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Sanctuary Wood Cemetery

Updated: Oct 23, 2023


Sanctuary Wood Cemetery. Ypres Salient. Battlefields Belgium. Flanders
Authors image. Sanctuary Wood Cemetery

Sanctuary Wood is one of the larger woods in the commune of Zillebeke. It was named in November 1914, when it was used to screen troops behind the front line. It was the scene of fighting in September 1915 and was the centre of the Battle of Mount Sorrel (2-13 June 1916) involving the 1st and 3rd Canadian Divisions. There were three Commonwealth cemeteries at Sanctuary Wood before June 1916, all made in May-August 1915. The first two were on the western end of the wood, the third in a clearing further east. All were practically obliterated in the Battle of Mount Sorrel, but traces of the second were found and it became the nucleus of the present Sanctuary Wood Cemetery. At the Armistice, the cemetery contained 137 graves. The scattered graves between the War Stone and the Great Cross are the original burials made during the war. Those along the wall are those of soldiers who were known to be buried here, but whose graves were lost in the shelling. Some 60% of the graves are unnamed and many are identified as buried in the cemetery but location unknown.


The cemetery was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens. There are four Falkirk and District men buried or known to be buried here.


By 1915 Sanctuary Wood was part of the front line and the high ground around it from Hill 62 to Hooge and the Bellewaarde Ridge commanded the battlefield and there was a great deal of fighting for the possession and re-possession of the area. In his Battalion history, R C Featherstonhaugh, an officer of the 13th Battalion Canadian Infantry (Royal Highlanders of Canada) described the wood and the scene in 1916: ‘Sanctuary Wood was by this time a wood in name only. Such trees as stood were riven and leafless, while their fallen branches added to the maze of wire and trenches beneath. The air was heavy with the sickening odour of decay, so that the whole battered district, even by day, was a place of grisly horror and evil omen. At night weird shadows and strange sounds – the hoot of an owl, or the cough of a hidden sentry – intensified this aspect a hundred fold…. Yet more than one officer whose gallantry in action is unquestioned has admitted that when alone at night in Sanctuary Wood his heart would beat uncomfortably fast and that human companionship was more than ordinarily welcome.


‘I have a wife in Falkirk. What would happen if I came over to you to-night’

In ‘Temporary Heroes’, a book by Richard Van Emden, written from the letters of Lieutenant Norman Cecil Down, 1/4th Gordon Highlanders. In a letter to his fiancée in September 1915, Lieutenant Downs records an incident while in the trenches at Sanctuary Wood ‘..don’t get worried over the address, as the Appendix is only the name of a trench. Into it this morning fell a round body of about the same size and shape as a bomb. We all scooted round the corner for a few seconds, and then as there was no explosion we went back. We picked it up and found inside a message. ‘Dear Jocks, I have a wife in Falkirk. What would happen if I came over to you to-night?’ There would be another widow in Falkirk was the reply.


The trenches here had names such as ‘Lover’s Walk’, ‘Artillery Place’, ‘Warrington Avenue’, ‘Border Lane’ and ‘Gourock Road’. Major R T Rees, 8th Battalion Loyal North Lancashire Regiment described Lover’s Walk trench as a ‘filthy ditch’ At the nearby museum there is a section of preserved trenches, part of the Vince Street – Jam Row system. Sanctuary Wood was lost to the Germans during their Spring Offensive in 1918 but was retaken by the 9th (Scottish) Division on 28th September 1918.

Linesman. Sanctuary Wood Cemetery. Ypres Salient. Battlefields Belgium. Flanders
Linesman Map. Sanctuary Wood

Cemeteries concentrated here

From 1927 to 1932, Plots II-V were added and the cemetery extended as far as 'Maple Avenue', when graves were brought in from the surrounding battlefields. They came mainly from the communes immediately surrounding Ypres, but a few were taken from Nieuport (on the coast) and the following smaller cemeteries:- BEYTHEM COMMUNAL CEMETERY, RUMBEKE (one United Kingdom burial of October 1918). DEERLYCK GERMAN CEMETERY (two United Kingdom burials of October 1918; two others were taken to Dadizeele New British Cemetery). DONEGAL FARM GERMAN CEMETERY, DRANOUTRE, on the more Southerly road from Dranoutre to Lindenhoek (one unidentified British officer). EISKELLAR GERMAN CEMETERY, GHELUVELT, the cemetery of the 106th Infantry Regiment, between Veldhoek and Herenthage Chateau (one unidentified; one other burial was taken to Harlebeke New British Cemetery). FLANDERS FIELD AMERICAN CEMETERY, WAEREGHEM, one of the American Military Cemeteries (one R.A.F. Officer). HOLLEBEKE CEMETERY No.60 (or THREE HOUSES GERMAN CEMETERY) (one unidentified; others were taken to Oosttaverne Wood Cemetery, Wytschaete). INGELMUNSTER GERMAN CEMETERY (two R.F.C. three other British were taken to Harlebeke New British Cemetery). KASTELHOEK GERMAN CEMETERY (No.61), HOLLEBEKE, on the road from Houthem to Zillebeke (five United Kingdom soldiers who died January-February 1917; others were taken to Harlebeke New British Cemetery). KLEIN-ZILLEBEKE GERMAN CEMETERY, ZILLEBEKE, between Klein-Zillebeke and Zwarteleen (three unidentified). KORTEKEER GERMAN CEMETERY No.12A, LANGEMARCK, on the road running North from Kortekeer, which is between Langemarck and Bixschoote (three United Kingdom graves of 1914). KRUISEECKE GERMAN CEMETERY, COMINES, on the road from Becelaere to Wervicq (two unidentified; other British were taken to Zantvoorde British Cemetery). L'ALOUETTE GERMAN CEMETERY, NEUVE-EGLISE, 2,000 meters due East of Neuve-Eglise village (three unidentified). LANGEMARCK GERMAN CEMETERY N0.9, on the Pilckem road (five United Kingdom soldiers). LANGEMARCK NORTH GERMAN CEMETERY, on the road to Koekuit and Clercken (one unidentified). MENIN COMMUNAL CEMETERY (one United Kingdom grave of 1914). MESSINES GERMAN CEMETERY No.2, at the North-East corner of the village (seven United Kingdom graves of 1915). MESSINES GERMAN CEMETERY No.3, a little East of the Church (one United Kingdom grave and one Canadian). MOTOR CAR CORNER CEMETERY GERMAN EXTENSION, PLOEGSTEERT (seven unidentified who fell in 1918). PETIT-PONT GERMAN CEMETERY, PLOEGSTEERT, between Petit-Pont and Hill 63 (two unidentified M.G.C. Officers). RABSCHLOSS GERMAN CEMETERY No.64, MESSINES, 1500 metres West of Hollebeke village (one unidentified). REUTEL GERMAN CEMETERY, BECELAERE (ten unidentified; other British were taken to Perth Cemetery (China Wall), Zillebeke). SLYPSKAPPELLE CHURCHYARD, MOORSLEDE (two United Kingdom soldiers and one Newfoundland; one other is still buried there). TERDEGHEM CHURCHYARD (Nord, France) (four R.G.A. and one Canadian). THOUROUT GERMAN CEMETERY No.2, due East of Hooge, on the road running North from Thourout (two R.A.F., September 1918). Most of these burials were from the 1914 Battles of Ypres and the Allied offensive of the autumn of 1917.


Cemetery Location

Sanctuary Wood Cemetery is located 5 Kms east of Ieper town centre, on the Canadalaan, a road leading from the Meenseweg (N8), connecting Ieper to Menen. From Ieper town centre the Meenseweg is located via Torhoutstraat and right onto Basculestraat. Basculestraat ends at a main cross roads, directly over which begins the Meenseweg. 3 Kms along the Meenseweg lies the right hand turning onto Canadalaan. The cemetery itself is located 1.5 Kms along Canadalaan on the right hand side of the road. 100 metres beyond the cemetery at the end of the Canadalaan is the Hill 62 Memorial.


Lieutenant Keith Rae. Sanctuary Wood Cemetery. Ypres Salient. Battlefields Belgium. Flanders
Authors image. Sanctuary Wood Cemetery

Lieutenant Keith Rae Memorial

This is a solitary, ornate stone cross just outside the cemetery limits and is a private memorial to Lieutenant Keith Rae, 8th Battalion Rifle Brigade, 14th (Light) Division. He was

killed in action on 30th July 1915, in Trench G5 at Hooge Chateau. During this attack the Germans used flamethrowers for the first time. His body was never found and he is listed on the Menin Gate. His family erected this memorial near the spot of Trench G5 which was the spot he was last seen. In 1978 the last member of the Vink family, who owned the chateau, had the memorial moved to its present site as he could no longer guarantee its upkeep, and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission now look after it.


The only German Airman Buried Here

Hauptmann Hans Roser. Sanctuary wood Cemetery. Ypres Salient. Battlefields Belgium. Flanders
Authors image. Sanctuary Wood Cemetery

Hauptmann Hans Roser, - Observer. Feldflieger Abteilung 3. KIA 25.7.15. He was flying in an Albatros C-type. He was a victim of Captain Lanoe Hawker of 6 Squadron RFC, who, because of his actions that day, became the first man to receive a V.C. for air combat.








Canadian Memorial at Mount Sorrel

This memorial is somewhat misleadingly entitled ‘Mont Sorrel’ and that the high spot was named on the map in 1914. It was not. Mountsorrel is a village in Leicestershire where the Commanding Officer of the 1/4th Leicestershire Regiment, Lieutenant-Colonel R E Martin, had his family home. Indeed, this hill is not Mount Sorrel, that is located to the south-east, and is in fact Tor Top. The action at Hill 62 in June 1916 was known to the Canadians as the Battle of Mount Sorrel and became one of the Canadian Expeditionary Force’s battle honours.

Canadian Memorial Mount Sorrell. Sanctuary Wood Cemetery. Ypres Salient. Battlefields Belgium. Flanders
Authors image. Canadian Memorial Mount Sorrell.

Death of a Major-General

Major General M S Mercer. Sanctuary Wood Cemetery. Ypres Salient. Battlefields Belgium. Flanders
Authors image.

On the June 1916, the hill and Observatory Ridge were one of the few remaining high positions left in British hands and the Germans were determined to take it. They launched their attack at 6am on 2 June 1916 along the line running from Hooge, through Hill 62, Mount Sorrel to Observatory Ridge. Hill 62 was held by the 3rd (Canadian) Division and their positions came under intense artillery fire. On the morning of the attack Major-General Mercer and the commander of his right, 8th Brigade, Brigadier-General Williams were inspecting the line at Mount Sorrel. Except for a last minute change of plan they would also have been joined by the Corps Commander, General Byng. The 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles were in position at Mount Sorrel in front of Armagh Wood and facing the German lines at Shrewsbury Forest. The main shelter was in ‘The Tunnel’, a gallery dug-out on the reverse slope of the Mount Sorrel that included an aid post and Battalion HQ. In the attack Both Mercer and Williams ear drums were shattered by the shelling and both had taken refuge in the aid post. Mercer refused to stay there and he tried to get back to his HQ however, he was wounded again, a bullet wound that broke his leg and while he was lying in the trench he was killed by shrapnel. His body was later recovered and he is buried in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery https://www.theypressalient.com/post/lijssenthoek-military-cemetery

Williams was taken prisoner. The 4th Canadian Rifles suffered ninety per cent casualties.




Talbot House connection


In Plot I is buried Lieutenant Gilbert Walter Lytleton Talbot, 7th Battalion Rifle Brigade, 41st Brigade, 14th (Light) Division in whose memory Talbot House at Poperinghe was established in December 1915. The first list of the graves in the cemetery was made by his brother the Reverend N.S. Talbot, MC, later Bishop of Pretoria.









FALKIRK AND DISTRICT MEN BURIED HERE


Falkirk

S/5363 Corporal Alexander Hastings

10th Battalion Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders

19.12.15

II.G.35


326150 Sergeant Robert McDiarmid

70th Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery

29.4.18

II. K. 6


Bonnybridge

2273 Sergeant David Hulme

10th Battalion Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders

Age 36

14.11.15

II.H.7

Husband of Lilian May Hulme, Temperance Hall. Son of Arthur & Bridget Hulme, Port Glasgow


Links to the area

436754 Private John McGunigal

‘C' Coy 49th Battalion Canadian Infantry

Age 34

1.5.16

Special Memorial

Son of James & Jane McGunigal, 28 Main Street, Bainsford


Burials

There are now 1,989 Commonwealth servicemen of the First World War buried or commemorated in the cemetery. 1,353 of the burials are unidentified. Many graves, in all five plots, are identified in groups but not individually.


UK – 1734 (125 unnamed)

Australian – 88 (54 unnamed)

New Zealand – 18 (13 unnamed)

Canadian – 142 – (69 unnamed)

New Foundland – 3 (2 unnamed)

South African – 3

German – 1


There are Special Memorials to eighty-eight men whose graves were destroyed by shell-fire.

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