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Essex Farm Cemetery

Updated: Dec 31, 2023


This is probably the most famous and visited cemetery in the Ypres Salient. The cemetery gets its name from the small farm building that was here in the War and which the Dressing Station was established in April 1915. The 4th Division took over this sector in April 1915 and an A.D.S. was established by their RAMC. The land south of Essex Farm was used as a Dressing Station cemetery from April 1915 to August 1917. The burials were made without definite plan and some of the divisions which occupied this sector may be traced in almost every part of the cemetery, but the 49th (West Riding) Division buried their dead of 1915 in Plot I, and the 38th (Welsh) Division used Plot III in the autumn of 1916.

The concrete bunker that can be seen today was built on the site of the original ADS dating from 1915, used by John McCrae. This ADS dates from 1916 and was made a permanent structure in time for Third Ypres in 1917, although Duhallow became the main ADS for this sector of the front in time.


The cemetery was designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield.


Poem 'In Flanders Fields'

It was in Essex Farm Cemetery that Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae of the Canadian Army Medical Corps wrote the poem ' In Flanders Fields' in May 1915. He was then a Captain when he wrote the poem. He had lost a friend to artillery fire and one morning he emerged from the ADS to find the fields and the cemetery had burst into colour with a field of poppies surrounding the many graves. He then wrote one of the most famous poems of the War. He submitted the poem to Punch magazine, which subsequently published it. The Belgian Regional Government erected a memorial to John McCrae in recognition of the importance of the location, this is probably why so many think he is buried here. He was later promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and was in a Base Hospital at Boulogne. He died of pneumonia in January 1918 and is buried in Wimereux Cemetery.


Son of an MP is Buried here

Captain Eric Smallwood MC was the second son of Edward Smallwood, Liberal MP for East Islington October 1917 to November 1918 having won a by-election following the death of the sitting Liberal MP Sir George Radford


The 49th (West Riding) Division Memorial is immediately behind the cemetery, on the canal bank. This tall obelisk is on the canal bank. The Division have men buried in Plot I


During Third Ypres the 51st (Highland) Division had their ADS at Essex Farm which was located on the west bank of the Yser canal. Colonel David Rorie provides a vivid account in ‘A Medico’s Luck in the War’ - 'Our bearers had preceded us for the ADS at Essex Farm on the canal bank, a hot spot; and on the evening of our arrival four of them were killed by a shell which crashed into the shelter where they were at The Willows Collecting Post in front of this.'


On the 31 July 1917, the 1/9th (Highlanders) Royal Scots, part of 51st (Highland) Division, were waiting by the cemetery before attacking as part of the second wave. Two officers were stood on the canal bank watching the progress of the 1/4th Gordon Highlanders and ignored advice to take cover. A shell exploded next to them killing one and blowing the arm off the other. The wounded officer was loaded into an ambulance that was then hit by a shell and destroyed.

Essex Farm Cemetery. Ivan Bawtree. John McCrae. Ypres Salient. Flanders. Falkirk District
(Ivan Bawtree IWM Q 100418 Essex Farm Cemetery)

Cemetery Location

Boezinge is a village in the province of West Flanders, north of Ieper on the Diksmuidseweg road (N369). From the station turn left into M.Fochlaan and go to the roundabout, then turn right and continue to the next roundabout. Turn left and drive to the next roundabout and then turn right into Oude Veurnestraat. At the roundabout turn left onto the Diksmuidseweg and follow the road under the motorway bridge; the Cemetery will be found on the right-hand side of the road.

(Linesman Map)


One of the youngest soldiers buried in the Ypres Salient

One of the youngest soldiers buried in the Ypres Salient is Private Valentine Joe Strudwick, Rifle Brigade, age 15, grave I.U.8. He was from Dorking, Surrey, and was a member of a large family. He was born on Valentine’s Day 1900 and was killed a month short of his sixteenth birthday when his unit was shelled in the front line on 14 January 1916. His body and those of the others killed were brought back to Essex Farm for burial. He is not the youngest, that distinction belongs to Private John Condon of Cork, 2nd Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment, who was killed aged 13 years and 10 months, although there is much debate about his age. He is buried at Poelcappelle British Cemetery.


Victoria Cross Winner Buried Here

17114 Private T Barrett V.C.

7th Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment

33rd Brigade

11th (Northern) Division

Age 22

27.7.17

I.Z.8

Son of James and Sarah Ann Barratt.


An extract from "The London Gazette," No. 30272, dated 4th Sept. 1917, records the following:- "For most conspicuous bravery when as Scout to a patrol he worked his way towards the enemy line with the greatest gallantry and determination, in spite of continuous fire from hostile snipers at close range. These snipers he stalked and killed. Later his patrol was similarly held up, and again he disposed of the snipers. When during the subsequent withdrawal of the patrol it was observed that a party of the enemy were endeavouring to outflank them, Pte. Barratt at once volunteered to cover the retirement, and this he succeeded in accomplishing. His accurate shooting caused many casualties to the enemy and prevented their advance. Throughout the enterprise he was under heavy machine gun and rifle fire, and his splendid example of coolness and daring was beyond all praise. After safely regaining our lines, this very gallant soldier was killed by a shell."


FALKIRK DISTRICT MEN BURIED HERE


Falkirk

277409 Pte Hugh Lyon

7th Battalion, Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders

Age 28

13.7.17

III.H.29

Husband of Margaret


Burials

There are 1,200 servicemen of the First World War buried or commemorated in this cemetery. 103 of the burials are unidentified but Special Memorials commemorate 19 casualties known or believed to be buried among them.


UK – 1088

Canadian – 9

German – 5

Known unto God – 83

Unnamed – 19


Special Memorials to nineteen British men who are believed/known to be buried here.

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