Mont Kemmel Part Nine – Kemmel Churchyard

Before the war, Kemmel church looked like this. 

And inside, it looked like this.

And then, for a while, it looked like this,…

…and today it looks like this.

The sign at the entrance says there are Commonwealth war graves to be found in its churchyard,…

…and indeed there are,…

…twenty one headstones within this small enclosure,…

…all men killed between October 1914 & March 1915.

Kemmel village and church photographed in late 1914 (above) and in January 1915 (below), at which time, apart from the debris lying around, the only significant evidence of warfare appears to be the damage to the roofs of two of the buildings in the shot above, and the hole in the house on the left below.

In actual fact, only the eight headstones directly facing us in this picture are known burial sites, the line of headstones on the right all being special memorials to men who are known to be buried in this churchyard, but whose graves have been lost.

Pre-war & post-war (above & below) views taken from the Kemmelberg looking north at Kemmel village, the green triangle nothing more than a feature – I know not what – that appears on both, and thus gives you a reference point.

Some difference, eh?  And all, or nearly all, damage from the final year of the war.  Note the Messines Ridge on the horizon.

The same feature can be seen on the left here, this time in an aerial view looking in the other direction, south west towards the Kemmelberg (just out of picture at top), the remains of the church the only identifiable building.  On the right, a dugout beneath the shattered church.  Hardly surprising, then, that the sites of many of the British graves in the churchyard from more than three years earlier were lost and are today remembered by special memorials.

What is surprising, really, is quite how it is known that these two rows of headstones do actually mark grave sites, looking at the practically unrecognisable churchyard seen in the previous aerial picture.  The inset shows Kemmel churchyard, slightly battered after the early skirmishes of 1914, later that same winter – quite possibly there were already British war graves in the churchyard at the time this photograph was taken.  Anyway, let’s see who is buried here.

Rows A & B read like a lucky, or unlucky, dip of the cavalry regiments of the pre-war army. Four of the six burials (actually designated as A1-A3 & B2) are men killed on 30th October 1914, including the two pictured above.  On the left, a private of the 16th Lancers, and next to him, and pictured, Major George Geoffrey Prendergast Humphreys, 127th Queen Mary’s Own Baluch Light Infantry, attached to the 129th Duke of Connaught’s Own Baluchis, Indian Army.  Humphreys, aged 41, was wounded near Hollebeke, to the south east of Ypres, and subsequently died of his wounds.

The row continues with a second lieutenant of the XII Royal Lancers (both emblem and headstone use Roman numerals) on the left who also died on 30th October 1914, and a private of the 6th Dragoon Guards (Carabiniers) who died on 23rd October 1914 on the right,…

…and ends with the earliest burial, the Royal Scots Greys private on the left killed on 23rd October 1914, and, on the right, a slightly later burial, this Royal Engineer sapper killed on 29th December 1914.

Behind, in Row B, two more cavalrymen, a serjeant of 5th (Royal Irish) Lancers on the left, and another man of the XII Lancers on the right, this time a corporal, these men dying on 30th & 31st October 1914 respectively.

The GRRF also shows that these two burials are designated as Row B graves 2 & 3 (at the bottom of the form), and that the row of thirteen special memorials that we shall look at in a minute were apparently all originally remembered by a ‘Special Cross’ that was once designated as B1 (look carefully at the final column – there’s a tick next to the ‘1’).  Today there is no B1, but it does explain why the CWGC says the following, ‘The churchyard contains 25 Commonwealth burials and commemorations of the First World War. Three of the burials are unidentified and the graves of fifteen casualties destroyed by shell fire are represented by special memorials’, whereas the reality is that only two unidentified men’s headstones are to be found here, the total number of headstones thus being twenty four, not twenty five.

The row of headstones along the hedgerow all have ‘Known to be buried in this cemetery’ inscribed at the top, and we now know that once, in their place, there stood a ‘Special Cross’, probably lined up with the headstones on the right, I would have thought.

The special memorials begin with, on the left, another cavalryman, this time a private from the Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars who was killed on 22nd November 1914, alongside a captain from the Border Regiment, a Royal Scots private,…

…and, nearest the camera here, an elderly – he was forty six – private of the East Kents (The Buffs).

The row continues with a private and two lance corporals of the Royal Scots Fusiliers,…

…followed by a Cheshire Regiment private and three Gordon Highlanders,…

…finishing with a Highland Light Infantry lieutenant, and one of the two unidentified soldiers in the cemetery – how unusual to find a special memorial headstone to an unknown soldier.

Eleven of these thirteen men died between 22nd November 1914 and 25th January 1915, the other two slightly later in March 1915.  And as you look at these graves, be aware that the men buried here are mainly Old Contemptibles, many of whom would have seen action, quite a few on horseback, at Mons and the subsequent retreat, only to die a few months later in the trenches east of Ypres, their bodies brought here for burial.  As the war progressed, the rising number of casualties would make using Belgian churchyards impractical, hence churchyard burials tend to be from the early months of the war.

And this is Rugby Corner.  These three graves are to be found elsewhere in the churchyard, one, in the foreground, purporting to be the actual grave of another unknown soldier, although the placement of the headstone within the kerbing suggests there wasn’t too much to bury.

The other two are special memorials to officers of The King’s Liverpool Regiment killed a couple of weeks apart in January 1915, both ‘Known to be buried in this cemetery’, but whose actual grave sites have been lost.  It’s not really called Rugby Corner, I made that bit up, but both of these men had distinguished rugby union careers, which is undoubtedly why their special memorial headstones have been placed together.

Lieutenant Percy Dale ‘Toggie’ Kendall (left, with battalion war diary extract) won three England caps between 1901 & 1903, the final one as captain against Scotland (England lost all three), and Second-Lieutenant Frederick ‘Tanky’ Turner (right) was capped fifteen times for Scotland between 1911 & March 1914, being made captain in 1913.

All of which, I think, deals with the whys and wherefores of Kemmel churchyard.

Post-war view from the slopes of the Kemmelberg looking towards the remains of Kemmel village, the Messines Ridge on the horizon,…

…what it says on the tin,…

…and a little later, the rebuilding process now well under way, the Kemmelberg on the far left,…

…and again seen here behind the battered church, as we take our leave to search for the cemetery in the grounds of the old chateau,…

…which, ending the way we began, once looked like this,…

…and later looked like this.

I suggest we follow the sign.  My guess would be about three hundred yards……

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10 Responses to Mont Kemmel Part Nine – Kemmel Churchyard

  1. Nick Kilner says:

    The place certainly did take a battering! Interesting little cemetery. Great photos too.

    • Magicfingers says:

      I think that people are generally unaware of how much damage was caused in this part of Flanders in 1918 – even me, before I started researching these posts. But not any more, hopefully. I think it’s an interesting little place – and without forcing you to comment, I shall be interested in your thoughts about the next cemetery, coming hot on the heels of this one. I have my theory, as ever, but I welcome others. You’ll see. And then we shall attack Mont Kemmel itself, just like the Germans did……..

  2. Jon T says:

    Have been following all these Kemmel posts with a lot of interest, many thanks for them MF. The events of 1918, whether the German offensives or the Allied 100 days always seem to be overshadowed by the events of previous years in the popular imagination, which in some ways is strange given the sheer scale of the fighting and consequently destruction and casualties that 1918 witnessed.

    Those before and after pictures from whatever year never cease to amaze and appal in equal measure. Those small number of burials from the first months of the war really do seem like from another age from what followed.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Thank you Jon. Good, because that is what I am aiming to do. I agree entirely with what you say – nothing to add. Cheers!

  3. Morag L Sutherland says:

    Good morning. 2 weeks ago I stood in the churchyard my friend Ingrid told me church is completely stripped inside. Building no longer used for worship thanks as always for the detailed explanation of the casualties

    • Magicfingers says:

      Gosh! We drove past a couple of times last weekend, but of course didn’t go in having already covered the churchyard here.

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