Red Farm Military Cemetery

Update June 2020: Before you go any further, you should know that this post has since been superseded by a newer Red Farm Military Cemetery post as further research has revealed more details about what happened here, which have changed the story just a little, but significantly so.  Should you wish to go straight to the newer Red Farm post, click here.  Alternatively, please feel free to read this post anyway – the Red Farm information is still accurate and basically the same in both posts, but the Dirty Bucket Camp section has become irrelevant to the story, although I hope still of interest.

One of the smallest cemeteries in the Salient, this is Red Farm Military Cemetery.  Even though sited right alongside the old Ypres – Poperinge road, about two miles east of Poperinge, and an equal distance west of Vlamertinge,…

…it is easily overlooked, or passed by,…

…as car or coach speeds by on its way to or from the three Brandhoek cemeteries a little further up the road towards Ypres, in one of which can be found one of the most famous and most visited graves on the Western Front.

But that is for a later post.

A short, wire fenced, grass pathway,…

…leads us towards the cemetery entrance.

And here’s a thing.  Have you noticed that the date inscription at the entrance to some cemeteries features Roman numerals, such as here, whereas others have Arabic numerals? Why is that, then?

Because I haven’t got a clue.  Personal architectural preference, perhaps.  Anyway, the Cross of Sacrifice greets us on entry,…

…beyond which…

…there are just three rows of headstones.  The cemetery plan, courtesy of the CWGC, can be seen here.

Normally we would probably look at the burials in the front row first, as you do, but as Red Farm has a very specific story to tell,…

…on this occasion we shall pay our respects to the men buried in the back row, Row C, first.  There are sixteen headstones in the row, five of which mark the graves of unknown soldiers, and as the photograph above shows, two of these bear the inscription ‘Two Soldiers of the Great War’.

One of the other unknown men is identified as a serjeant of the Royal Garrison Artillery (right), the R.G.A. bombardier in the centre is a native of Ceylon, so his headstone tells us, and note also the rifleman on the left, with a military medal and bar to his name.

Including the unknown serjeant, there are actually nine men of the Royal Garrison Artillery buried in the row, including these six at the end,…

…and what they, and the three other identified men buried in the row, and I think it is safe to say the unidentified men too, all have in common, is their date of death.  All died on 27th April 1918.

It continues.  Seven of the eight identified men in the middle row, Row B, also died on 27th April (the other man is given a date of death of 29th April, but I wonder whether that might be the date of his burial).

In fact of the 45 – n0t 46, as the CWGC database tells us – military burials in this little cemetery, seventeen are unidentified, and of the other 29, twenty are men who lost their lives on 27th April 1918.

To discover their fate, however, it is necessary to form an idea of what this area looked like for much of the war.

And to do that, we need to leave the cemetery for a short while, and return to the road.

So here’s a map, or two maps stitched together.  The old road between Poperinge and Ypres traverses the bottom half, the railway immediately below it.  Red Farm Military Cemetery is highlighted as a small red oblong halfway along the road (the farm itself is marked), and the three Brandhoek cemeteries are also marked a little further east to the south of the road, although they play no part in this post (Vlamertinge is just off the map to the right).  The mauve oblong is Hagle Dump Cemetery, and the light green area further north will be explained later, but right now, if you focus your attention on the red text scattered across the map, you will see that this area absolutely bristled with British camps.  I can count no less than seventeen named camps on this map, in an area of no more than three and a half square miles.

Today, the new Poperinge – Ypres road runs parallel to the railway, immediately to its south (inset).  Both above views look west, the deserted old road stretching ahead of us in the main shot, cars heading towards Poperinge on the new road visible on the far left, beneath the wind turbines.

Turning to our right, if we look across the fields to the north of the old road, the map shows us that after five hundred yards we would have encountered Q. Camp,…

…and another thousand yards further on Dirty Bucket Camp, a large stores depot of huts and tents – the light green area marked on the map.

And this photograph shows the Church Army Hut (colloquially known as Red Shield Huts – you can see the shield on the far right, very similar to the logo of the Salvation Army to this day) at Dirty Bucket Camp, with some fairly substantial buildings behind, and plenty of corrugated iron in evidence in their construction, as was the case across the camp.  There were billets here, but again made only of corrugated iron,…

…windowless, on concrete bases, just like those on the left of this postcard from the postcard collection.  A few years back I realised that no one seems to collect postcards of Great War encampments which, if you think about it, were a fairly easy target for local photographers whose snaps could be made into postcards and sold back, if they were quick enough, to the very soldiers pictured in them, to then be posted home with a cheery ‘Here’s our camp’ message on the back.  The fact that cameras were still a bit of a novelty to the average soldier, certainly in the first years of war, means that many of these camp postcards (!) – the one above, taken in 1915 I would wager, being a perfect example – feature some marvellous troop shots, and because no one collects them, they’re cheap as frites).

Close up of Dirty Bucket Camp and its neighbours, D Camp, Border Camp & O Camp to the east, and Brake Camp to the south east.  Here the buildings are actually marked, and their number – a closer look at the first map from which this extract is taken shows dozens more in our three and a half square mile area – quite staggered me,…

…and, of course, tents, of which presumably there would have been hundreds and hundreds, are not shown on the maps at all.

So, with the hive of activity taking place, twenty four hours a day, for miles on either side of the road, itself the main artery to Ypres and the front lines,…

…it’s not difficult to imagine why any shell that could cover the distance – most couldn’t, but those that could would be of a seriously large calibre – had a fair chance of causing serious damage.

At about 12.30 on the afternoon of 27th April 1918, a German shell struck an ammunition dump somewhere within the shaded area of the above map (Red Farm marked as a tiny red dot), which was usually considered to be out of range of German artillery.  Whatever type of shell it was, it almost certainly came from German artillery up on the Pilckem Ridge, as the arrow shows.  The resulting explosion (and recurring explosions, it being ammunition that was hit) was powerful enough to devastate much of the immediate area, setting wooden huts on fire, destroying canvas tents, and causing many casualties among the men working or resting in the vicinity, or unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  And the new, updated, Red Farm post will continue this story for you (there’s another link at the end of the post), but in the meantime,…

…back in the cemetery, two more men (centre) in Row A died on on 27th April, the man on the right dying the following day.

After which we come to this curiously inscribed headstone, the one that has confused the CWGC and dictates their tally of seventeen unidentified men; to be clear, there are actually sixteen unknown soldiers plus this headstone.  Of course before the arrival of the British this landscape was dotted with numerous hamlets, houses and farms, and the Belgian citizens who had remained would have seen the British as a legitimate way of earning a few extra francs.  Thus the camps were served by Belgians hawking all types of goods, and some nearby Belgian houses were wrecked in the explosion of 27th April 1918, along with a wooden hut where a couple of Belgian girls used to serve egg & chips to grateful soldiers; the girls were never seen again, and their remains are almost certainly two of those that lie beneath this headstone, an old CWGC map of the cemetery I gather (although I have not seen it) annotated with the words ‘Fourth grave along; three Belgian civilians – 2 adults, 1 child’.  A baby’s pram was found halfway down a crater, which, tragically, probably explains the third.

The final eight burials in the front row, including those above, are all later burials, men killed in May 1918 who were interred alongside those already buried here.

So, a seemingly anonymous little cemetery, with a truly awful story behind its very existence.  How many men were killed in what was clearly a huge explosion I am as yet unsure, and you could probably attempt to trace others who survived the initial blast but died in hospitals to the west, or even at the Base Hospitals along the French coast, and were buried in cemeteries near to where they died.

What does seem to be the case is that the men killed in the explosion who are buried here at Red Farm were all already casualties, all patients in a nearby casualty clearing station who were awaiting transport to the hospitals west of Poperinge when the shell hit.  Which means the uninjured men killed alongside them were all buried somewhere else, and we shall be searching for them at a later date,…

…but in the meantime, if you find yourself passing by, stop and spend a few minutes with these seldom visited men and women.

The new, updated, Red Farm Military Cemetery post can be found here.

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21 Responses to Red Farm Military Cemetery

  1. Morag Lindsay Sutherland says:

    ah I have visited and no visitors book to sign…..maybe because it is the smallest cemetery on the Salient just enough graves to merit a cross of Sacrifice –
    but I had not considered a woman might be in this cemetery
    enjoy yoru well deserved Christmas break

  2. Jeanette Martin says:

    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and yours ☺️

  3. MrBob says:

    Thanks for a very interesting post. The area behind Ypres is on my travel list for next year so I’m following with interest and will be checking your old posts for places to visit. Thanks for all the work you put into each post, it’s really appreciated

    • Magicfingers says:

      Thanks Mr. Bob. Glad you’re still checking in. Thanks for your kind comments – I still have to visit the cemeteries at Vlamertinghe so I cannot help you there, but tours of the Brandhoek cemeteries will probably be published here before your trip. Mind you, I plan on a Flanders trip in three weeks time so who knows where I might end up this time – Vlamertinghe sounds like a good plan to me………..

  4. Sid from Down Under says:

    From a sunny Down Under, a Merry Christmas to MJS and his many followers. May 2020 be your best year ever. I hope you are holding back the floods MJS and from here on in is flood-free (Sorry, my fun Christmas Kangaroo image won’t paste)

    • Magicfingers says:

      Sounds like it’s a burning Down Under. Cheers Sid.

      • Sid from Down Under says:

        While many parts of Western Australia burn during our “fire season” (most fires start by lightning strikes even though we have annual “fuel reduction burns” that the eastern states do not) and in northern parts of WA they have 49C days – we in Perth at last enjoy beautiful low 30s with an early “Fremantle Doctor” (sea breeze) but still use our ceiling fan overnight – life is sublime as we with Village friends eat and drink our way into the “Next Decade” ….. except some say that does not occur until 2021 so we may have a further year of sublime frivolity …. sorry but some of us have to endure all of this. Happy New Year and may 2020 be your best year yet.

  5. Nick kilner says:

    Another really interesting post. I’m constantly in awe of your ability to find the stories attached to these cemeteries. I’m sure you are correct about the odd date. As we both know, this is a not uncommon occurrence. I had considered the possibility that he had died from wound received two days later, but can’t help feeling he would have been evacuated had that been the case.
    Have a wonderful Christmas my friend, look forward to catching up with you very soon.
    As ever

    • Magicfingers says:

      Thanks Nick. I do appreciate your second sentence (and, as you will shortly see, the next post is a great example of how a post starts with a few pics and expands into something, er, bigger). When are you off to hotter climes?

      • Nick kilner says:

        Off on the 11th Jan for ten nights, can’t wait. A little more ‘ancient history’ than my usual addiction, but should be truly fascinating. I hope you had a very enjoyable Christmas and wish you a happy new year.
        Ps. Great photos, both your own and the originals of the camp. It’s amazing what still exists, luckily for us.

  6. Wendy Lloyd says:

    Thank you again for the information, another cemetery that we visited, but with no idea of the story behind. Will go again next June. Merry Christmas to you too x

  7. Joseph Orgar says:

    I always think why a soldier with MM and bar, was still only a Tommy, what was his story.


  8. Margaret Draycott says:

    As I only visit the battlefields with a tour company I often look longingly at the many small isolated cemeteries we pass and wish we could visit them. So thank you for this post and for visiting I get to visit by proxy

    • Magicfingers says:

      Which, M, is exactly, EXACTLY, one of the reasons I set this site up in the first place. Three main reasons: remember the men, provide a guide for visitors, and a decent alternative for those who can’t visit (in both latter cases hopefully with a load more info than you’d get otherwise).

      I thank you.

  9. Andrea O’Brien says:

    Really amazed to read the story attached to this little cemetery, thank you for your research and sharing this. I was lucky enough to visit Red Farm Cemetery and the grave of my great-grandfather, W.C. Escott a few years back.

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