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The town of Poperinghe (now Poperinge) was of great importance during the First World War because, although occasionally bombed or bombarded at long range, it was the nearest place to Ypres (now Ieper) which was both considerable in size and reasonably safe. It was at first a centre for Casualty Clearing Stations, but by 1916 it became necessary to move these units further back and field ambulances took their places. The earliest Commonwealth graves in the town are in the communal cemetery. The Old Military Cemetery was made in the course of the First Battle of Ypres and was closed, so far as Commonwealth burials are concerned, at the beginning of May 1915.

The cemetery was designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield.

Cemetery Location

Poperinghe New Military Cemetery is located 10.5 Kms west of Ieper town centre, in the town of Poperinge itself. From Ieper, Poperinge is reached via the N308. From Ieper town centre the Poperingseweg (N308), is reached via Elverdingsestraat then directly over two small roundabouts in the J. Capronstraat. The Poperingseweg is a continuation of the J. Capronstraat and begins after a prominent railway level crossing. On reaching the town of Poperinge, the left hand turning from the N308 leads onto the R33 Poperinge ring road. 1 Km along the N33 lies the right hand turning onto Deken De Bolan. The cemetery is located 100 metres from the ring road level with Onze Vrouwedreef on the right hand side of the road.

The New Military Cemetery was established by the French at the end of April 1915 and in June 1915 it was taken over by the British and is located 200 yards down the road opposite the site of the old Chateau Elizabeth. Between July 1915 and March 1916, eight Belgians, all serving in the 7th Belgian Field Artillery Regiment were buried here. The Belgian Field Artillery Regiment was fighting in support of the British from May1915 to May 1917. Among the burials are two Belgian nurses, Martha Declerq and Euphrasie Vanneste, who both died in July 1917. The French Plot contains the graves of soldiers from the French colonies.

Shot at Dawn

This cemetery has the notoriety of containing the largest number of men executed on the Western Front and buried in one place. There are seventeen men, including the first officer (one of three) executed during the War. who were executed in Poperinghe for various offences under the terms of the British Army Act. Their graves can be found in Plot II. This is the highest concentration of men anywhere on the Western Front. As the court martials took place when the battalions were out of the line in the rest camps, and Poperinghe was one of the most important centres for rest camps on the Western Front, many of the court martials and executions took place here.

Grave II.H.2 10701 Private James H Wilson, 4th Battalion, Canadian Infantry, Canadian Expeditionary Force, he deserted on 13 June 1916 during the Battle of Mount Sorrel, Observatory Ridge. He was executed on 9 July 1916.

Grave II.H.3 416874 Private Comte LaLiberte, 3rd Battalion, Canadian Infantry, Canadian Expeditionary Force, he deserted on 4 August 1916. Age 25. He was the son of Luger and Eugenie Hamel Laliberte, of 170 St. Ferdinand Street., Montreal.

Grave II.J.7 3/4071 Private John Bennett, 1st Battalion Hampshire Regiment, 11th Brigade, 4th Division. He had already seen action during the July battles on the Somme – the battalion lost 585 men on the first day – he lost his nerve during a German gas attack on the battalions trench positions in the Salient on 8 August and deserted. The gas attack accounted for 101 men from the 4th and 29th Divisions who are buried in Lijssenthoek Cemetery. He was charged with cowardice in the face of the enemy and executed on 28 August 1916. Age 19, he was the son of John Bennett, of 37, Vernon Rd., Bow, London.

Grave II.F.7 12772 Private Albert Botfield, 9th Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment. Age 28. He had deserted from an entrenching party near Contalmaison on the Somme on 21 September 1916. His battalion had moved north to the Salient and he was tried on a charge of cowardice. He was executed on 18 October 1916 in the inner courtyard of Poperinghe Town Hall.

Grave II.H.9 2554 Private Richard Stevenson, 1/4th Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, 164th Brigade, 55th (West Lancashire) Division. He had deserted at Fricourt on 7 September 1916 and was captured four days later. His battalion moved to the Salient and he was tried for desertion and executed on 28 October 1916.

Grave II.D.9 2974 Private Bernard McGeechan, 1/8th The King’s (Liverpool Regiment), 164th Brigade, 55th (West Lancashire) Division. He was already under arrest for desertion in September 1916 when his battalion moved to the Salient. He was executed on 2 November 1916.

Grave II.F.9 4242 Private Reginald T Tite, 13th Battalion (3rd South Downs) Royal Sussex, 116th Brigade, 39th Division. Age 27. He had been charged with cowardice during the fighting at Thiepval on the Somme on 21 October 1916 and tried on the Somme. His battalion moved to the Salient and he was executed on 25 November 1916 at Wormhoudt in the Northern France and brought to Poperinghe in the back of a lorry for burial. He was the son of Mrs. Harriet J. Tite, of 56 Downes Street., Old Kent Road, Peckham. His brother and two cousins who also served in the 13th Royal Sussex were also killed in the War.

Grave II.E.9 G/11296 Private William Henry Simmonds, 23rd (2nd Football) Middlesex Regiment, 123rd Brigade, 41st Division. Age 23. He had deserted on the Somme and was executed on 1 December 1916 when his battalion had moved to the Salient. He was the son of William and Emily Simmonds, of 18, Sidney Terrace, Bedfont Lane, Feltham, Middlesex.

Grave II.A.11 Second Lieutenant Eric Sheffington Poole, 11th West Yorkshire Regiment, 69th Brigade, 23rd Division. Age 31. He was the first officer (one of three) executed during the War. Returning to duty, after being wounded by shrapnel, he constantly suffered from bouts of hesitancy and disorientation. He deserted from his battalion trenches near Bailleul and at his trial, charged with desertion in the face of the enemy, on 21 November 1916, his plea that he suffered from shell-shock was ignored. He was executed at Poperinghe Town Hall on 10 December 1916. He was the son of Henry Sheffington Poole and Florence Hope Gibsone Poole, of 2, Rectory Place, Guildford, Surrey. Born Nova Scotia.

Grave II.B.14 34595 Private James Crampton, 9th York and Lancaster Regiment, 70th Brigade, 23rd Division. Age 39. He was attached to a Royal Engineers unit and deserted from the line near Armentieres. He was executed on 4 February 1917. (Served as GRAMPTON, J). He was the son of George and Elizabeth Crampton, of Scarborough, Yorkshire.

Grave II.D.14 16120 Private John W Fryer, 12th (Bermondsey) East Surrey Regiment, 122nd Brigade, 41st Division. Age 23. Already under a suspended sentence of death, he deserted again when the battalion was in the line at St Eloi. He was executed on 14 June 1917.

Grave II.H.24 23586 Private James S Michael, 10th Battalion Cameronians (Scottish Rifles), 46th Brigade, 15th Scottish Division. He deserted and evaded capture for a few months before being picked up and returned to his battalion. He was executed on 24 August 1917.

Grave II.F.41 88378 Private Joseph Stedman, 117th Company, Machine Gun Corps. Age 25. The son of Henry Patrick and Sarah Stedman, of Liverpool. He had complained that he could not stand the constant bombardments and walked away from a captured German trench near St Julian on 1 August 1917. He was captured five weeks later and executed on 5 September.

Grave II.F.42 13216 Sergeant John Thomas Wall, 3rd Battalion Worcester Regiment, 7th Brigade, 25th Division. Age 22. The son of William and Harriet Wall, of Hill Cottages, Bockleton, near Tenbury, Worcestershire. He had seen continuous action since 1914 and had served with the battalion at Bellewaarde Ridge in 1915 when it suffered heavy casualties. The battalion was back on the ridge once again on 17 August 1917 when he deserted. Captured he was executed on 6 September.

Grave II.F.44 8833 Private George Everill, 1st North Staffordshires, 72nd Brigade, 24th Division. Age 30. He was the son of Mrs. E. Everill, of 40, Mount Pleasant, Shelton, Hanley; husband of Mrs. L. Everill, of 7, Southampton Street., Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent. He had a poor disciplinary record with a several attempts at desertion. He deserted on 24 August when his battalion was moving from Dikkebus to the front-line. He was captured the next day and executed on 14 September.

Grave II.F.45 7429 Private Herbert Morris, Age 17. He was the son of William and Ophelia Morris, of Riversdale P.O., St. Catherine, Jamaica. 6th Battalion, British West Indies Regiment. He was terrified of shelling. He received no assistance from his battalion medical officer, when his company was deployed to the Burnt Farm area, over the canal opposite Essex Farm, and he deserted. Despite not being of the age to serve overseas he was executed on 20 September 1917.

He is the only soldier from the British West Indies Regiment to be executed on the Western Front and the only one to be shot for an offence not involving violence. In their book ‘Shot at Dawn’, Putkowski and Sykes, question whether Morris was black or white. They state that the battalion NCO’s were white and it was not clear if any whites served as privates. There are no eyewitness accounts or rumours as to whether a black soldier was executed on the Western Front. If such an execution had taken place the details would have spread quickly, so they speculate that perhaps Morris was not black but white.

Grave II.J.34 15605 Private Frederick C Gore, The Buffs 7th Battalion (East Kent Regiment), 37th Brigade, 12th (Eastern) Division. Age 19. He was the last soldier to be executed in Poperinghe. He had deserted twice and been charged with cowardice. At his court martial he pleaded that his nerves cracked every time he had to face heavy bombardments however, this did not impress his battalion medical officer or the court martial. He was executed on 16 October 1917.

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