French Flanders: From Laventie to Neuve Chapelle Part Five – Royal Irish Rifles Graveyard

Welcome to Royal Irish Rifles Graveyard. 

The cemetery is a mix of original & concentration burials, of which just under a quarter are original, and all of those are to be found in either Plot II,…

…here on the left, or Plot I, here on the right.  Over eight hundred men are buried in this cemetery, of whom around 350 are unidentified.  And it will probably help, even this early in the post, to check out the cemetery plan, which you can do by clicking the link.

In the south western corner, at the start of Plot I Row A, is the earliest original burial in the cemetery,…

…this the grave of Captain Frederick Cleave Strickland Dunlop, Manchester Regiment, aged thirty six and a Boer War veteran – he was Transport Officer during the Siege of Ladysmith between November 1899 & February 1900 – who was killed by a sniper’s bullet at La Bassée on 8th November 1914, three weeks to the day after his arrival in France.  And originally buried here, all on his own; the Royal Irish Rifleman buried next to him – see previous shot – and the second original burial here, died some weeks later on 30th December 1914.  I wonder why this field was chosen.

Many of the headstones in this section of the cemetery (above & below), the earliest original burials here, are men of the Royal Irish Rifles, hence the cemetery’s name.  The R.I.R. used the cemetery until May 1915, by which time twenty five of their men had been buried here.

Prior to the outbreak of war the 1st Bn. Royal Irish Rifles had been serving in the Middle East, returning to England in September, before deploying to France in November, taking up positions in the Laventie trenches.

Extract from the R.I.R. war diary from mid-December 1914, included as it gives an interesting insight into the quality of the battalion’s replacements – some were Mons veterans, others had never even fired a rifle!  They would suffer heavy casualties during the Battle of Neuve Chapelle in March 1915, although there are only two men of the regiment, both officers, buried in this cemetery who were actually killed during the battle.

Royal Irish Rifleman & Cameron Highlander in Row B, and another R.I.R. man in Row C behind, February, May & March 1915 burials respectively.  Although not precisely chronological, the burials in Plot I range from January 1915 here at the front to November 1915 in Row J towards the back.

Crossing the central gap to Plot II, past an unknown soldier on the left at the end of Plot II Row A,…

…and these men of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps & The Rifle Brigade…

…all November 1915 casualties, as we follow the row to the north western corner of the cemetery.

With the same two headstones nearest the camera, this view looks south across Plot II in the foreground…

…before we pan right, looking back the way we have just come, the cemetery entrance now on the right.

The original burials in Plot I range from November 1915 in Row A,…

…to these March 1916 casualties in Row D (the poppy is visible in the previous shot),…

…with men killed in May & June 1916 buried in Rows G, H & J (there is no Row I).

To the left of the headstones in the previous shot, the single grave in the foreground, and the two rows, each of three graves, behind,…

…are all much later burials, referred to as Plot IIa on the cemetery plan.

All are men of the King’s Liverpool Regiment who died on 5th September 1918.  They are also all concentration burials as this GRRF clearly tells us.  Although I think only moved from elsewhere within this same burial ground, suggested by the ‘Original Plot 3’ in red on the form, and the fact that these nine soldiers have no Burial Return Forms, which would usually tell us exactly where they were originally buried.  That’s my reading of it, anyway.

Along the northern cemetery boundary to the left of Plot IIa, these special memorials remember three men ‘Known to be buried in this cemetery’.  The Rifle Brigade rifleman on the left died in October 1915, the two Gordon Highlanders a couple of months earlier in July.

Just beyond Plot IIa and the three special memorials, the final row of Plot II, Row K, stands alone and consists of twenty concentration burials – these are the first ten, of which only four are identified, the remaining ten out of shot to the right.  The row of unidentified headstones behind is Plot III Row A,…

…which continues, and ends, here behind these two men of the Oxford & Bucks Light Infantry, both June 1916 casualties, at the end of Plot II Row J.  If we pan right,…

…the final two rows of Plot I, Rows K & J, also concentration burials, are on the far right; thus the burials in both Plots I & II are all original except the final twenty men buried in each, which are the only concentration burials in the plots.  Beyond Rows K & J and the second gap, the headstones visible in the first row of Plot IV all appear to be unidentified,…

…which this shot from the cemetery’s southern boundary confirms.  Beyond this point, all the remaining burials in the cemetery, some 571 in total, are concentrations.

It would seem that many of the unknown exhumations were deliberately concentrated here at the start of Plot IV,…

…and, as we head across the gap,…

…in the first two rows of Plot III, the twenty men in each row also all unidentified.

Behind, in Plot III Row C, some more of the thirty five 1918 casualties buried here, all, including those in Plot IIa that we saw earlier, among the concentration burials.  Six of the seven men pictured here killed on 9th April 1918 – the opening day of the German’s Lys Offensive – are men of the Royal Garrison Artillery, with the headstone nearest the camera that of a Suffolk Regiment private killed on 7th September 1918.

Stone of Remembrance, Plot III Row D in the foreground, the Royal Fusilier officer at the start of the row most probably a Neuve Chapelle casualty, his date of death 10th March 1915.

These two unknown soldiers in Plot III Row E…

…are listed near the top of this GRRF, and I would like to know what the asterisk against each name, and the ‘for identification’, bottom left, actually mean.

Plot III Row I, and one of only two Germans buried in this cemetery.  This is possibly the only CWGC cemetery I have set foot in where some plots contain a Row I, and some plots that could have a Row I don’t.  It’s actually a very minor and barely interesting point, but Plots I & II, the wartime plots, do not have a Row I, whereas Plots III & IV, both concentration plots, do have a Row I.  Which may be significant, but is still barely interesting.

The German, despite the name Karl Graf, was apparently originally identified as a Royal Dragoon lieutenant (!) before someone realized that ‘Drag. R.’ was a German, not British, abbreviation.

Moving on, and this is Plot VI, one hundred headstones in total, split into two blocks of fifty (above & below),…

…of which only a third, or just under, are identified.  The three headstones along the hedge on the left…

…are special memorials to two soldiers once buried in Laventie South German Cemetery whose graves were lost,…

…as the centre of the three headstones explains.

The final rows of Plot VI (above & below)…

…contain exclusively unidentified men.

Looking over the concentration headstones of Plot VI Row D, Plot V in the background,…

…and panning right, looking back down the length of the cemetery.  We talk about concentration burials quite a lot on this website, so perhaps a closer look at what that actually means with regard to this particular cemetery might be in order.  Because all the men brought here from elsewhere, at least those who have been identified, should have Burial Return forms attached to their papers, we can plot, admittedly a somewhat time-consuming task, where all of them were either found, still lying unburied on the battlefield, or where they were originally buried – again, either in lone battlefield graves, or in smaller battlefield cemeteries.  Which I have done (actually, I did it twice, and, surprise surprise, not every figure came out exactly the same each time.  But close enough.), the results of which you can see plotted on the map below (Royal Irish Rifles Graveyard is marked in green).

Each of the squares with centrally-printed black printed numbers measures 1000 x 1000 yards; these squares are quartered into smaller, 500 x 500 yards, squares.  After the war, the Graves Registration Units, or more specifically the exhumation companies – squads of thirty two men kitted out with the tools of the exhumer’s trade – were tasked with finding the bodies left on the battlefield, sections of which would have tape laid out to form a grid of squares which, depending on the location, would be searched as many as six times, sometimes more.  The whole process is a post in its own right, but suffice to say that one of the results of all this, from an administrative viewpoint, would have been maps with casualty numbers similar to this one.  One word of caution: one might assume that these are the only burials found in the area covered by this map, but if you read the first post in this tour, you will remember that there are a number of Indian casualties now buried in Laventie Military Cemetery who originally lay in squares S4, S5, S10 & S11 (and, just off this map to the south S27), so we have evidence that other men, now buried in a different cemetery to this, were found in this same area.  And it may be that there are yet more men exhumed from here to be found in the cemeteries we have still to visit on our tour.

Talking of those ‘maps with casualty numbers similar to this one’, and for comparison purposes, this is an example of what were actually called body density maps, this one covering the area south of the Albert-Bapaume road on the Somme.  Some of the figures here are staggering.  There are a few squares that contain no numbers, such as S4, S21c and S26a & b, all in the bottom left corner.  These squares contain woods, hugely difficult terrain to clear, and it is a fact that High Wood, in square S4, was never cleared and remains a mass grave to this day with, let’s not forget, its own cemetery alongside.

Cross of Sacrifice.

A few rows in front of the Cross, in Plot VI Row C, is the grave of Company Serjeant Major Nelson Victor Carter V.C., Royal Sussex Regiment, aged 29, whose Victoria Cross was awarded following an action that took place at Richebourg, some four miles to the south west of here, on 30th June 1916.  The Battle of the Boar’s Head was a British attack designed to eradicate a salient – the Boar’s Head – in the German lines, as well as to distract from the upcoming – in a few hours – Battle of the Somme, some forty miles to the south.  In the course of five hours the men of the Royal Sussex Regiment captured two lines of German trenches, held them briefly, before being forced back to their own lines.  The action cost them seventeen officers and 349 men killed – including Company Serjeant Major Carter – along with a thousand wounded or taken prisoner.  The regimental history referred to it as ‘The day Sussex died’.

Carter’s Victoria Cross citation, published in the London Gazette on 8th September 1916, read ‘For most conspicuous bravery. During an attack he was in command of the fourth wave of the assault. Under intense shell and machine gun fire he penetrated, with a few men, into the enemy’s second line and inflicted heavy casualties with bombs. When forced to retire to the enemy’s first line, he captured a machine gun and shot the gunner with his revolver. Finally, after carrying several wounded men into safety, he was himself mortally wounded and died in a few minutes. His conduct throughout the day was magnificent.’

Carter’s name appears on this Burial Return Form, along with his original place of burial,…

…which I have marked with a purple square on this map extract (the British lines in blue, German in red) of the Boar’s Head.  Check the body density map for this area that I showed you earlier to see how many men in total were exhumed from, or found, here after the war.

And doubtless the Boar’s Head will feature again in future posts, but for now we shall turn our attention to Plot V, the smallest plot, which consists of just five rows of headstones,…

…containing seventy six burials in total, of which a mere twenty one are identified.  Of those, twelve are Connaught Rangers, some of whom died in early November 1914, and some in July 1915.

The centre of these three headstones in  Plot IV Row D is that of Private Oliver Hodgetts, Worcester Regiment, who died on 4th June 1915.

The 1st Bn. Worcestershire Regiment arrived on the Western Front from Egypt on 8th November 1914, among them twenty year old Private Hodgetts.  Within a week they were taking casualties in the trenches at Neuve Chapelle, and Hodgetts was going missing.  Whether it was for this that he received ninety days field punishment in early March 1915 I know not for certain, but when he once again went missing in mid-May, a few days before the Battle of Festubert in which the battalion would be taking part, only to turn up a few days later with an apparently spurious injury, he was charged with, interestingly enough, cowardice, not desertion, his court-martial taking place on 22nd May.  Referred to by his commanding officer as a ‘worthless fighting soldier who was only intent on saving his own skin’, he was found guilty and sentenced to be shot, his execution taking place on 4th June 1915.

Nearby, in the same row, a man who might be considered the polar opposite of Private Hodgetts.

‘We have lost our best Company Commander, and one whose place cannot be filled during the War.’

Two of the many unidentified men buried here (above & below).

And back to the entrance,…

…the cemetery register to be found on the inside of the right-hand pillar.

Those of you who find the whole ‘Christmas Truce’ story of interest – and there have been enough books written on the subject – might like to see what the Royal Irish Rifles war diarist had to say about it, these pages covering the days from 22nd December 1914 until the end of the year.  Those of you who don’t, well, you can always skip to the end.

Because it’s time for another look at our tour map, or at least the top half of it.  We are currently at the red dot on the orange-shaded square, and we are heading to the green dot just below, only around five hundred yards away across the fields to the south east, although that would be trespassing, so our journey by road will take slightly longer.

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12 Responses to French Flanders: From Laventie to Neuve Chapelle Part Five – Royal Irish Rifles Graveyard

  1. Morag L Sutherland says:

    I will need to read this long post carefully in my laptop but there is a Brora boy Donal Reid buried there. His widow remarried after the war. Hers is an interesting story. I will dig it out at some point. Thank you as always

    • Magicfingers says:

      Thank you Morag. I’ll give you a tip; the second half is more interesting than the first half. Probably.

      • Morag Lindsay Sutherland says:

        an apology – WILLIAM Reid is buried here not Donald George who is on the memorial to the missing at Thiepval-

  2. nicholas Kilner says:

    Great post, what an interesting cemetery! Some really superb info. The body density maps really bring it home.
    In answer (well not exactly) to your question regarding the burial return with the unidentified Gurkhas, after the word “for identification” is what would appear to be a service number (3/22254), which was presumably found with the two bodies, but I would guess couldn’t be conclusively assigned to either. However, having checked on the cwgc website there are no Gurkhas listed as casualties with that service number. A bit of a mystery.
    As to why some plots have a ‘row 1’ and others dont, I would hazard a guess that there were once german burials here, which have been subsequently move.
    The Boars head is an area I keep meaning to walk and still havent gotten round to. I really must make more of an effort!

    • Magicfingers says:

      Thank you Nick. And for explanations. I personally think that even when the cemeteries were first made, and full of wooden crosses, and certainly by the time everyone knew the war would go on and on, the burial officers were aware that at a later date, the number one and the letter ‘i’ could be mixed up and chose not to use them as a policy. Post-war, with no German shells to destroy cemeteries, they felt there was no need to worry about it. Or maybe, by the time of the concentrations, a new breed of burial officer didn’t even know that the problem existed, and thus never thought about it and used the ‘i’ simply as another letter. Or maybe none of the above. Lol!

      • Nick Kilner says:

        That’s certainly a strong possibility I’d say. Just a shame it’s too late to ask those concerned. So much information lost to time

  3. Jon T says:

    Following all these with great interest MF – those body density maps are chilling especially when they relate to places that we have visited and walked those very fields and lanes.

    Also those “diversionary attacks” such as at the Boars Head all seemed to be exercises in futility as many fine units were decimated and men lost for no real gain or effect on the Germans, presumably because it became very clear to them early on in the attack that it was on a limited scale and not a major threat to the line as a whole. Extraordinary the number of these that seem to have been tried over and over.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Thanks ever so Jon, because these areas of Flanders, as we know, are hardly tourist traps, and although I get decent viewing figures, there are also noticeably fewer comments, so I sometimes wonder whether I’m boring the living sh*” out of people! Agree on those diversionary attacks – look at Fromelles in 1916! Mind you, there were numerous reasons, at the time, to probably ‘justify’ such attacks, bolstering/supporting the French in 1914/15 being a prime one.

  4. Daisy in Bali Indonesia says:

    Hello Magic Fingers,
    I’m in Bali with my son arranging the sale of our coffee shop in Canggu and organising for my wife to relocate to Melbourne.
    You have been to an interesting area of Flanders. Those body density maps are sobering and my thoughts immediately went to the men who participated in the exhumations. Gory work…
    I haven’t submitted many comments lately but always read the posts in wonderment and enjoy your good work. Keep it up mate.
    P.S. Bali full of Russians and Ukrainians avoiding the war.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Hello Daisy. Thanks for taking the time. Hope it all goes to plan. And yes, I find this area fascinating, as you may have guessed. And your PS is most interesting. Don’t blame ’em. Cheers mate.

  5. Margaret Draycott says:

    An interesting post M as always not boring the s*** although I do get a bit lost in the tooing and froing between the plots.
    Read with interest the Xmas truce part, having read a few accounts, I mean it obviously happened albeit differently in different areas.
    I also often wonder why a field is picked at that time for the burials, or even the odd ones dotted in private local cemeteries but of course all this is lost to time.
    The body density maps make me shudder, the job after the war of clearing those I can’t imagine.
    Couldn’t decipher the last bit of what happened to Bell, Germans said wounded but couldn’t make out the rest if you could clarify please.
    Interesting comparison between Hodgets and Captain Lafone. Just shows you also how he could go through so much in the Boar war, then die so early on in WW1
    Anyway rabbited enough suffice to say enjoyed the post and the additional information provided by Nick. M

    • Magicfingers says:

      Hello M. Lovely and interesting comment, thanks indeed. More Xmas truce stuff coming up shortly. The Rifleman Bell piece says ‘On Xmas day, when communing with Germans, Rifleman Bell was reported as wounded and captured by them and not free behind their lines.’ I think so, anyway.

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