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London Rifle Brigade Cemetery


The commune of Ploegsteert remained under Allied occupation for much of the First World War but was in German hands from 10 April to 29 September 1918. London Rifle Brigade Cemetery was begun by units of the 4th Division in December 1914, and used by fighting units and field ambulances until March 1918; some German burials were made in April and May. The cemetery owes its name to the 22 burials of the London Rifle Brigade (which then belonged to the 4th Division) in Plot III, made in January, February and March 1915. A group of them are buried near the Cross of Sacrifice. The first burial took place when the battalion was manning Essex Trench. There are two men from Falkirk and District buried here.


In June 1927, Lieut.-General Sir H.F.M. Wilson, late G.O.C. 4th Division, unveiled a tablet set in the wall of the shelter at the north corner of the cemetery, commemorating the dedication of the cemetery by the Bishop of London on Easter Day 1915, and the sacrifice of 91 officers and 1,831 other ranks of the regiment during the war. A parade was held in Plugstreet village square and a Guard of Honour and the regimental band conducted a wreath laying ceremony at the war memorial in Plugstreet, before they set off for the cemetery. At the cemetery Lord Cairns, the battalion’s C.O. during the War, gave a speech in which he said: ‘I like to picture future generations as they take their evening walks along the road which borders the cemetery, pointing when they pass, to this gate with the words ‘There sleep the gentlemen of the Black Buttons.


The cemetery was designed by Charles Holden.


The London Rifle Brigade was officially attached the 11th Brigade, 4th Division on 19 November 1914 and on the 20 November half companies went into the trenches in Ploegsteert (anglicised by the Tommies to Plugstreet) Wood. The battalion were billeted in barns, lofts and cottages in the village of Plugstreet from the 22 November and had its HQ in Report Centre, a farmhouse located north of the village about 800 yards on the Plugstreet – Messines road. An unnamed rifleman noted in his diary during this period:

… Am now having coffee and chipped potatoes in an Estaminet, pommes de terre frites.’ Anglicised by the Tommies to ‘Bombardier Fritz’.


Rifleman Aubrey Smith, 1st Battalion, London Rifle Brigade wrote about his experience in Plugstreet when he was billeted in a barn on the outskirts in early 1915: ‘What an absolute treat to sit down at a table again for a meal! We have our food cooked by the ‘landlady’ who also makes tea and provides milk and won’t hear of us using our enamelled plates, mugs or even knives and forks! No, she provides crockery and cutlery and washes up afterwards and we feel quite at home. When back in civilised surroundings, it is funny how a hair on our plate worries us, whereas we swallowed all manner of things in the barn.’


When not in the line, the battalions time was taken up with training and fatigues. On the 1 December 1914, they made use of the brewery as a ‘bath-house’ the boilers being reactivated and its vats used as wash tubs by the troops. This was the only time they used the brewery as the owner objected and it was re-instated as a disused brewery. The battalion received the nickname ‘The London Fatigue’. The site of the brewery bath-house is located some 500 yards beyond the site of cemetery on the Plugstreet to Armentieres road. The buildings were destroyed during the War and never rebuilt however, the buildings occupying the site today bear a great resemblance to the old brewery buildings. Image of the site of the old brewery.


During their time in Plugstreet the battalion provided working parties. They converted a ride in the wood, Bunter Avenue, later renamed by them to Bunhill Row, into a reserve line. They also laid paths through the wood. Life in the front line, once the battalion had become used to the system of manning, was reasonably routine. Shelling was intermittent and blowing mines in this area did not take place due to the ground conditions. The main problem was avoiding enemy sniper fire and the moving around in the cloying mud. A small inn, A la Demi Lune Cabaret in a field opposite Essex House, was used as a materials dump. The owner earned a good living by selling coffee and beer to the troops until, that is, a telephone line was discovered running from his premises to the German front line. He was shot as a spy.


On the 5 April 1915, the battalion went into the rest area at Steenwerck and on the 23 April they received orders to move and on the 24 April they entrained for Poperinghe and from there moved up to the front line via Busseboom, Vlamertinghe, St Jean to Wieltje and into the Second battle of Ypres. They never returned to the Plugstreet sector.


Winston Churchill at Plugstreet

He resigned from the Cabinet following the Gallipoli fiasco and he joined his old regiment the Oxfordshire Hussars a Territorial Cavalry battalion, then in France, in which he held the rank of Major. He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and took command of the 6th (Service) Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers, a battalion in the 9th (Scottish) Division, in the Ploegsteert sector of the Ypres Salient from 4 January to May 1916. Just north of the cemetery was a nunnery school for girls, L’Ouvroir des Soeurs de Charite, which was used by the Royal Scots Fusiliers and in which Churchill had a private office on the ground floor. The battalion HQ was in Laurence Farm, located behind the front line at Le Gheer. Nothing is left of the building now but a curve in the track were it once stood and the farm gate marking the entrance. Image of Churchill in 1916


Site of Laurence Farm today Site of the former nunnery today


Map from 5 May 1916. showing British and German lines at Plugstreet.

(Linesman Map)


Cemetery Location

London Rifle Brigade Cemetery is located 15 Kms south of Ieper town centre, on a road leading from the Rijselseweg, N365, which connects Ieper to Wijtschate, Mesen, Ploegsteert and on to Armentieres. From Ieper town centre the Rijselsestraat runs from the market square, through the Lille Gate (Rijselpoort) and directly over the crossroads with the Ieper ring road. The road name then changes to the Rijselseweg. The cemetery lies 800 metres beyond the village of Ploegsteert, on the right hand side of the N365.


FALKIRK AND DISTRICT MEN BURIED HERE


Falkirk

2760 Pte J McMahon

1/7th Battalion, Argyll & Southern Highlanders

Age 18

17.2.15

I.A.4

Son of Mr. and Mrs. J. McMahon, of 44, Grange View Terrace, Falkirk


Lt Andrew Nicol

6th Battalion, King’s Own Scottish Borderers

Age 23

22.5.16

II.C.45

Son of Andrew & Mary Nicol 109 Stewart Rd


Burials

The cemetery now contains 335 Commonwealth and 18 German burials of the First World War.


UK – 263

Australian – 38

New Zealand – 34

German – 18

Unnamed - 1

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