been in this cemetery, but now lost.
The first ten headstones remember men all of whom are ‘believed to be buried in this cemetery’; the six on the left are from various months in 1917, as is the headstone on the far right. The others are from 1915 & 1918.
Nine of the next ten are also believed to be buried here, only the headstone of the soldier on the far left bearing the inscription ‘known to be buried in this cemetery’. The eight Canadians were all killed on 13th June 1916,…
…as were the two Canadians on the far left of the third group of eleven special memorials. The remaining headstones are split between 1917 & 1918, and ‘known or ‘believed; the five Middlesex men were all killed on 8th March 1918.
With the final eleven special memorials now in the background, this is Plot VIA in front of us. For some strange reason, again as the cemetery plan shows, there are not only plots numbered VI & IX, but VIA & IXA as well. I don’t think I have encountered this anywhere else and unless it has something to do with the open space to the north of Plot VIA, I have no idea why it should be the case here.
I say I have no idea; the only other reason I can think of is error. Was the wrong number etched on the headstones at each end of the rows in these plots, and solved by adding ‘A’, rather than having to renumber the headstones? And I’m not even sure that argument works; one plot would be careless, but two plots?
Moving on, and panning right from the previous shot. Hooge was the centre of such fierce fighting at times that it is hardly surprising that by November 1918 only 76 graves had been made here, all in Rows A to D in what is now Plot I, directly in front of the Cross of Sacrifice, and all made in October 1917. Prior to Third Ypres this would simply have been an impossible place for a cemetery, far too dangerous, and after the battle the front lines moved significantly east, and there was no need to carry men back this far for burial, as the cemeteries further east show.
A little further down the eastern boundary,…
…a Duhallow Block and the headstones behind remember fourteen men, two killed in 1918 and originally buried in Kruiseecke German Cemetery, Comines (left above),…
…and twelve in 1915 originally buried in La Chapelle Farm, Zillebeke, whose graves were later lost.
Anyway, moving on, as you will have realized by now,…
…the problem with photographing Hooge Crater Cemetery is that as you walk south through the rows of headstones at this time of day, not only is the sun shining in your eyes, but everything looks exactly the same,…
…because the headstone inscriptions are all on the other side,…
…at least until we reach the southern boundary and begin our return journey,…
…and as you can see, there’s still some way to go.
So, here are some trench map extracts to keep you occupied on the way, this first a relatively early one from July 1915, showing the German lines in red (British lines are not shown), Zouave & Sanctuary Woods at the bottom, and with the later site of the cemetery added in pink,…
…and this second map, from two months later, dated 9th September 1915, still no British lines marked, and no cemetery added by me either, as you can superimpose it in your own mind from now on. Interesting to note that the Hooge Crater, blown in July, is not yet marked on this map.
Lengthening shadows across Plot XVII,…
…and Plot XXI. It’s worth, as you peruse these pictures, allowing your gaze to drift towards the background, beyond the cemetery walls, and as you do, remember that for four years of war this was a wasteland. Nothing but mud, wreckage, and shattered trees.
This third map is from March 1916, the British front line marked as a dotted blue line, the Hooge Crater now marked in red, immediately to the north of the road above the word ‘Hooge’, just within the British lines at this time. The inset top right is an image from one of the many stereoscopic photos taken during the war, and featured in Sir Tony Robinson’s WWI in 3D series from a few years back. They aren’t hard to come by, even today. The accompanying text says, ‘Uncovering men who fell contesting the crater at Zouave Woods (sic), stormed by the irresistible 6th Division’. The inset bottom left shows a German eye view of the Hooge battlefield in June 1916.
Looking east across Plot XVIII towards Sanctuary Wood in the background.
And a final map, for the moment, dated September 1916, the site of the cemetery crossing what was No Man’s Land at this time, and the Hooge Crater, if you look carefully, now just within the German lines. Immediately to the right of the crater, the area I have marked in blue shows the site of the three craters blown by the Germans in June 1916, hence their first appearance on a map. These are the craters, landscaped after the war, that still exist across the other side of the Menin Road.
With which we reach the final few rows of Plot XVIII and the cemetery’s southern boundary. See, I kept you occupied. Man of my word. In the right background a row of trees and two farm houses delineate the road to Sanctuary Wood Cemetery, the western boundary wall of which you can just see, if you enlarge the photo, as the road disappears behind the trees of Sanctuary Wood.
A big place, Hooge Crater Cemetery, as I said at the start. Just 76 burials at the war’s end, all directly in front of the Cross of Sacrifice at the northern end, but a further 5,840 men brought here after the war from the battlefields of Zillebeke, Zantvoorde and Gheluvelt, and eleven smaller burial grounds in Zillebeke, Gheluvelt, Gheluwe & Zonnebeke, representing well over one hundred regiments from across the Empire.
Zouave Wood, or at least the north western corner of the wood, once flourished here where we are now standing before war came, as you can see on the trench maps, but the destruction of the wood was total, and it was not replanted after hostilities ended.
As we make our way back up the cemetery, the headstone inscriptions will now be visible to us, although just over 60%, in total some 3,570 men, will be nameless.
Traversing the southernmost plots of the cemetery from the south eastern corner, Plot XXI nearest the camera (above & below),…
…the Menin Road following the line of houses beyond the trees,…
…past Plot XX,…
…and now in the south western corner looking east, Plot XVIII in the foreground, Sanctuary Wood in the right background.
As Baldrick goes a’wandering, the inset shows post-war ground clearance work involving some rather large shells, very close to where we are standing all these years later.
Plot XX Row H, all but the headstone nearest the camera unidentified.
In fact Plot XX is typical of the cemetery as a whole, 62% of the headstones within it marking the graves of unidentified soldiers.
Most of the unknown burials in the southern half of the cemetery are buried individually; not so the further north we go, many of those buried at the far end of the cemetery interred two, three or four to a grave, as we shall see later.
…and Plot XVI. In the centre of the second row, Serjeant William Henry Douglas, Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, killed in action on 10th August 1917, had been awarded a D.C.M. in 1916 for ‘conspicuous gallantry in action. He and a bomber went out in front of the captured trench and succeeded in silencing an enemy sniper. He displayed great courage and initiative throughout and kept his men well in hand.’ I have to find ways to put my five volumes of D.C.M. citations to good use occasionally! So if anyone ever needs a Great War D.C.M. citation, I’m yer man! Two graves to the right of Douglas you might spot an Honourable Artillery Company headstone; you don’t see them that often, and we shall encounter a couple of others later on.
Looking east down Plot XIII Row A. Our series of maps…
…continues with this one from April 1917, the inset showing Sanctuary Wood. To repeat myself, nothing but mud, wreckage, and shattered trees. The map also shows an interesting feature of No Man’s Land. Just to the right of the photograph, you will notice a German trench called Idle Sap, and if you follow it across No Man’s Land, you will also notice that it becomes a blue, and therefore British sap. There was nothing unusual in the two adversaries sharing a trench like this, barriers of sandbags and wire blocking off the trench where the two sides met. And I wouldn’t have fancied being a German sentry in the small strongpoint that juts out from Ignis Trench in the German front line at the point it crosses the Menin Road, would you?
Plot XIII (above & below).
Although many of the regiments or nationalities are known, a close look shows that only two of the twelve headstones in the first two rows in this shot are those of identified men.
Plot XII, the headstones in the row nearest the camera all unidentified.
The next map dates from 30th June 1917. At the top, to the north of Idiot Trench, near Bellewaarde, a fair few mine craters have appeared since the previous map, most, as they are coloured red, in the hands of the Germans.
Plot X (above & below). By far the majority of the identified burials here are British, just 337 identified Australians, sixty nine Canadians, and seventy eight New Zealanders among them. As you all know, New Zealand burials bear the Broad cross, like the headstone in the foreground, as opposed to the Latin cross on the Australian headstone alongside,…
…unless they are unidentified, like the men above, in which case, as we have seen before, unidentified New Zealanders’ headstones bear the Latin cross.
Plot IXA, the Duhallow Block we saw earlier visible on the far right,…
…and panning left from the same position. The two headstones nearest the camera are both men of the Bedfordshire Regiment killed on 24th December 1917, and both are named Butcher, although whether related, I know not.
Wandering through Plot XIA, on the far right of the second row in this shot,…
…next to two unknown Scotsmen in Row H, at the base of the headstone of Serjeant Robert Thornson Fernie, Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, on the left,…
…a touching heart-shaped memento.
Still in Plot IXA, to the right of Row B in the foreground,…
…an unusual find, two adjacent headstones without any kind of religious symbol on either, and even more unusual to find one with a quote from the Bible inscribed on it. Only the second time I’ve seen this, I think.
The penultimate map is dated July 1917, just prior to the start of Third Ypres, when the front lines would move a mile to the east. The black lines, added later, show, and I quote, ‘airline and cable routes’.
Plot IX, and a few rows back…
…we begin to find headstones with more than one unknown soldier buried beneath them, such as the two in the centre here, with two men buried beneath each,…
…and these seven, all with two or three men buried beneath them.
A quick look back the way we have come,…
…and now a panorama of the northern half of the cemetery, Plot VIII in the centre.
Plot VIII contains the single Victoria Cross holder buried here, twenty year old Private Patrick Bugden, 31st Bn. Australian Infantry. Bugden’s army career is detailed on the two beige forms inset into the photograph below.
His citation, transcribed on the pink Casualty Form (above), appeared in the London Gazette on 23rd November 1917: ‘For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty when, on two occasions, our advance was temporarily held up by strongly defended “pill boxes”. Private Bugden in the face of devastating fire from machine guns, gallantly led small parties to attack these strong points, and, successfully silencing the machine guns with bombs, captured the garrison at the point of the bayonet. On another occasion, when a Corporal, who had become detached from his company, had been captured and was being taken to the rear by the enemy, Private Bugden, single-handed, rushed to the rescue of his comrade, shot one enemy, and bayoneted the remaining two, thus releasing the Corporal. On five occasions, he rescued wounded men under intense shell and machine-gun fire, showing an utter contempt and disregard for danger. Always foremost in volunteering for any dangerous mission, it was during the execution of one of these missions that this gallant soldier was killed.’ The forms on the right detail his original burial place before he was moved to Hooge Crater Cemetery after the war. All enlarge enough to read.
On our left Plot VII, and continuing north,…
…Plot V now ahead on the left, and Plot VI in front of us.
Plot IV, and here we begin to find headstones with three or four unidentified soldiers buried beneath each,…
…twelve unknown soldiers lying beneath these three, and in the row behind I can count seven headstones all bearing the inscription ‘Three Soldiers of the Great War’.
Still in Plot IV,…
…and note these three Honourable Artillery Company headstones at the start of Row G. I mentioned earlier that you don’t see them very often, and there are only five identified H.A.C. men in the whole cemetery. One of the oldest military corps in the world, from a time, I gather (because I don’t know an awful lot about mediaeval warfare – my whole interest started specifically with photographs, so anything before about 1840 taxes my imagination), when the word ‘artillery’ could mean bowmen (according to Wiki – we all use it occasionally – so do correct me if it’s total tripe), around 13,000 members of the H.A.C. served during the war, in three infantry and seven artillery batteries. Some 4000 of these men were commissioned into other units, and including these, 1,650 men of the H.A.C. would be killed during the war. All of which means that there are probably considerably less than that number of H.A.C. headstones to be found in the cemeteries of Belgium, France, Italy & Palestine, perhaps a thousand in all. As I said, you don’t come across them very often.
…finally looking south east, Sanctuary Wood in the distance.
Crossing the cemetery once more, passing two unknown British officers (above & below),…
…and arriving in Plot VIA (any clues as to the numbering conundrum from the way the edge of the end headstone has been etched? And no, that question isn’t rhetorical), fourteen unidentified soldiers buried beneath these four headstones.
Five touching headstones in Plot VI, nine names, all 22nd Bn. Australian Infantry, all killed on 18th September 1917.
More near-touching headstones in Plot V Row F,…
…and more multiple burials too, another fourteen unknown soldiers buried beneath the second to fifth headstones (take my word on this one).
Looking back down the length of the cemetery from Plot V.
The final map dates from May 1918, and shows how close the Germans came to Ypres that spring; Hooge, on the far right, was lost for the last time in April 1918, but regained by the 9th (Scottish) & 29th Divisions on 28th September.
Finally we find ourselves back among the northernmost plots, Plot III Row A in the foreground.
Plot III Row C, the fourth grave from the right, or left if you prefer, one of the unidentified Canadians buried here.
Plot III, and in the second row in this shot,…
…five headstones in a row, each with four unknown soldiers buried beneath them. In the row behind, more unknown soldiers buried either two or three men to a grave.
Plot I, Row A in the foreground. Rows A to D contain the burials of the original wartime cemetery, men killed in the fighting at Polygon Wood and on the Broodseinde Ridge in October 1917. Their graves are neatly ordered, showing once more that the tide of battle had moved away from this area before they were buried.
Plot I Row B. For some reason the three plots at the northern end of the cemetery are lettered from front to back, whereas all the other plots are lettered from back to front – the cemetery plan shows what I’m on about. This seems a bit odd, and leaves me with a nagging doubt about whether the right men are buried beneath the right headstones in these plots, if you see what I mean.
More strange row numbering in Plot I, these Australian casualties for some reason buried in Row DD.
And finally back to Plot II, where we started. The second row, Row B is, I think, the only row in the cemetery where such large gaps appear between just six graves in the row; one wonders whether some of the men remembered on the special memorials were once buried here, whether some post-war accident occurred (we saw the size of the shells lying around here after the war in one of the earlier inset photos), or is it simply because something underground, or a lack of something underground, made headstones difficult to erect here? Who knows.
I said earlier that this really isn’t the easiest place to show you around,…
…but hopefully the essence of the place has come across,…
…because I have prevaricated over this post for quite a few of the eight years of this website, adding and deleting stuff, changing it completely at least once – the final selection of photographs used in the end were nearly all taken on the two consecutive day visits in 2017 – but eventually you have to hit the ‘publish’ button, and damn the consequences.
Should you visit, leave enough time to visit the Hooge Crater Museum, housed in the chapel across the road from the cemetery. Just like I never do.
We finish where we started, as the sun goes down on the classic view of this cemetery and another Flanders day draws towards its end. The previous brief visits mentioned at the start can be found here, and if you fancy a look at what can still be found in the trees opposite the cemetery on the north side of the Menin Road, and it’s well worth a look, then click here.
On my first trip with school pupils in early 1990s we visited the museum. On those days we brought our own packed lunch and bought drinks. The gentleman who owned it sold it to the young couple who run it tiday and it us a most efficient cafe/restaurant and the museum is excellent.
It is a cemetery we return to I guess because if the cafe but the craters behind are worth the visit….
As to HAC there is a cemetery of that nane worth visiting in St Ecoust….from memory
The Hooge crater cemetery is such a sad place because of its uniformity….and unknown burials but I like to stroll around as the geography gives you a sense of what the men had to contend with…..
Thanks as always
Thanks Morag. You are quite right about H.A.C. Cemetery, Ecoust. 31 H.A.C. men are buried there and I suspect that is the largest number in one place anywhere. I vaguely remember visiting the museum on my first trip to Hooge but I really must look around it again one day. The craters are well worth a visit and one of the links at the end of this post takes you to the post about them. The cemetery is a bit overwhelming, but it holds a special place for me as it was the first CWGC cemetery I ever visited.
How did you manage to acquire the collection of the five volumes of D.C.M Citations ? And, I have to know… how far above the peak rise of “The Great Flood” were they ?
This note spurred me on to do half of a local research project. A gentleman is buried in our main city cemetery who passed between the wars. His name on a non-military gravestone is followed by the initials MM. I hunted through Archives Canada and found a searchable database for Military Medal Citations. Next time I’m visiting I’ll record the name and look it up. That will be well after the Polar Vortex recedes.
Hello mate! Ha! Our Polar Vortex ended up being a damp squid (well, so far) – honestly, I heard someone say that on the telly the other day – damp squid indeed – of course they are! Sorry, digressing. It’s a bit like doing something off one’s own back. No! Off one’s own bat! It’s a cricketing expression. Still digressing. Anyway, the original ‘Citations of the Distinguished Conduct Medal in the Great War 1914-1920’ was reprinted by Naval & Military in 2007 in five big volumes, so I figured that would make a good birthday present a few years back. And they live, along with some fascinating contemporaneous tomes produced for the troops that I have that I might consider doing some posts on, and all the 1920s & 30s Histories of the War in numerous volumes that I own, in a cabinet way above the water line!!
The M.M. is an interesting medal in that I think they were given out on a quota basis (were any others?), but maybe you can confirm that when you do your research. Hope all is well.
An amazing post with wonderful detail – thank you yet again. BTW, I liked your touch of a setting sun in your final photograph – most appropriate ….. and artistic
Thanks Sid. I am so glad I spent as long as I did on this post – seriously, years, as I say in the post – because it was only in the last little while that I added stuff – I won’t bore you with what, exactly – that turned it from a series of photos with annotations, into a proper flowing post. And the trench maps were quite a late addition, and I think they work well. And yep, I figured that was the right photo to end on. Glad you agree, my friend.
Some absolutely stunning photography! Really beautiful (if thats an appropriate thing to say of a cemetery) and another superb post.
Just as an additional point of interest the Sergeant that is mentioned for his D.C.M. citation, Serjeant William Henry Douglas, was with the 9th LN Lancs. That might ring a bell given our recent communications, and as I have a copy of their war diaries I can tell you where they were when he was killed.
The diary reads:
1917 10th Aug 4.35am. Battn attack on WESTHOEK RIDGE and gained all objectives.
Capt E.U. Green, 2Lt C Lunt, 2Lt H.H. Swift “killed in action”
Lt H.J Priestland, 2Lt W.O Holmes “wounded in action”.
As usual, no mention of the death of a lowly Sergeant, D.C.M or not.
I also took a quick peek on the CWGC database to see if there was anything revealing about the two headstones with no religious symbols on. There wasn’t, but there is another one as well in the next row over. Pte P.E Parkes, also with the 1st Australian Infantry has just the words “an earthly sacrifice and a heavenly reward” on his headstone. It would seem 1Z denotes that particular headstone layout. Very odd to have a quote from the bible but no cross. I can only think that perhaps the men themselves were known to be atheists but the parents had more religious leanings. Who knows? Fascinating, as always.
Thanks Nick. Well I think cemeteries can be beautiful, and I have also always assumed that your explanation is likely correct. Non-religious son, highly religious parents.
Great job as usual and excellent photos. I note you mention that the circular design at the entrance isn’t obviously the Hooge Crater! But was there ever any indication why that particular circular shape was picked out for there? I wonder if it were originally a Shell Hole or maybe a tribute to the Crater across the road. Or maybe it’s just a bit of design for the sake of it!
Cheers Jason! Thanks mate. You are spot on; Lutyens included the brick circle as a kind of hommage to the original crater across the road.
Thank you Magicfingers, interesting to know that!
I agree. Any time.
Hi Magicfingers, thank you for such a great tribute and for giving us an idea of the cemetery. I was wondering if you came across any Hampshire regiment burials? My great-uncle was in the 14th battalion and I am trying to find out where he was fighting when he died around 15th – 17th September 1917, also where he might have been fighting the month before when he was wounded. I believe the regiment was at Klein Zillebeke t the time. Any ideas would be welcome as I would like to visit at some point. His memorial is at Tyne Cot, but his body wasn’t recovered. Many thanks.
The war diaries for the 14th Battalion Hampshire regiment is available to download from the National Archives website.
Hope that helps with your research
Thank you for your help Nick, I am just about to sort out getting that war diary.
No problem at all, always glad to help if I can. Regarding trench maps, you can find them on the national library of Scotland website. Why they are in the Scottish library I couldn’t say, but they have a huge array. Unfortunately their website is pretty awful to use, so here’s a helping hand
There are two other maps covering the area on different dates, but from what I could see that’s the closest to the date your great uncle was killed on. It’s dated 30th June 1917. The map series south of this one has a map dated November 1917 and the trench lines are in a very similar position, so I think it’s fair to assume that they were fairly static during this period.
I totally agree with you about NLS maps….I am not the most computer literate nut I struggle to get old and modern together….
It’s a shame, there really must be a simpler way to do it. I was looking for a trench map earlier today and because it didn’t recognise the name of the village I’d put in, it dragged me into admiralty maps somewhere completely different. It’s a funny old site, but damned useful on occasion
And hello JEMW, and thank you for your kind words. There are only three 14th Bn. Hants men at Hooge, and the earliest of those died on 26th September, the two others in October. What you could do is click the link at the bottom. It lists all 647 14th Bn. men with known graves, and where they are buried, and looking through, six men died on 17th September, and three of them, Corporal O’Farrell, Private Ivens and Private Martin are on the Tyne Cot Memorial. The other three men who died that day and who have known graves are buried in Reninhelst and Voormezeele. Anyway, what you need is the Bn. War Diary. That will hopefully tell you what you need to know. It may or may not be online. Otherwise National Archives or Hants Record Office or equivalent, or museum if there is one. Track down that War Diary.
Yeah, what Nick said!
Thank you. I’m interested in the Voormezeele area as if there was action in that area then it may be that that is why one Hampshire is buried there and that could be the area he was killed in. I see there is a map of that area (trench map) but it appears to be in a private collection at the IWM. I will get hold of the war diary but talking to the Hampshire Regiment museum in Winchester, there didn’t seem to be a lot they could add. I’d like to visit the area but don’t want to wander about aimlessly as there is so much to see.
The war diary should give you their whereabouts on the days you need. Really. You’d be unlucky if it didn’t. My guess is that the men at Voormezeele were carried back there from the front.
Yes, looks like they were at Shrewsbury Forest (though that is a big area), and I think he was at Hollebeke when he was injured the month before he died. I guess I’ll be going over there to root about.