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Ploegsteert Wood Military Cemetery


Ploegsteert Wood Military Cemetery was made by the enclosure of a number of small regimental cemeteries. Plot II was originally the SOMERSET LIGHT INFANTRY CEMETERY, made by the 1st Battalion in December 1914. The 32 graves it contains, as well as ten in Plot I, are from that battalion. Plot IV, the BUCKS CEMETERY, was made by the 1st/1st Buckinghamshire Battalion, Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, in April 1915 and 11 of the 20 graves it contains are from that battalion. Plot III contains 16 graves of the 1/5th Gloucesters, made between April and May 1915, and in Plots III and I there are 12 graves of the 8th Loyal North Lancs from October to December 1915. However, these plots were known as CANADIAN CEMETERY, STRAND, from the 28 Canadian graves of June to October 1915 in Plot III, and from the trench running nearby. The cemetery as a whole was used sparingly in 1916, and again by the New Zealand Division in July and August 1917. It was in German hands between 10 April and 29 September 1918. There is one man from Falkirk and District buried here.


The cemetery was designed by W H Cowlishaw.


Ploegsteert village, or Plugstreet as it was known to the troops, was in the southern sector of the Ypres Salient and close to the French border. It was dominated by the high ground to the north at Hill 63 and by the large wood. After the fighting of First Ypres the trench lines were established to the east of the wood. As the ground was low lying it was quite impossible to dig trenches and breastworks were established; these were defences above ground. The paths, tracks, rides, fire alleys, corners and buildings in and around the Wood had been ‘officially’ named by various regiments serving in the area, and in in the case of the wood a large preponderance have names with a London connection. Not surprising when you know that the London Rifle Brigade were responsible for much of the cartography in the Plugstreet area. Names such as The Strand, Charing Cross, Oxford Circus, Regent Street, Rotten Row, London Avenue, Fleet Street, Hyde park Corner and Bunhill Row. This latter name clearly identifies the London Rifle Brigade as their headquarters was located in Bunhill Row, London.

(Linesman map)


Other names are an example of the British soldier’s penchant for naming and identifying places around him with familiar place names from home. Somerset House, Hampshire Lane, Kent House, Gloster House, Hants Farm, Essex Farm, Lancashire support and Lancashire Cottage are all non-London examples of this penchant. More descriptive names include Mud Lane, Mud Corner, Dead Horse Corner, where the bones of a dead horse were hung from a gibbet and served as a landmark. Blighty Hall, was a concrete structured dressing station in the wood and were the wounded were collected before being shipped down the line and hopefully to ‘Blighty.’ Rifle House was a wooden hut constructed by the 1st Battalion, Rifle Brigade as their headquarters. Tourist Line, this was a reserve line that ran parallel to Hunter Avenue, and was thought safe enough to allow visiting dignitaries to visit the area and to feel as though they had gained experience of the front line. Mount Everest, Eel Pie Fort, spy Corner, Moated Farm and many more added to the list. German House, Second and Third House are examples of practicality. The origin of other place names has been lost such as Hull’s Burnt Farm, Maximes, Fort Boyd, Three Huns Farm, white Estaminet and Barricade House. There were others that didn’t have a place name Touquet Berthe Farm, this was a major location for the concentration of trench stores and materiel, Creslow, Estaminet au Commerce and Labarre, this was a narrow horseshoe-shaped ditch that enclosed a small garden that was converted into a machine-gun position. Looking at a Trench map of the wood you would think that it shows a road map of small towns and villages as opposed to a wood criss-crossed with rides and tracks.


From their arrival in the wood the British began to fortify it with a series of concrete forts, log-built huts, dugouts, shelters, breastworks and a net work of planked roads. The forts were mainly located in the reserve line along Hunter Avenue, These concrete shelters gave no real protection against direct shell fire but did afford a degree of cover from th shrapnel and small arms fire. The concrete structures are still visible today.



Attack by 2nd Battalion, Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders 10 November 1914

The battalion was in the line at Ploegsteert Wood. On the morning of the 9th November they were advised that they would be attacking the German lines on 10 November. ‘A’ & ‘D’ Company’s were between St Yves and the Le Gheer road and the edge of the wood, behind the Lancashire Fusiliers trench and began the advance. ‘D’ company objective was the North West angle of quadrangle C. After arriving at a burning house Captain W A Henderson (officer commanding ‘D’ Coy) gave the order to charge but was hit and fell. ‘D’ Company then lost direction and with ‘A’ Company attacked quadrangle B. Lt Clark with half of ‘B’ Company was in support of ‘D’ Company and when the attack failed he collected men from ‘A’ and ‘D’ and with his half company led them round the burning house and again tried to attack the trenches about B. The attack failed and retired to trenches evacuated by ‘A’ Company. The battalion was ordered to take up a position in the support trenches in the wood. Of the 330 men engaged the casualties were 3 officers missing, 1 officer wounded, other ranks 10 killed, 71 wounded, and 45 missing.


Trench Acclimatisation

In late 1914, the Wood was held by the 4th Division of which the 1/7th Battalion, Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders were a part. Plugstreet was considered a quiet sector, with casualties being consistent, if low, and were divisions came into the line to be acclimatised in the ways of trench warfare. Many Falkirk and District men of the 1/7th Battalion, Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, 10th Brigade, 4th Division, underwent acclimatisation training here from January to March 1915. Their instruction being provided by the 2nd Battalion Seaforth Highlanders a regular army battalion and they were in ‘training’ until the end of January.


Extract from the Battalion War Diary


Writing home to his brother Captain James Forbes Jones, commanding ‘B’ Company, he gave a graphic description of life in the trenches that first day of instruction. Captain Jones was 35 years old and was the Managing Director of Jones & Campbell of Larbert before the war. He was a private in the Volunteer Force before being made an officer. He joined the Territorials in 1908 and volunteered with the others for foreign service. His letter was featured in the Falkirk Herald on 16 January 1915. He wrote to his brother that: ’… marched 4 miles to get to the trenches along road full of immense holes caused by large shells… and little harvests of wooden crosses here and there.’ He was taken to the firing trench located some 70 yards from the Germans ‘.. It is death to put ones head over for more than a second.’ He was to be wounded in the action on 25 April 1915 at St Julien.



Private David Thomson, ‘A’ Company, wrote to his parents on 12 January 1915, his letter featured in the Falkirk Herald: ‘We were only 200 yards from the Germans. We were all quite right till a house at the back of us went on fire…. The rain was fearful and it was very cold… In the morning, before it was daylight, we had to go into the trenches for the day. It was just a wee pic-nic… We were only twenty-four hours in the trenches the first time… we go back in two days, and the next time we will stay in the trenches for four days.


From the 1st February the battalion was given a length of line to defend in this period they sustained their first casualties. On 17 March the battalion took over the line opposite Ploegsteert Wood, with battalion HQ being located in the Piggeries and Grand Manque Farm. Private Andrew Chesney, Service number 2344, ‘B’ Company was killed on 29 March 1915. He is buried in the Strand Cemetery located on the westers edge of the wood and is listed under Stenhousemuir in the Roll of Honour Section. The 10th Infantry Brigade held a front of 600 yards and the companies of the 7th Argyll’s rotated in and out of the trenches every four days. They remained in this sector until 17th April when they came out of the line and joined the rest of the Brigade which had moved to billets at Bailleul. On the 23rd April 10th Brigade was sent to the sector north of Ypres to prepare for a counterattack at St Julien.


Cemetery Location

Ploegsteert Wood Military Cemetery is located 12.5 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. 2 Kms after Mesen lies the left hand turning onto Rue St.Yvon. Immediately after passing Prowse Point Military Cemetery lies a right hand turning onto a small road track (unsuitable for vehicles). 1.2 Kms after this junction lies the cemetery, along the track leading into the wood.


FALKIRK AND DISTRICT MEN BURIED HERE


Grangemouth

32625 Pte George Campbell

1st NZEF Otago Reg

Age 27

31.7.17

1.AA.5

Son of Janet S Campbell, 66 Grange Street, Grangemouth


Burials

Ploegsteert Wood Military Cemetery contains 164 First World War burials.


UK – 117

Australian – 1

New Zealand – 18

Canadian – 28

Known unto God – 1

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