It’s getting late in the day as we arrive at the entrance to Kemmel Chateau Military Cemetery.
And you know what? I have a bit of a problem with this cemetery, as I shall explain as we go along. In the meantime, note this postcard, which must have been taken not so long after the war, showing the cemetery entrance (it may be that when the cemetery was properly planned post-war the site of the entrance was changed) and, stacked nearby, a number of wooden crosses, although whether used or mint, it is impossible to tell.
And while we are at it, here’s the chateau in all its pre-war glory,…
…and here’s a map from mid-1917 of Kemmel village, with the church marked in orange, the chateau, surrounded by its moat, in pink, the cemetery in green, and what was known locally as Kemmel Lake (see postcard below, looking towards the shattered church) is in dark blue, with Mont Kemmel marked in the bottom left.
Anyway, to the right of the entrance today, you might notice that this row of forty six headstones is designated as Plot I Row O,…
…and, continuing to our right, this is Plot I Row N, and in fact the whole cemetery is a single plot of seventeen rows of burials, Row O in the previous shot actually one of the shortest, as Row N, nearest the camera, consists of eighty three headstones and Row M, on the right, is the longest at eighty six. The cemetery plan, thanks to the CWGC, can be seen here.
This row of headstones along the cemetery’s northern boundary is actually made up of Second World War graves, these men killed between 24th & 28th May 1940, as the British Expeditionary Force retreated towards the Channel ports. And beyond them, after a small gap,…
…the single French burial in the cemetery, this Muslim soldier’s date of death also May 1940.
It may not have appeared so in the opening shot, but the Stone of Remembrance…
…is positioned only a little past halfway across the cemetery,…
…with the Cross of Sacrifice in the eastern corner,…
…or nearly. These graves at the end of Row N are among three hundred or so burials from 1917 in the cemetery.
The main problem with bringing you a tour of this cemetery is that the layout makes any shot taken from pretty much anywhere look exactly like every other shot taken from pretty much anywhere else, and even you lot, hardy folk that you are, might find yourselves skipping through a bit. Should you ever visit, however, you won’t find it too hard if you are looking for someone specific.
Eighty of the 1,135 men buried here are Canadian, fifty of whom are to be found in Row K, the second row in this picture, the majority killed between late 1915 and early 1916. If we zoom in on this shot a bit,…
…the headstone furthest left in Row K is that of Private Cecil John Letherby, 28th Bn. Canadian Infantry, killed on 22nd November 1915, aged 23,…
…and who appears as the bottom name on this GRRF. Buried a few graves to his left, just out of shot of the previous two pictures, and five names from the bottom of the form, is Private D. E. Walsh, 49th Bn. Canadian Infantry, who was killed on 11th November 1915, also aged 23,…
…and whose original wooden cross appears on the left of the front row in this shot, alongside two men killed a few days later on 15th November, Privates Frijs & Whitcutt. The centre headstone of the five in the row behind (now Row L) is that of Private W. H. Fraser, another 49th Bn. man who was killed on 15th December 1915, aged 28, and, looking at the undamaged trees in the background, I would suggest that this is a shot taken in 1916. What is made clear by the fencing beyond, is that what became Row L was, at this particular time, the final row in the cemetery.
Private Frijs, incidentally, was actually Count Ove Krag-Juel-Vind-Frijs, son of Jens Christian Krag-Juel-Vind-Frijs, Count of Juellinge from Lolland, Denmark. Initially I was somewhat confused by his entry being crossed out in the cemetery index,…
…until I realised that, clearly, no one had any idea which letter, alphabetically, he should have been listed under!
The Canadian burials continue to the end of Row K, in the foreground, although the final burial, nearest the camera here, is actually a special memorial, and most unusually, there is nothing whatsoever on the headstone to signify this (see inset below).
Apparently, there was once a memorial cross here with six Canadian names on it, men killed in December 1915 who can now be found listed on the Menin Gate, and then three further graves (Skelly, Walsh & Moss),…
…but only Private Skelly’s actual grave still remains today (the penultimate headstone in Row K), with the special memorial headstone of Private Albert Moss next to him (and nearest the camera). And guess what? Where the memorial cross once stood, there is now a gap, the largest in the cemetery.
The CWGC information tells us that ‘the village and cemetery fell into German hands in late April . The cemetery was retaken later in the year, but in the interval it was badly shelled and the old chateau destroyed.’
And here’s another shot of the old chateau which, according to this pre-war postcard, ‘has been recently beautifully restored’,…
…which proved to be a case of bad timing if ever there was one. Nonetheless, these pictures show you exactly how much damage was inflicted on the chateau – there was basically nothing left of it – and on the land surrounding, land in which this cemetery was already sited.
So what’s the explanation for a cemetery with well over 1,000 burials, very few of them unidentified, all but eighteen made in the years prior to 1918 (and even the 1918 burials all made before 15th March), no concentration burials at all (the cemeteries we have already visited to the north being those used for such purpose), heavily shelled during the final summer of the war, but with no special memorials to lost graves (well, one, as we have seen), and yet today appears so perfectly laid-out and neat as this one, the only gap in the headstones being, we now know, because there was a memorial cross once there?
It seems to me that there are two possible scenarios, the first being that the cemetery, somehow, survived all the fighting in 1918 relatively unscathed, which seems highly unlikely bearing in mind the photographic evidence of the shattered chateau. Otherwise, the best I can offer is that, with the cemetery unused after mid-March 1918 and all the burial records for the previous years by then triple-copied and safely filed, when the Allies recaptured this shattered land, they did at least know who had actually been buried here.
How they could then identify so many once-buried bodies and then rebury them in neat lines is quite beyond me, and my suggestion is that they didn’t. I think that in the areas of the cemetery that had been subsequently destroyed, the headstones do indeed mark the men once buried there, but whether their remains are really beneath the appropriate headstones is, I would have thought, a moot point.
It’s all supposition, I know. What do you think? And, while we are at it, why is the cemetery not split into plots? Questions, questions*. This view looks due north, with Row G on the left,…
*for more significant evidence, if not answers, see Nick’s comment on dates of death and regimental clusters in the comments section that follows this post.
…and now on the right. Not so many headstones down Row G,…
…we find the grave of Private Stanley Stewart, Royal Scots Fusiliers, aged just 21. Stewart had arrived in France in November 1914 and was diagnosed with shellshock the following month, necessitating his evacuation to England. He must have recovered sufficiently to return to active duty because on 25th July 1917 he was found to be missing from his post. Although soon found and arrested, he managed to escape when a nearby shell burst distracted his captors. Discovered soon after, and despite claiming that he had been an inmate at a Scottish mental asylum, no medical examination was carried out at his trial, and he was sentenced to be shot, his execution taking place on 29th August 1917.
Looking across the first seven rows towards the southern corner (far right background) of the cemetery, Row G crossing the picture nearest the camera, Row H front left.
The southern corner of the cemetery,…
…from where this view looks north. Did you ever see a neater burial ground?
Row A (above & below), most of the sixty nine casualties in the row killed in 1915.
The first burials were made here in December 1914 and can all be found in the second row in both photos, Row B.
Looking east from the cemetery’s western corner, Row A on the right, Row B next,…
…and panning left, Row D now in front of us. Between them, Rows D & E contain ninety casualties of the Sherwood Foresters (Notts and Derby Regiment), out of 117 men of the regiment buried here, all killed between April & June 1915, as you can see on the GRRFs below that show some of the burials in Row E.
By the time the Sherwood Foresters began using this cemetery, there were already over two hundred men buried here,…
…but nonetheless it appears, at least for a period, that the cemetery was referred to as Sherwood Foresters’ Cemetery (or even Cemetary), as this map extract shows
These postcards, above & below, show the cemetery sometime after the war, and the five names – Beatty, Ridley, Burroughs, Margett & Clayton – on the ornate cross on the far right allow us to pinpoint the location today.
Which is here. Three rows from the front, in Row F. The first four burials in the row, highlighted in orange, are indeed the first four men buried there in the postcard, and the fifth headstone, marked in blue, features two emblems, which happen to be those of the Royal Sussex Regiment and the Sherwood Foresters,…
…and which does indeed mark the graves of Second Lieutenant Eric Beatty of the Royal Sussex Regiment & Private Eric Ridley of the Sherwood Foresters, both of whose names were mentioned earlier, the confirmation that they are still buried together to be found (and highlighted in blue) on the above form. The three other men named on the old ornate cross, Burroughs, Margett & Clayton, all Northamptonshire Regiment men, are listed below them, the latter two buried in a single grave (the evidence highlighted in red), hence you can see only two headstones with the Northamptonshire Regiment emblem (highlighted in red on the photograph), as opposed to three.
And here, highlighted, are the nine names that today can be found on the first seven headstones of Row F. Incidentally, the five men named on the ornate cross and now buried beneath three headstones are shown on the above GRRF as all sharing the same grave reference number of F5, and indeed they still do today.
Two Royal Fusilier officers, Lieutenant William Louis Tate (above), killed on 13th March 1915 aged 24, and buried in Row X, and Lieutenant Rupert Vardon De Burgh Griffith, killed the day before, aged 22 (below), in Row L.
The epitaph on his headstone, although you cannot see it, I’m afraid, says ‘Sans peur et sans reproche dulce et decorum est pro patria mori’, which means ‘Without fear and without reproach it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country‘. The Roman poet Horace may have coined the last part, but Wilfred Owen called it the ‘Old Lie’, and he was, I think, just about right.
Graves in Row G, the personal inscription on the headstone of the R.A.M.C. lieutenant on the right, who died in March 1915, being ‘Killed in action whilst attending a wounded comrade at Kemmel Belgium R.I.P.’
Row X, the graves slightly closer to each other than the other rows, nonetheless contains seventy eight burials. Beyond, and to the right,…
…Row Y, one of the shortest rows in the cemetery, with only thirty four burials, the majority from 1916.
There are twenty two men whose name are Smith buried in this cemetery, and one of them, Private James Smith, is the second man interred here who was shot for desertion, his grave to be found in Row M. He had joined the Lancashire Fusiliers before the war, served with them on Gallipoli in 1915 and on the Somme the following year before being buried by an explosion in October 1916, after which he was sent home to England to recuperate. On his return to duty he was posted to the 17th Bn. King’s Liverpool Regiment but was twice found to be absent from his post, once in December 1916 and again in July 1917, before a third absence on the eve of the third Battle of Ypres resulted in his apprehension in Poperinge and this time, not helped by his silence throughout the whole trial, he was sentenced to death, the sentence duly carried out on 5th September 1917.
Still in Row M, three lance corporals, two King’s Liverpool regiment casualties from October 1917, and in the centre, a Gordon Highlander killed in April 1916,…
…as is the grave of this Connaught Ranger lance corporal killed in action in February 1917, his name to be found near the bottom of the GRRF, and no Row N visible behind at the time the photo was taken.
American subaltern – his parents hailed from Seattle – of the Northumberland Fusiliers who died on 15th June 1916 aged 30 and who is buried in Row M. Clearly not forgotten,…
…and visible here to the right of centre, three graves from the foreground, with Rows N & O, and the Second World War graves of Row P, on the left.
All of which brings us to the end of this particular post, and a confusing place, with still plenty of questions as yet unanswered, this has turned out to be.
Post-war views of the cemetery, the man on the right now to be found in Row D,…
…and a final shot of the ruins of the chateau with Mont Kemmel behind. Which, at last, is our next destination – click the link – as this series of posts turns exclusively to the spring and summer of 1918.
Thank you I am finding this series of posts very interesting it is helping to build my knowledge of where places that I have seen mentioned in other posts actually are
Thank you Alan – that’s given me an idea, as well……
Certainly an intriguing cemetery.
The precision in layout – as you have already noted, is hard to comprehend when considering the destruction that went on around it, and to presumably some of it, if not all of it in 1918.
Ground penetrating radar may provide a new range of answers to the questions raised!
That’s the answer! Unfortunately, my bank manager apparently disagrees…..
A number of these Kemmel cemeteries seem to have slightly strange layouts ! Fascinating as always and some intriguing and sad stories told by those headstones.
I was also struck by the number of “ornate” original crosses placed there during the war. I had always thought most would have been very simple affairs. Does anyone know if the ornate crosses were a common thing ? Perhaps more common at locations comfortably behind the lines (at the time) ?
Thanks Jon. I think original crosses can often tell you all sorts of things……or at least suggest them; an officers’ popularity*, perhaps; a man’s bravery, perhaps; a carpenter’s skills, perhaps, and so on.
*if you believe Frank Richards in Old Soldiers Never Die, he and his mates only ever had one prayer, and that was that such-and-such an officer they couldn’t stand would Go West a.s.a.p.! To be fair, he is also effusive in his praise for officers who proved they were up for it.
Well my friend, I have to say, I concur. Not just because I’m good like that, but actually because I think there can be little doubt. Firstly, theres no way the cemetery survived intact given the obvious destruction around it. And indeed, the details given on the CWGC website state that it was heavily shelled along with the Chateau, so it has to have been reconstructed. And secondly, with a few exceptions, burials by row are in precise date order. So if we look at Plot 1, Row J for example, graves 47 to 66 run in reverse from the 5th July 1915 to the 22nd June 1915 in perfect order (that just happened to be the headstone document in front of me). And it appears to be the same for much of the cemetery, certainly according to the headstone documents. That simply never happens, burials were far too random. There are exceptions, 2nd Lt WC Shaw and Captain Frere MC are in Row F in the midst of a run of burials dated between the 12th and 23rd March 1915, however they were both killed in 1917, which really just adds to the mystery. Late additions to vacant plots perhaps?
The thing that threw me briefly is that if you search for casualties by date of death on the CWGC site, then you get a list of men in different rows. Took me a while, but then I realised that they’ve been allotted headstones not just by date of death, but also by regiment. Its only when you start to combine dates and regiments that the pattern emerges
There is one other peculiar ‘coincidence’ when looking at the GRRF’s for this cemetery, which for want of a better phrase I’ll call alphabetic sequencing. By which I mean that men from regiments beginning with the same letter often appear to be grouped together. So we see Northampton regiment grouped with Notts and Derby, and Royal Rifles with Royal Garrison Artillery and Royal Army Medical Corps. Not always, but often enough to make me wonder.
It gives the illusion of being a mixed cemetery, but my feeling is that it’s undoubtably by design.
I strongly suspect the reason for the regularity of this place is, as you suggest, that it is in effect a cemetery of memorial headstones all of which should read:
“known to be buried”
I wonder if thats why they didn’t bother adding it to Private Moss’s?
That’s brilliant mate. Oh yes indeed. That is kinda the clincher, and I shall reference your comment in the post. Good work!!!
I have added the following mid-post: *for more significant evidence, if not answers, see Nick’s comment on dates of death and regimental clusters in the comments section that follows this post.
Well thank you kindly, I feel very honoured to receive such a mention! Glad to be of service, as ever.
“Regimental clusters”, thats an excellent turn of phrase, far better than my effort. And full credit to you for realising that this cemetery was so remarkably different from the others in the first place. Something which has no doubt passed by the many thousands that have visited here over the decades. Thats a really great catch.
In hindsight, one could feel sad for those who thought they were visiting the grave of a loved one, but probably weren’t, but in the end does it really matter who’s remains they stood over and wept? Perhaps not….
That’ll be down to my complete lack of ego……
Seriously, credit where credit’s due, end of. It’s some seriously good evidence to add to my research (for which I appreciate your kind words). As I wrote it, those thousands who have visited were not so far from my mind. I think the lack of plots was something to do with not being too specific about the graves, too. Your last point, btw, is a fair one.
Definitely one of the neatest cemeteries I have seen M. The most intriguing of the Kemmel posts to date no wonder you were puzzled when doing your research M, think Nick your right these headstones should say known to be buried they can’t have remained, with all the devastation that went, on a whole chateau reduced to nothing. Great to see the postcards showing the different styles of crosses used, having researched some of those remaining to this day I wonder why one person should get such an ornate cross, who had the time to design build and decorate them and then others were just the bog standard mass produced type.
An excellent question Margaret. My suspicion would be that the ornate ones are post war commissions from family members. I should imagine the local carpenters did a roaring trade until the IWGC decided they would all be replaced with stone.
Possibly Nick although I do think some of them were done by comrades as M suggested officers who were respected. The most unusual I have seen is a propellor cross.
Well done M for giving credit to Nick have to say Nick you did brilliantly spotting the dates sequence and the Regimental Clusters
Thank you Margaret, that’s very kind of you to say. And yes, I’m sure some of them would have also been made by their comrades. They did of course have a fair amount of down time in the trenches, when they weren’t attacking or defending so for someone with the right skills, it would certainly have been possible. I suppose the question in this case is whether the photograph was taken before the cemetery was destroyed by shelling, or after the war when it had been pieced back together. Quite possibly the former, in which case they would have been made by the men themselves.
My grandfather accompanied Captain Nash and Private Hall (all of 9th Btn North Staffs Regiment) out into No Mans Land dusk July 17th 1917. Their task was to mark out a stretch of communication heading straight out from the front line. Enemy shelling commenced and they were all buried in a shell crater. My grandfather who was a lieutenant was lucky to escape serious injury. He got himself out of the crater. He went back to the front line and got a group of men to help him dig out the Captain and his adjutant. They were both deceased. My grandfather assumed the Captains role and oversaw his Company dig the trench through the night. Captain Nash and his adjutant initially were buried at Messines but their bodies were reburied later at Kemmel Chateau. ( Graves L52 and L53).
Thank you for the info David. Appreciated. Always interesting to hear personal stories of places featured on this site.