Now that we’re done with those pesky postcards, let’s return to Flanders, and Canada Farm British Cemetery, on a lovely, and very cold, January day.
The dates say 1917-1918,…
…and you can follow the burials chronologically the length of the cemetery, with the earliest, from early July 1917, when a dressing station was set up in a nearby farmhouse primarily in preparation for the forthcoming Passchendaele offensive, to be found in the first few rows on entry,…
…and the 123 burials from 1918 all to be found at the far end, in the final rows of Plot III or in Plot IV. Most of the burials here at Canada Farm are Third Ypres casualties and, despite the cemetery’s name, only nine of the 909 burials are Canadian.
I think it’s fair to say that this cemetery, marked in orange, and slightly further away from the front lines than the site of our previous visit, Ferme-Olivier Cemetery (marked in green), was in effect created as a replacement for the latter, which was closed for burials at about the same time as this one opened. This trench map extract is once again taken from the July 1918 map showing the camps that proliferated in the area, by which time this cemetery, you will note, has already been marked as ‘British Military Cemetery’. Strange that Ferme-Olivier is not actually marked as a burial ground, though.
Anyway, by now you will probably already have spotted what is likely to be our main problem. All the headstones are facing away from us,…
…logic therefore dictating that we head straight for the far end of the cemetery,…
…and hope that the sun, which is now going to be in our eyes on our return,…
…doesn’t prove too problematical. This, by the way, is Plot III.
So, at the north eastern end of the cemetery we find the Stone of Remembrance,…
…and if you wish to peruse the cemetery plan, thanks to the CWGC, you can do so here.
As Baldrick gives us that ‘I’m getting a bit chilly here, can we get on with it please?’ look, we shall pan left across the cemetery,…
…Plot IV comprising just the first two rows. The short row on the right, Row B,…
…contains the final burials to be made here, men who died between June & September 1918, including three of the nine Canadians (all the other burials in this cemetery are British), and the man buried nearest the camera, a Northumberland Fusilier who died on 27th June 1919. It’s the sort of date I usually query, but his documentation does indeed say 1919. And at this point, one wonders whether the reason that Canada Farm is marked on a July 1918 map as ‘British Military Cemetery’, whereas an earlier cemetery is not marked at all, is because, as this row proves, this cemetery was still open for burials when the map was published.
Continuing our pan, the burials in Row A all from April, May & June 1918,…
…until we find ourselves looking almost due west across the cemetery. And a little bit of cloud has appeared too, which is exactly what we need.
After the first burials were made here in early July 1917, mostly men from the Coldstream, Grenadier, Irish, Scots & Welsh Guards who are buried in the very first row back at the cemetery entrance, the cemetery grew rapidly. 47% of the men buried here are artillerymen, no less than 301 of whom are men of the Royal Field Artillery, along with 108 of the Royal Garrison Artillery, and twenty one men of the Royal Horse Artillery.
Burials at the start of Plot III Row H, the final row of the plot, and almost exactly 50% of the burials in Plot III are artillerymen, too. The officer pictured, and buried on the right, is Lieutenant Cecil Shekury M.C., Bedfordshire Regiment, killed in action on 16th April 1918, aged 21.
Casualties buried at the other end of Row H, three of these four Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders killed on 8th March 1918; the name of one of these will strike a chord with one of our members, should he read this – Private Duncan Ferguson.
Burials in Plot III Row G in the foreground, men who died in January & February 1918, and in the row behind, Row F, casualties from December 1917 & January 1918.
Late November 1917 casualties further along Row F. Behind, in Row E, lie three men of ‘Z’ Battery, R.H.A., all of whom were killed on 24th October 1917,…
…one of whom, Serjeant P. J. Wicks, has a D.C.M. to his name, ‘For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty and consistent good work during a long period’.
The forty five men buried in Plot III Row D, such as the two R.F.A. serjeants above and the two captains below, all died between 2nd & 20th October 1917.
The wreath has been left at the grave of Captain C. E. R. Hanbury of the Irish Guards, killed during the Battle of Poelcappelle on 9th October 1917, as was the bombardier on the left, another of the few R.H.A. men buried in this cemetery. Interestingly, and unusually, Captain Reginald Sherman, R.A.M.C., the man buried on the right, has his medical qualifications engraved on his headstone,…
…presumably because someone decided to add them in red pen to this headstone inscription report. I wonder if the family had to pay for the privilege?
What is most interesting about Plot III Row D is that as we reach this end of the row we find that the final, or actually first, eleven headstones are all officers; three majors, one captain, three lieutenants and four second lieutenants. All but one died between 2nd & 9th October 1917, and it is quite impossible that it is coincidence that all are buried together. There are eighty four officers buried in this cemetery in total, and it would seem that, for that first week in October, this was in effect the officer’s plot. Which then leads one to wonder whether this cemetery, by this stage of Third Ypres, had trenches already dug and awaiting the men they knew would be arriving here for interment. The headstone nearest the camera,…
…and in the centre here, with his picture above, is that of Lieutenant Edwin Donald Palethorpe, that on the left is Second Lieutenant John Hubert Howells, both men R.F.A. attached R.H.A., both aged 24, and both killed in action on 9th October 1917.
Moving along the row, the next three burials all R.F.A. officers, from right to left, Second Lieutenant Selwyn Ivatts M.C., aged 23, and Captain Francis Mourilyan Butler, both killed on 8th October, and, pictured, Major John Melville Balfour M.C., Mentioned in Despatches, also aged 23, who died on 6th October. Butler, who was 41, was killed in action at Mont-du-Hibou near Poelcappelle. He was known as a particularly caring officer who was looked on with great affection by his men, and indeed he was on the drag ropes hauling one of the guns of his battery into position alongside his men whilst under heavy shell fire when he was hit.
Another R.F.A. officer, Major K. A. R. Maitland M.C. & Bar, lies on the far right here (the only reference I can find that gives his Christian names says Ramsay Keith), killed in action on 4th October aged 33. In the centre, Second Lieutenant William Miller Geggie, Machine Gun Corps, a Canadian and the only non-artilleryman among these eleven officers, was also killed in action on 4th October aged 24, and on the left, Second Lieutenant Henry Gordon Adams, R.F.A., who died of wounds, aged 28, on 5th October.
As we come to the end of the row the three final burials, all R.F.A. officers, are, on the right, Lieutenant F. W. Finn, and in the centre, Lieutenant H. B. Thompson, who died on 4th & 2nd October respectively. On the far left, and pictured, the earliest burial in the row and the only September 1917 casualty, is the grave of Captain, Acting Major, Edward Compton Morgan M.C., Royal Field Artillery, who died in Elverdinge on 29th September 1917 of wounds received in action earlier on the same day, aged 37.
Two R.F.A. men and a Grenadier Guardsman in Row C, casualties from September 1917,…
…as is this R.A.S.C. man in Row B. Which is a slight problem as the Army Service Corps did not gain the ‘Royal’ prefix until 1918.
And just to prove my that earlier statement about chronology is not entirely correct, a young R.F.A. driver who served under an alias, and who died in October 1917,…
…and another October casualty, both in Row A, this man a Royal Engineer corporal with a Military Medal to his name.
Which brings us to the start, or end, of Plot II, Row H here on the right, Row G on the left, and if you check out where Baldrick is in the background,…
…this is the view looking back across Plot II,…
…the burials in the plot all from between July & early October 1917,…
…such as the R.G.A. gunner & R.F.A. bombardier pictured here in Plot II Row G, both August 1917 casualties.
Two men of the Labour Corps, both killed on 11th August 1917 at the start of Row F,…
…and more mid-August 1917 casualties as we continue along the row,…
…before we come to Row E, where once again we find a number of officers buried next to each other, and the dates on the headstones rather give the game away; these men all died on 31st July or 1st August 1917, during the first twenty four hours of the Battle of Passchendaele. At the start of the row…
…two R.F.A. officers flank the grave of Lieutenant Colonel Eric Beresford Greer, M.C., Irish Guards,…
…and you can read all about him below.
Rudyard Kipling describes the first few hours of Third Ypres and the death of Lieutenant Colonel Greer in his ‘History of the Irish Guards’; ‘July 31st opened, at 3.30 a.m., with a barrage of full diapason along the army front, followed on the Guards sector by three minutes of ‘a carefully prepared hate’, during which two special companies projected oil-drums throwing flame a hundred yards around, with the remit that burned everything it touched. The enemy had first shown us how to employ these scientific aids, and we had bettered the instruction. His barrage in reply fell for nearly an hour on the east bank of the canal. Our creeping barrage was supposed to lift at 4 a.m. and let the two leading battalions (2nd Irish Guards and 1st Scots Guards) get away; but it was not till nearly a quarter of an hour later that the attack moved forward in waves behind it. Twelve minutes later, Nos. 1 and 2 Companies of the Battalion had reached the first objective (Caribou and Cannon trenches) “with only one dead German encountered”; for the enemy’s withdrawal to his selected line had been thorough. The remaining companies followed, and behind them came the 1st Coldstream, all according to schedule; till by 5.20 a.m. the whole of the first objective had been taken and was being consolidated, with very small loss. They were pushing on to the second objective, six hundred yards ahead, when some of our own guns put a stationary barrage on the first objective—Caribou trenches and the rest. Mercifully, a good many of the men of the first and second waves had gone on with the later ones, where they were of the greatest possible service in the annoying fights and checks round the concreted machine-gun posts. Moreover, our barrage was mainly shrapnel—morally but not physically effective. No. 2 Company and No. 4 Company, for example, lay out under it for a half and three quarters of an hour respectively without a single casualty. But no troops are really grateful for their own fire on their own tin hats. About half-past five, Colonel Greer, while standing outside advanced Battalion Headquarters dug-out in the first objective line, was killed instantly by shrapnel or bullet. It was his devoted work, his arrangement and foresight that had brought every man to his proper place so far without waste of time or direction. He had literally made the Battalion for this battle as a steeplechaser is made for a given line of country. Men and officers together adored him for his justice, which was exemplary and swift; for the human natural fun of the man; for his knowledge of war and the material under his hand, and for his gift of making hard life a thing delightful. He fell on the threshold of the day ere he could see how amply his work had been rewarded. Captain Gunston took command of the Battalion, for, of the seniors, Captain Alexander was out ahead with No. 4 Company, and Major Ferguson was in Regimental Reserve. Headquarters were moved up into Caribou trench, and by six o’clock the second objective had been reached, in the face of bad machine-gun fire from Hey Wood that had opened on us through a break in our barrage.’
This trench map extract, dated 30th June 1917, a month before the start of Third Ypres and Greer’s death, shows the aforementioned Caribou trenches and, up in the top right corner and marked in orange, Hey Wood.
Greer’s original wooden grave marker, photographed very soon after his interment, and if you’ve ever wondered whether, should you visit a CWGC cemetery, you are standing on the actual grave when reading a headstone inscription, well, yes, you are.
Further along the row four men, three of them officers, from different Guards regiments, more casualties from the first twenty four hours of Third Ypres. From left, and pictured, Captain Sir John Swinnerton Dyer M.C. (his headstone, you will notice, has BART inscribed on it – he was a baronet), 1st Bn, Scots Guards, attached as Deputy Assistant Quartermaster General to the Guards Division; Second Lieutenant J. W. Chapple, Grenadier Guards; Guardsman Henry Joseph Harfitt, Irish Guards; Captain Thomas Kenneth Barnsley, Coldstream Guards (pictured right).
Early August casualties in Row E,…
…and now looking south across Plot II at, from left, Rows C, B & A, with Plot I in the right background. The men killed in Row A, eighteen of whom are artillerymen, all died between 27th & 29th July 1917, and those in Row B died either between 29th July & 31st July, or between 8th & 11th August. Why do I tell you this? Well, the first phase of Third Ypres commenced on 31st July, preceded by an artillery barrage that would have seen retaliation from the German guns, some of which would have found their targets, hence the number of British artillerymen buried here in the days before the battle. The second phase of the battle, after a break mainly due to inclement weather, began on 10th August, which explains the nine burials in the row killed around that date (there are none between 31st July & 8th August in this row). And this is where it all gets terribly embarrassing.
Here’s Row B again, with a headstone near the centre highlighted,…
…and highlighted again here, because, and I can just make it out on the inset (but then I’ve spent months looking at it – on and off, I have done some other stuff too!), it happens to have a Victoria Cross engraved on it. Corporal James Llewellyn Davies, Royal Welsh Fusiliers, was killed on 31st July 1917, aged 31. He was awarded the V.C. ‘For most conspicuous bravery during an attack on the enemy’s line, this non-commissioned officer pushed through our own barrage and single-handed attacked a machine gun emplacement, after several men had been killed in attempting to take it. He bayoneted one of the machine gun crew and brought in another man, together with the captured gun. Cpl. Davies, although wounded, then led a bombing party to the assault of a defended house, and killed a sniper who was harassing his platoon. This gallant non-commissioned officer has since died of wounds received during the attack.’ And indeed he died of his wounds at the dressing station here at Canada Farm. And next time I will pay him the attention he is due. Doh!
Moving on, now on the other side of the cemetery, looking north and a bit west, with Plot I now on our left, and Row G, in which nearly all the burials, mainly guardsmen & artillerymen, are from the last week of July 1917, in the centre.
Looking back down the cemetery with Plot II in the foreground,…
…before we turn our attention to Plot I. The first two headstones at the start of Plot I Row F tell yet another tragic story. The inset shows, on the left, Lieutenant Colonel Edward Byng George Gregge-Hopwood D.S.O., Commanding Officer 1st Bn. Coldstream Guards, alongside one of his officers, Major Stephen John Burton, the two men photographed together on 8th July 1917.
Twelve days later, on 20th July 1917, they both died together, killed by the same German shell.
Guardsmen & artillerymen in Row D,…
…and the final three rows, Row C in the foreground.
Lance-Serjeant of the Grenadier Guards, three graves from the start of Row C, killed on 11th July 1917,…
…and, further along, four Scots Guardsmen, all killed on 13th July 1917,…
…and four R.F.A. casualties, three of them officers, also all killed in mid-July 1917.
Captain John Lister Dilwyn Venables-Llewelyn, Coldstream Guards, killed on 10th July 1917 aged 20; his younger brother George, an officer in the Royal Engineers, would die in May 1940, during the final days of the German invasion of Norway.
At which point we find ourselves back at the first row, Plot I Row A,…
…the men buried in the row mainly guardsmen killed between 3rd & 7th July 1917. Four headstones from the front, and pictured in the above inset,…
…this is the grave of Lieutenant Frank Remington Pretyman, Scots Guards, who was killed at Boesinghe on 4th July 1917, most likely in the area covered by the earlier trench map extract. Before transferring to the Scots Guards in July 1916 he had been a tunneller and had been gassed twice, the second time at La Boiselle while attempting to save a corporal in an underground tunnel. So why didn’t he get a medal of some sort, because it certainly sounds like he deserved one?
Further along, the grave of Captain Alastair Gordon Peter M.C., R.A.M.C. attached Seaforth Highlanders, wounded by a German shell on 5th July 1917, and dying later the same day, aged 40. His M.C. was awarded for tending to wounded men under heavy fire, and the inscription on his headstone suggests that it was a similar act that led to his death.
And that is it, really, although bear in mind that by choosing different soldiers’ stories to the ones I have highlighted in this post, a totally different tour could have been created. There are so many tales still to be told.
Baldrick wonders whether you spotted any unidentified casualties among the headstones here, because he isn’t sure he did. Anyway, where next, I hear you cry? Well, Gwalia Cemetery is not so far away to the west, but as it is not actually an Elverdinge cemetery we shall head the other way, towards the old front lines, where we will find the only Elverdinge cemetery to the east of the village, Bleuet Farm Cemetery.
An “Officer’s Plot” would seem to run against the CWGC’s tenet that each fallen soldier would be equal in death. And, would be equally commemorated without regard to rank or military, or social rank.
I agree – but the men organising and doing the burying at the time wouldn’t have given a toss for that, especially if an officer on the spot had ordered them to bury the officers together.
Of course I thought way too late that the CWGC did not exist during the First War. Do you remember what the source of that burial regime was ?
There was a debate in Parliament in May 1920 where the IWGCs reason d’aitre was discussed and uniformity of headstones agreed, I believe, so presumably from about then.
I really should add to that that the IWGC was formed in 1917, but its agreed rules & regulations came a few years later.
Just how cold was it in January ?
Ask Baldrick to please reply in °CAN
Freezing, mate. Sometimes even below zero!! (heh heh heh – irony is tricky when blogging).
-C° water freezes
-F° hockey rink freezes fast enough to play 2nd period.
-CAN° (degrees Canadian) we stop wearing shorts.
It would have been nothing but a balmy day for you. T-shirt & shorts weather. But I was fuckin’ freezing, I can tell you!! Lol!
A wonderful post MF! really enjoyable. These personal stories really do make all the difference when looking at cemeteries. It absolutely brings it home. Great research, and I’m sure we can forgive you for not noticing the VC at the time, it was nippy lol.
A remarkable number of artillery men in one cemetery, but I suppose being that bit further back from the front, many of them were probably firing from fairly close to where they are now buried.
Regarding Lieutenant Frank Remington Pretymanome, very few tunnellers received medals for bravery, something that has always stuck in my throat. The issue was really twofold. Firstly the tunnellers were often disliked by senior officers as they had a tendency to do as they pleased rather than doing as they were told. And secondly, because of the environment in which they were working their actions were rarely witnessed by anyone senior enough to put in a recommendation. The reason William Hackett received his VC (the only one awarded to a tunneller in the entire first world war) was because they were evacuating to the surface when he chose to remain underground with a wounded comrade, and there was an officer present who witnessed his act.
great stories, thank you for all your work on this.
Cheers Nick. You know the kind of problems these behind-the-lines cemeteries can cause me (re: our recent Brandhoek chat) so I am glad this one has turned out okay. Staggering number of artillerymen – they can be a bit forgotten, and this cemetery really does show that there were in effect two front lines – one in the front line trenches, and one where the gun batteries, of either side, were. That was the artillerymen’s front line, if you see what I mean.
And thanks for the tunnelling reminder – it gets to me too, but you are right to point out the lack of witnesses to tunnelling acts of bravery.
Thanks again mate. Much appreciated.
Interesting post M as they all are you always bring a different view to these places, there not just a cemetery. I also love the personal stories after all they are all individuals no matter which regiment they belonged to.
Nick why do you feel so strongly about the tunnellers do you have a personal connection. I agree with what you were saying, think they did an incredible and dangerous job. Had the privilege to go down the tunnels at La boiselle amazing experience to think of all that being hewn out by hand.
Hi Margaret. Tunnelling is sort of my area when it comes to WW1. I spent about five years as a member of an archeological group, excavating tunnels under the Loos battlefield.
Gosh Nick that must have been the most amazing experience, a real time capsule, the things you must have seen and discovered. Can’t begin to imagine the hundreds of miles below the fields that lay undisturbed.
It was fascinating work, and there will be a post at some point in which all my experiences and research will combine with MF’s, and we will show a world and a tale unknown to most, but not yet…
Thanks both – am I the only one around here who hasn’t been tunnelling on the Western Front? And referring to Nick’s final comment, we shall indeed – when he gets his finger out…….
Might be more help if I got my spade out tbh hehehe. And I have to take you on a tour of Loos first, when you have the time….
Don’t know when he’s going to fit that in Nick he’s got to do Gallipoli and Wilhelmshaven with me really looking forward to your post though Nick when you get round to it.
Sounds like he’s going to be a busy boy! Lol.
Count me in for Gallipoli! We were originally planning to go in September this year, but that’s gone out the window. Maybe next year with a bit of luck
Re; your comment before the one immediately above. Fair points, well made…….
Another fascinating post MF and yes a truly astonishing number of artillery men laid to rest there. Bit like the myth of the Chateau Generals I think people assume artillery men were all safely behind the lines blazing away with impunity which is of course very far from the truth.
Of course apart from counter battery fire, men of the R.F.A in particular were often pretty close to the front line and at times actually on it and firing over open sights. We have a letter my Grandfather sent back to his family where he speaks of his battery being in the thick of it while not just shells but also bullets are flying past his head….
Those personal stories you tell of the men buried in these places never fail to move.
Thanks Jon. And of course junior artillery officers would often be in the front line from an artillery observation point of view.
I’ve booked to go in September next year Nick, one I’ve wanted to do for a while. Going with Leger. Providing we are virus free by then.