Ypres – Railway Chateau Cemetery

The entrance to Railway Chateau Cemetery, with a long grass pathway beyond, at the end of which I shall be even wetter than I am at the moment. 

And you won’t be.  There aren’t many cemeteries in the immediate vicinity of Ypres (Ieper) that we have yet to visit, and now, or soon, there’ll be even less.  Back in July 1917, the western outskirts of Ypres reached as far as the Ypres-Comines canal, as seen on the right of this map, some three quarters of a mile from where two cemeteries, Railway Chateau Cemetery in pink, and Divisional Cemetery in orange, were sited on either side of the railway that connects Ypres to Poperinge.  Today, the furthest expansion of Ypres to the west reaches, quite literally, as far as the road that passes by both cemeteries; to the left of the road is still farmland, to the right, industry & suburbia.

At the end of the pathway, just three rows of headstones, which actually suited me fine at the time, for once, because it really was chucking it down – note no sign of Baldrick – nice cosy car to sit in – by the time I arrived.

Cross of Sacrifice.  One hundred and five men are buried here, the earliest, who died on 1st November 1914, buried in Row C, in the background along the cemetery boundary, and the latest in October 1917, in the front row to the left of the Cross, but that gives a totally wrong impression of this burial ground, as does the small amount of information on this cemetery on the CWGC database, ‘Railway Chateau Cemetery……was begun in November 1914 and used at intervals until October 1916 by troops fighting in the neighbourhood.’  Not very accurate, that.  In particular, the ‘1916’ bit.  And frankly, not much ‘fighting in the neighbourhood’, either.  Death, yes, but fighting, in the general sense of the word, no.

In fact, by 17th November 1914, sixty one men had been buried here, and between then and 4th September 1917, almost three years later, just sixteen further burials would be made, before another sixteen men were buried in the front row (Row A) in September 1917 and a final four in the same row on 30th October 1917.  Not quite the same, is it?

And here you can see, quite clearly, how this cemetery expanded over the years, and once you see this, it all makes somewhat more sense.  What is also clear is that, if you add up the numbers at the end of each row, you don’t get anywhere near the number of men actually buried here.  Many burials share the same grave registration number, and many of the headstones bear two names, a likely sign, in this instance, that this burial ground was in no great state by the end of the war.  I could show you this place chronologically, I suppose, but we’d be nipping around different areas of the cemetery willy-nilly and so I think we’ll take a look at the headstones in Row A first, and then see what makes sense after that.

The nine men buried at the end of Row A are all privates from various different regiments who had been seconded to the 17th Labour Company, and who were all killed on the same day, 20th September 1917.  A working party and a German shell, most probably, with devastating consequences.

Which may well have been the fate, further down the row, of these four privates of the Seaforth Highlanders, the final burials made here, all killed on 30th October 1917.

The first seven burials in Row A are all earlier, the Norfolk Regiment private closest to the camera killed in October 1915, the next man a May 1916 casualty,…

…and the remainder all men who died in February 1916, four of whom, three artillerymen and a Royal Medical Corps private, were killed on 20th February 1916 – another shell, perhaps – with the single headstone at the start of the row…

…marking the grave of a Royal Garrison Artillery corporal who died on 5th February 1916.  Twelve of the sixteen artillerymen buried here are soldiers of the R.G.A., the men responsible for the heaviest calibre artillery pieces, and thus likely to be found furthest from the firing line, although not far enough, it would seem, to save them from their German counterparts.  Their war, although fought at long distance, was just as personal as those of the front line soldiers; the men manning the heavy guns on both sides knew that, some miles away behind the enemy lines, day after day, there were other men whose only task was to search them out and kill them.  And that seems very personal to me.

Map of the area, the red crosses and accompanying circles showing British cemeteries at the war’s end.  Railway Chateau Cemetery is marked in pink, Divisional Cemetery in orange, and Asylum British Cemetery (where?) in green, just to the east of the asylum (in yellow),…

…both battered asylum and adjacent cemetery seen again here.  All the burials in Asylum British Cemetery – and there were 265 corpses to exhume, more than double the number of burials at Railway Chateau Cemetery – were concentrated into Bedford House Cemetery soon after the war,…

…as this example GRRF details.  The men buried beneath the three white crosses in the foreground of the previous picture are numbers 13, 14 & 15 on the above list.

The heavier German shells were quite capable of reaching this area, as we know, and my guess is that the men buried in Railway Chateau Cemetery Row A were buried here because they were all killed somewhere nearby.  These shots show the Hospice du Sacre Coeur, to give it its proper name, pre-war (left), early in the war (right),…

…during the war,…


…and today.

Back in the cemetery, these graves in Row B,…

…and, indeed, the first six burials at the start of the row, are more men of the Royal Garrison Artillery who died in 1915,…

…and include these three gunners who died on 24th or 25th May 1915.

At the start of Row C on the left, the first four burials are once again from 1915,…

…these three Somerset Light Infantry privates killed on 1st October,…

…and the K.O.Y.L.I. man on the far left at the end of July 1915.  All the remaining burials in the row, barring the final one, are from November 1914,…

…and a few are double graves, with two names on the headstones.  And all are weeping this day.

More early November 1914 burials, the three men on the right, all of whom died on 1st November 1914, being the earliest burials made here.

There are six unidentified men buried in this cemetery, two beneath the headstone seen here on the far left in Row B,…

…and again here on the left, the following headstones – all November 1914 casualties – all bearing two names until the headstone furthest right,…

…and now seen here second from the right, which marks the grave of an identified private of the Royal Berkshire Regiment, and, inscribed beneath his name, ‘Also a soldier of the Great War’.  The headstone on the right marks the graves of two more unidentified men,…

…now on the far left, and then the double burials continue.

Close-up of the previous shot; note the names on the central headstone and then come up with a phrase using both.

And yet more double burials, with a Distinguished Conduct Medal winner on the left, Private J. W. Banner of the Worcesters’ citation reading, ‘For gallantry in rendering valuable assistance to his unit at a critical period under a heavy fire’.  Sadly, his award was gazetted on 16th January 1915, exactly two months after his death, and he would never have known anything about it.

Row B ends with two single headstones, both artillerymen who died on 17th November 1914, flanking the sixth and final unidentified man.

Returning to Row C, these burials are all men who died on 6th November 1914, ten of them killed or fatally injured when a German shell hit their billet near the Hotel de Ville in Ypres.

These four men died on 5th November,…

…and, at the end of the row, these three men were killed on 9th November 1914, with the final burial on the right a Royal Engineer burial from May 1915.  I can find no suggestion that there was any kind of aid station in the immediate vicinity, and that doesn’t surprise me; everything about this cemetery points to men killed by shellfire behind the lines and buried in the closest cemetery to where they met their deaths.  You might even consider that this cemetery was actually set aside for victims of German artillery fire killed in Ypres.  I wonder.

We shall leave it there because, as the map at the beginning of the post showed, there’s another cemetery six hundred yards south of here that I intend to visit this day, downpour or no downpour.

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11 Responses to Ypres – Railway Chateau Cemetery

  1. Val says:

    Many thanks for keeping us well informed I know we have never met so thanks for all u do to keep there memory alive val

  2. Peter Halls says:

    Hi, yes I’ve visited this rather lonely cemetery and it seems to have an ‘odd’ air about it although very respectful at the same time. Thank you for your detailed info on this site.

  3. Jon T says:

    Never knew this and the close by cemeteries existed – hope to perhaps to get over next year so will have to pay our respects. These little visited cemeteries never fail to move and its a shame these men don’t get too many people remembering them. Thanks for shining a light on them MF.

    I wonder how many men were killed behind the lines in that way ? I know there are plenty of accounts of random shells and terrible bad luck in such circumstances.

    • Magicfingers says:

      There are three cemeteries immediately to the west of Ieper, this one, Divisional Cemetery (we will find ourselves there very soon) and Belgian Battery Corner Cemetery, the latter being one of the very few (single figures now) cemeteries in Belgian Flanders that I have yet to visit. I would suggest visiting all three on the same day – I was intending on so doing, but the weather on this day got no better, and even though, if I say so myself, it takes quite a lot, once I’m out in the field, to persuade me that it’s too inclement to continue, on this occasion I was too cold and wet to argue with Baldrick’s suggestion that enough was enough for one day.
      Random shells, yes, but as I suggest in this post, targeted shells too. And how about bombers, later in the war? More on this when we visit Divisional Cemetery.

  4. Nick Kilner says:

    A very interesting little cemetery, and one that I have visited myself. An example, should one be required, of the effect of counter-battery fire. I’m sure many of those in the front line envied the men on the heavy guns so far behind the lines, but when you consider that they stood surrounded by hundreds of high explosive shells, and one well aimed German shell would ignite the lot, it’s perhaps surprising that so many actually have a headstone at all.

  5. David Thewlis says:

    I was interested in the picture of the the 10 graves side by side who were killed/wounded when a German shell hit their billet. I have the medals to one of those lads, 4141 Pte Frederick O’Donnell, Connaught Rangers and now know the exact cause of his wounding and subsequent death. I’ve been trying to piece together his movements through the War Diary and until now I was unaware of this.This has definitely filled a void in researching this young lad. Cheers.

  6. Alan Bond says:

    Thank you for another informative post. I read when it was originally posted but found it again today while reorganising my mail box. It set me thinking about the fate of these smaller cemeteries. Will they last “into perpetuate” or will they some time the future be consolidated into large units in order to release the land for some grandiose building plan or cut to the cost of maintaining them. Lets hope not but as time pass there will be few people such as you, I and the other readers of this superb blog left to protest such plans. Good luck with your travels in 2024 I look forward to reading about them here. ALAN

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