Oak Dump Cemetery

The entrance to Oak Dump Cemetery, these photographs taken exactly one week ago this afternoon.

Google map I created some years back with links to all the cemeteries we have visited to the south west of Ieper.  Down at the bottom of the map, the coloured lines show the various trenches that crossed the area of the Palingbeek,…

…seen again here on this British map (British lines in blue, German in red) from April 1917.  The cemetery’s location is marked by the pink dot over to the left, just to the south of the Ypres-Comines canal and actually in what was No Man’s Land at the time the map was produced.

Zooming in closer – the shaded area is actually the modern Palingbeek golf course – we can see exactly why Oak Dump Cemetery was thus named.  Looking at the names given by the British to the German trenches south of the canal, all those in this area begin with the prefix ‘Oak’, and thus, beginning with the front line trench, we have Oak Trench, then the communication trenches, Oak Row, Avenue, Alley, Lane & Street, all linked by Oak Support. The German second line trench is, understandably, called Oak Reserve, and further back you’ll find Oak Switch and Oak Crescent, before the prefix changes to ‘Opal’ on the far right.

The view on entry.  The cemetery is split into ten rows, Rows A to E on our left, and Rows I & J on our right, with Row H also on the right a little further down the cemetery,…

…and Rows F & G on the upper level at the far end on either side of the Cross of Sacrifice.  Behind which you can see the 12th green of the aforementioned golf course.

Rows D (right) & C (centre) are the two longest in the cemetery, Row B consists of the two headstones nearest the camera, and the three headstones of Row A can be seen in front of the wall on the left,…

…the three Hampshire regiment men buried in the row all killed in mid-August 1917.  Probably best to view the cemetery plan now, before we head back…

…to where we started, the two headstones of Row B closest to us,…

…both men September 1917 casualties.

The burials in Row C are all from August 1917,…

…barring two late-July burials, one seen here on the right,…

…and indeed all except three of the burials in the cemetery are men killed in either July, August or September 1917.

There are two dozen artillerymen, two of whom are Australians, buried in this cemetery, five of these men (above & below) at the start of Row C killed on 7th August 1917, and one a day later.

Behind, Row D is split into two sections, nine headstones out of shot to the left, then the large gap you see here, and then the row continues…

…with one of only a handful of unknown soldiers buried here, alongside two Royal Sussex Regiment privates.  A number of regiments buried men here, most likely units returning from the front line with their dead.

Further along Row D, two Post Office Rifles subalterns, the man on the left attached from the Northern Cyclists Battalion.

Rows C, D, and on the far right, the first two headstones of Row E,…

…these two men killed in mid-August 1917; note that Lance Corporal Bolton, the East Surrey man on the right, was a holder of the Military Medal.

Most of the Burials in Row E, however, are men killed between 20th & 24th July 1917 (above & below), but what is difficult to ignore…

…is the state of some of these headstones.  Answers on a postcard, please, because this looks most unusual, does it not?  Meanwhile, the headstone on the far left…

…can now be seen behind these headstones on the right, the graves in the foreground being the first nine of Row D.  The two men closest to the camera are both unidentified, although one has been confirmed as a man of the Royal Sussex Regiment, but the seven other graves…

…are men of the 180th Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery, all of whom died on 26th March 1918.  That day, a sap close to the cemetery was blown in, and seven men of the 180th Siege Battery simply disappeared beneath the debris.  Nearly ten years later, in 1927, their bodies were recovered and buried here.

And so to the upper level,…

…Row F on the left, and Row G on the right.  The first of the two single headstones in Row F…

…is one of two men buried here who died on 31st October 1914, the earliest date, by far, to be found in the cemetery.

Nor is there any suggestion that Lieutenant North was buried elsewhere and then moved here,…

…because his name once appeared on the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing.

The second lone headstone on the upper level, and the other name on the GRRF, once listed as just an unknown British sergeant, was identified in the mid-1920s as Lance Serjeant R. F. Jane, 23rd Bn. London Regiment, who died on 6th July 1917, a date we shall encounter again shortly.

The first three burials in Row F – very close to the base of the Cross – include one of the two Australian gunners on the right, with another of the unidentified men in the centre, and a Royal West Kent casualty on the left, the two identified men both killed in July 1917,…

…but behind the Cross, and unseen so far,…

…are these two special memorials to two more 23rd Bn. London Regiment men who also died on 6th July 1917, both men ‘known to be buried in this cemetery’.  The death of Second Lieutenant Mitchell, on the left,…

…is recorded on this page from the 23rd Bn. London Regiment war diary, along with two other soldiers killed the same day.  As the only other 23rd Bn. men buried or remembered in this cemetery who died on 6th July 1917 are Private Rowden, remembered on the second of the special memorials, and Lance Serjeant Jane, one presumes that the war diary refers to them.

And indeed, the relevant GRRF shows that Lance Serjeant Jane, now identified, once, if only briefly, had a special memorial headstone alongside the other two men.

I am also not entirely sure that Second Lieutenant Mitchell’s details are correctly inscribed,…

…because here he is listed as Second Lieutenant A. M. Mitchell M.C.,…

…whereas here he has become Second Lieutenant A. MC. K. Mitchell M.C.  I suspect we have an ‘MC’ problem here.

Row G, the final row on the upper level.  Two of these men are Army Cyclist Corps privates, both killed on 6th July 1917,…

…as were the two R.F.A. men on the left here at the start of Row H.

Further down the row, four of these headstones are inscribed with two names, among which there are three more Army Cyclist Corps men also killed on 6th July 1917, the same date as the two in Row G.  Seventeen men buried in the cemetery died on 6th July 1917.

The final two rows, Row I on the right and Row J on the left.

The new headstone on the far right of Row I in the foreground is the second of the pre-July 1917 casualties in the cemetery.  Second Lieutenant Eric Henderson was a young Intelligence Officer with 8th Bn. London Regiment (Post Office Rifles) who was killed on 7th June 1917 (the first day of the Battle of Messines),…

…and whose name is another once to be found on the Menin Gate.

More Post Office Rifles graves, all mid-July 1917 casualties, in Row J.

At the end of Row J we find the second man killed on 31st October 1914, and the only concentration burial in the cemetery.

I dug up (sorry) this Concentration of Graves Burial Return form on which Second Lieutenant Arthur Nicholson’s name appears, although crossed out.  The form, which clearly states ‘without remains’, suggests that these men once had memorial crosses in Voormezeele Enclosure No. 3, and if you check them, all appear on either the Menin Gate or the panels at Tyne Cot.  Apart from Second Lieutenant Nicholson, whose body was found and now lies here in Oak Dump.  Apparently.

Two trench maps, the first from mid-July 1917, two weeks before Third Ypres, the German front lines already pushed back to the far right of the map as a consequence of the Battle of Messines a month earlier.  Which helps to explain both why the cemetery could be created in what was once No Man’s Land, and why it was only used for a brief period of time as it fell further and further behind the advancing British lines.

The second map is from mid-July 1918, by which time the German trenches had switched colour to blue on trench maps, with the British now in red, the cemetery now some three miles behind the German lines as a consequence of their gains in the spring of that year.

As I said near the start, these photos were taken exactly a week ago.  Take another look at the state of the headstones here, take my word that something similar, or worse, can be seen in other cemeteries that I visited last week, and let me know what you think is going on.  I thank you.

This entry was posted in Voormezele. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Oak Dump Cemetery

  1. Morag L Sutherland says:

    I thought i had posted it has gone AWOL.
    CWGC information office at Menin Gate confirmed that new fertiliser with out a pesticide has lead to build up of dirt on grave markers. Being environmentally friendly has consequences. I had written more but can’t face re writing it..

    • Magicfingers says:

      Excellent. Thank you. At least that is a starting point. But a build up of dirt indeed. Trust me, it’s far more than that. Expect an email on the subject. And I am afraid you may have to remember what you originally wrote – I need as much info as possible. Please.

      • Morag L Sutherland says:

        My daughter spoke to gentleman on duty. Ieper. My husband confirms that is what she was told. That previously the pesticide had kept stones clean. I have a friend from Kingussie there at moment. I will ask her to check but think I am too late as they are due to sail hone!

  2. Peter Halls says:

    Very interesting thank you, now I will have to visit it again armed with that knowledge , when I visited it a few years ago I seem to recall that it is situated a bit of a dip in the landscape and one of those torrential showers opened up so that I couldn’t even get out of the car !

    • Magicfingers says:

      Thanks Peter. I am familiar with such weather! Lol! And it is indeed in a dip, out of sight of the Germans, and therefore a decent place for a dump to be located.

  3. Barry Carlson says:

    Thanks for that interesting tour of “Oak Dump Cemetery”.

    I’ve got a not so nice suggestion for the messy looking headstones. They appear to be suffering from ‘climate change’ – in particular to the increasing level of water content in the atmosphere. To my eye, Black Mould is the problem! It can be dealt with using an oxidizing agent on a spray and walk away basis. Not something that can easily be removed manually without taking care not to inhale the spores. Aspergillosis is not a pleasant Respiratory tract infection; from my experience!

    • Magicfingers says:

      Blimey. Thanks for that Barry. Very interesting. I think I might put together a post in the next few days that highlights the problem in full graphic close-up detail, and then see whether you reckon that fits your suggestion properly (and what others might suggest, of course, too). The question is, does black mould attack the actual stone?

  4. Kevin McCann says:

    Well photographed and documented keep it up
    Lest we Forget

  5. Jon T says:

    We stopped by at Oak Dump towards the end of a very long walk in 35 degree heat last summer so sadly did not look around properly then, so marvellous to see all the detail here MF. The state of those gravestones is quite shocking really compared to what we are all used to seeing.

    These “off the beaten track” cemeteries have a fascination and I would say atmosphere all of their own being so seldom visited (relatively speaking at least).

    • Magicfingers says:

      Thank you Jon. Yes, I’m with you. I do like the small “off the beaten track” cemeteries too. More on the headstone problem very shortly. You ain’t seen nothing yet!

  6. nicholas Kilner says:

    An excellent post M. The curious case of Lt North, seeming appearing, disappearing and then reappearing again peaked my interest. I notice the date of death on the burial return is given as the 30th, however the war diary confirms he was killed on the 31st. The 4th Hussars were engaged at Hollebeke at the time, being forced to retreat to St Eloi and then to Voormezeele by days end. It looks like the others killed that day were left where they fell, which makes me think that Lt North was probably fatally wounded and died during the retreat. Its the only really plausible way I can think of that he’d have been buried where he is. As you rightly point out there is no concentration form for him, so I’m guessing the rest of the cemetery was built around him. Odd though that they didnt realise he was there and put his name on the Menin gate.

    • nicholas Kilner says:

      one other slight curiosity is that he’s listed as a Captain in the war diary. The 4th had taken very heavy losses in the previous few weeks, so I wonder if he’d been promoted in the field, and the fact has been lost? more digging through the diary required me thinks

      • Magicfingers says:

        Cheers Nick! Thanks for all the above. The curious case of Lt North sounds Agatha Christie-like. But it is curious indeed. Btw I intend on a Poperinge trip sometime in the autumn. I need two days at the cemeteries west of Pop. Fancy a trip?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.