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Wytschaete Military Cemetery

Updated: Sep 25, 2022


Wytschaete (now Wijtschate) was known to the Tommies as ‘Whitesheets’ and was taken by the Germans early in November 1914. It was recovered by Commonwealth forces during the Battle of Messines on 7 June 1917, but fell into German hands once more on 16 April 1918. The village was recovered for the last time on 28 September.


The cemetery was made after the Armistice when graves were brought in from isolated positions surrounding Wytschaete.


Cemeteries concentrated here

The following small battlefield cemeteries were concentrated here after the Armistice:

REST AND BE THANKFUL FARM, KEMMEL: 23 UK burials (13 of them 2nd Suffolks), mostly of 1915. R.E. (BEAVER) FARM, KEMMEL: 18 Royal Engineer and four Canadian Engineer burials of 1915-1917. The CEMETERY NEAR ROSSIGNOL ESTAMINET, KEMMEL: 18 UK burials (11 of the 1st Wiltshire Regiment), of January-April 1915. SOMER FARM CEMETERY No.2, WYTSCHAETE: 13 UK burials made by IXth Corps in June 1917. GORDON CEMETERY, KEMMEL: 19 UK burials (14 of them 1st Gordon Highlanders) of January-May 1915. could not be found on concentration.


The cemetery was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens.


Cemetery Location

Wytschaete Military Cemetery is located 7 Kms south of Ieper town centre, on a road leading from the Rijselseweg N365, which connects Ieper (formerly Ypres) to Wijtschate (Wytschaete) 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 first right hand turning on reaching the village of Wijtschate leads onto the Hospicestraat, leading to the village square. The Wijtschatestraat leads from the village square, 500 metres beyond which lies the cemetery on the right hand side of the road.


The Village of Wytschaete

The village was held by the French and British from the start of the War until the Germans attacked on 1 November 1914 and captured the village. On 2 November troops from the British reserve, grouped to the west of Wytschaete, which included 12th Battalion (Prince of Wales’s Royal) Lancers, 1st Battalion Lincolns some 800 men, 1st Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers numbering 350 men, 3rd (King’s Own) Hussars, 20th Hussars and a detachment from the French 32nd Division, counter-attacked in support of the 1/14th (London Scottish), the first Territorial Battalion to see action, in pushing back the Germans across the Messines Road and reaching the area of what is Torreken Farm Cemetery today. However, the Germans rallied and subsequently overran the village and pushed the British off the Messines Ridge which they held until June 1917.


Memorial to the 16th (Irish) Division

This memorial is located next to the cemetery. This Division was raised in the winter of 1914 by the leading nationalists Hugh Devlin and John Redmond, a relative of William Redmond. The Division comprised New Army Battalions of southern Irish regiments. The local community erected the Memorial as a tribute to the men who liberated the village, It was consecrated in 1926 by the War time divisional commander Major-General W.B. Hickie.


Unnamed Wood and Hospice Redoubt

This wood and Hospice Redoubt were on the road running north of Wytschaete. The wood and the Hospice had been turned into formidable defensive positions by the Germans and had been designated as objectives to be taken by the 7th Inniskilling Fusiliers,7/8th Irish Fusiliers, with the 8th Inniskilling fusiliers following as ‘ moppers up’, 49th Brigade, 16th (Irish) Division on 7 June 1917. These objectives were designated Red and Blue Line on the map and were reached and overrun in good time but as was expected, vicious fighting was experienced before they

(View showing Unnamed Wood today)


reached the Blue Line. Hospice Redoubt saw the heaviest of the fighting taking three-and-a-half hours of bitter fighting before it was cleared. It was clear that the 49th Brigade, in particular the 7th Inniskilling Fusiliers, had achieved a major success in taking these two objectives. On the 11 June Major-General W.B. Hickie showed his appreciation by renaming Unnamed Wood Inniskilling Wood, and a sign was erected accordingly. The Battalion lost 14 dead and 127 wounded (5 later died of wounds). Today, the wood is privately owned and closed to the public. The Hospice was never rebuilt after the War and is now the tennis courts.

(Linesman Map showing Wytschaete and the front line in June 1917 before the mines were blown)


Major William Redmond MP

William Hoey Kearney Redmond was born on 13 April 1861 to a Catholic father and a Protestant mother. After leaving school at Clongowes Wood College in Kildare he was commissioned as an officer in the Wexford Militia before becoming actively involved in politics. He campaigned for Charles Stewart Parnell in the 1880 General Election and two years later, as a result of intense agitation for land reform, both of them ended up sharing a cell in Kilmainham Gaol for three months.

Upon release Redmond travelled to Australia, New Zealand and the United States seeking international support for Irish Home Rule and when he returned to Ireland he too stood for election and became the Member of Parliament for Wexford in 1883. He would fight many more elections in the years that followed before eventually finding his political home in East Clare.

In 1885 he declared in Dublin that ‘...nationalists will be enemies of English power in Ireland so long as England refuses them their parliament”. In Newcastle-upon-Tyne he stated that ‘...the bulk of the Irish people are in a state of rebellion which is merely tempered by the scarcity of firearms.’ And in Dundalk he advocated that, ‘...England’s difficulty, under providence of God, is Ireland’s opportunity.’ His career, and life, was dedicated to achieving Home Rule and Self Government for Ireland. The Third Home Rule Bill finally received Royal Assent on 18 September 1914. Willie Redmond supported the War believing that Germany was the aggressor and needed to be faced by all good men and true. When addressing a crowd on St. Patrick Street, Cork, on 22 November he was clear that others should follow him: ‘I speak as a man who with all the poor ability at his command has fought the battle for self-government for Ireland ... No man who is honest can doubt the single-minded desire of myself and men like me to do what is right for Ireland. And when it comes to the question – as it may come – of asking young Irishmen to go abroad and fight this battle, when I am personally convinced that the battle for Ireland is to be fought where many Irishmen now are – In Flanders and France – old as I am, and grey as my are my hairs, I will say “Don’t go, but come with me’.


Although, at the age of fifty-six, he was considered too old to be a soldier, he applied for and received a commission in the Royal Irish Regiment taking up command of ‘B’ Company, 6th Battalion, 47th Brigade, 16th (Irish) Division. To don the uniform of the British Army was a major moral dilemma however, his vision of the future saw the immediate fundamentals of the struggle. His patriotism saw him comment on the eve of his departure for the front: ‘If the Germans come here…they will be our masters, and we at their mercy. What that mercy is likely to be, judge by the mercy shown to Belgium. I am far too old to be a soldier, but I mean to do my best, for whatever life remains in me…


His final appearance in the House of Commons was on 7 March 1917, when he made a passionate speech for Home Rule when seconding T.P O’Connor’s motion for immediate implementation concluding his remarks with these words: ‘In the name of God, we here who are about to die, perhaps, ask you to do that which largely induced us to leave our homes; to do that which our mothers and fathers taught us to long for; to do that which is all we desire; make our country happy and contented, and enable us, when we meet the Canadians and the Australians and the New Zealanders side by side in the common cause and on the common field, to say to them: 'our country, just as yours, has self-government within the Empire.


The 16th (Irish) Division was located around the village of Locre with the divisional staff billeted in the nearby convent. It was here that Redmond entertained not just the Irish army chaplains but also the officers of the 36th (Ulster) Division. The two divisions were to go into action side by side on the morning of 7 June 1917 at Wytschaete. Redmond had his pleas to join the advance rejected by his commanding General however, he persisted in his attempts and was granted permission to go as far as the first objective. At 3.10am, after the mines had been blown, the 16th (Irish) Division advanced taking Petit Bois, Red Chateau, Unnamed Wood and the Hospice west of the village. As his Battalion moved across the open ground to the first object, Petit Bois, Major Redmond was wounded in the hand and the leg. He was found by stretcher bearers of the 36th (Ulster) Division and taken to the 16th Field Ambulance near Paraines Farm on Suicide Road (shown on the trench maps) today the road to Kemmel. Although his wounds were not serious, shock set in and he died.

(Grave of Major William Redmond located outside the walls of Locre Hospice Cemetery. Redmond had instructed that he was not to be buried in a British Cemetery)


He was buried on 8 June in the garden near the grotto to the Virgin Mary. A friend, an Irish chaplain noted: ‘No purer hearted man, no braver soldier, ever died on the battlefield. He was absolutely convinced that he was dying for Ireland.’ For many years after the War his grave was looked after by the nuns of the convent and later, at the request of his family, his body was exhumed and reburied outside the walls of the British Military cemetery known today as Locre Hospice Cemetery some 500 yards across the road from the Hospice. Locre Hospice was badly damaged during the War and was rebuilt some 100 metres from its original site.


Cratering the Ridge – Maedelstedt Farm Mine Crater

Leaving Wytschaete Cemetery on the road to Kemmel, known as Suicide Road by the troops and on the trench maps of the day, on a by road on the right is Maedelstedt Farm. It formed part of the German defences in this area and was a major strong point. It had

(Maedelstedt Farm Crater today. Used for fishing and on private ground)


been the subject of the ill conceived British attack on 14 December 1914 in which the 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders suffered grievously. The farm gave good views across to the British trenches and behind the lines towards Kemmel. It was on the list of targets for the British who planned to blow twenty five mines, although they actually blew nineteen mines, beneath the German defences in an action on 7 June 1917 that became known as ‘Cratering the Ridge’. The mine at Maedelstedt Farm was dug-in by Major Cropper’s 250th Tunnelling Company, Royal Engineers and was begun in 1916, with the final charges, amounting to 94,000lbs of explosive, a mixture of Ammonal and gun cotton, being laid on 2 June 1917. This was five days before the Battle of Messines was due to begin and the blowing of the mines. The mine gallery was 1,600 feet in length and one hundred feet below ground at the deepest part. The crater is 205 feet in diameter and is the second largest mine exploded on 7 June 1917. The largest being at St Eloi. The mine was designed to explode behind the farm buildings on a spot were a network of trenches were located. There was a second gallery that ran towards Wytschaete Wood but this was abandoned due to a lack of time.


(Linesman Map from 19 September 1918 showing Major Cropper's Craters)


Major Cropper’s 250th Tunnelling Company were responsible for six mines and today, a walk along the front line in the Wytschaete area will lead you to them at Hollandscheschuur Farm, Petit Bois, and Maedelstedt Farm. As well as those of Major Cropper, you can also view the other mines blown in total 957,000lbs of Ammonal and gun cotton was triggered beneath the German lines at 3.10am on 7 June 1917. There are no exact figures detailing the extent of the losses on the German side however, 6,000 prisoners were taken in a state of shock and stupefaction.


In his book ‘Wet Flanders Plain’, Henry Williamson describes how, in the early 1920’s, he and his friend when visiting the area, had an argument with a group of Belgian youths in a café at Maedelstedt Farm before being chased out, only escaping on a passing tram on its way from Kemmel to Wytschaete. The tram system is long gone.

(Monument to Major Cropper's Tunnellers in Wytschaete village)


The two craters at Petit Bois are in open pastureland and full of water, They are on private land and closed to the public although they can be viewed from a distance. A boring machine, constructed from one used in the London underground tunnels, was shipped to this sector to assist in the digging of the tunnels for these craters. They worked for a short time digging some 200 metres. They were abandoned, 80 metres below ground, after consistently breaking down clogged with Flanders clay. They are still there today. The workings of the tunnels were at Vandamme Farm still on its original site.


The stand at Onraete Wood

This is a small woodland with a farm complex at its rear on the left-hand side of the road running from Wytschaete to St Eloi. The British map makers retained its Flemish name rather than designate one of the common military names to identify the wood. On the 24th April 1918 the wood saw one of the most heroic actions of the Battle of Lys, during which the Germans tried to break the British line and split the allied command forcing a retreat towards the Channel ports.


On the 24th April British units were fighting to halt a vastly superior German force and to stop them from retaking the Messines Ridge, which the Germans had lost in June 1917. On the 21st April Haig had issued his famous ‘Backs to the Wall’ message to the British troops to stand and hold their ground. The 1st Battalion East Yorkshire Regiment, 21st Division, were in shallow fire-pits and trenches on the edge of the wood. The Battalion was a professional unit with several years fighting experience. It had been in action for several days and was now under sustained German artillery fire of all calibres with all sections of the area which was now cut off from all sources of supply and reinforcement. Under covering fire and smoke screens the Germans advanced on the wood from the direction of Wytschaete and Torreken Farm and they expected an easy passage. The East Yorks drove back the Germans with determined fire from riffle and machine-gun however, German pressure was beginning to tell and as the line was thinning a lone unnamed N.C.O. climbed on top of a pill-box and worked his machine-gun unsupported. This heroic act saved the situation and allowed what was left of the Battalion, numbering three officers and some thirty men. to withdraw across the nearby Wytschaetebeek stream.


(Remains of German shelter at Onraete Wood)


The wood was replanted after the War and the nearby farm rebuilt on its original location. The pill-box that featured in the heroic action was demolished when the ground next to the wood was developed into a garden centre. There are still several German shelters in and around the wood standing as reminders of the action by the East Yorks. This is a place of pilgrimage and you should not let the noise from the busy garden centre distract you as you stand in the quiet of the wood letting your thoughts go back to those desperate days in April 1918.


Talbot House connection

19067 Corporal Frederick G Burrow M.M., 15th Battalion Hampshire Regiment. Killed 1 August 1917. Grave VI.D.8. His great friend 19075 Corporal Herbert Charles Hoptrough, 15th Battalion Hampshire Regiment. Age 21. Killed 20 September 1917. Tyne Cot Memorial Panel 88 to 90. Son of Herbert and Annie Hoptrough, of 13, Hampshire St., Buckland, Portsmouth.

On the 25 December 1916 they both visited Tubby Clayton in TOC-H with Herbert Hoptrough recording the details in a letter: ‘On 25th December Fred Burrow and myself stopped a motor lorry somewhere in (not blighty) and proceeded to a certain celebrated house, known as TALBOT HOUSE (his caps)….. We had been sitting down for about an hour, when a noise outside the door, told us that the one and only P.B.C. had arrived….. We then had the greatest joy in taking part in the little service of ‘Holy Communion’. Afterwards they then had dinner with Tubby in a restaurant he wrote: ‘.. Can you imagine P.B.C., F.H. H.C.H and another nice chap, sitting at a round table in an excellent restaurant, eating and talking at the same time.’ In a letter dated 25 September 1917 and featured in the newsletter ‘The Nutshell’ distributed to members of the Church Boys Club in Portsmouth that Tubby once organised when a curate he wrote: ‘ Fred Burrow and Bertie Hoptrough spent both Christmas and Easter Day with me..’ He went on: ‘ .. Of these Fred Burrow, Charlie Payne, Charlie Grant and Syd Nagle have died in action… I last saw Fred standing like a model of young manhood, with his shirt off, washing at the door of a hut. I had gone miles out of my way to find him.. Of his death I have only few details as yet…


The same edition published a letter extract from Herbert Hoptrough in which he spoke of the death of his close friend Fred Burrow: ‘I simply cannot explain how I feel about Fred, but I know you will understand. We joined up practically together and have been together for the greater part of our 15 months in France, so please express my real grief.’ and just before going to press the Editor added a note recording the death of Herbert he wrote: ‘… we hear of the death in action of Bert Hoptrough and Fred Burrow’s great and constant friend.


FALKIRK AND DISTRICT MEN BURIED HERE


Links to the area

4598 Private John Sneddon

5th Battalion, Australian Pioneers

Age 42

21.3.18

I.A.8

Native of Carronshore. Son of Joseph & Jane Sneddon


Burials

There are now 1,002 servicemen of the First World War buried or commemorated in this cemetery. 673 of the burials are unidentified, but there are special memorials to 16 casualties known or believed to be buried among them. Other special memorials commemorate casualties known to have been buried at the Cemetery near Rossignol Estaminet, RE (Beaver) Farm and Rest and be Thankful Farm, whose graves could not be found on concentration.


UK – 486

Australian – 31

New Zealand – 7

Canadian – 19

South African – 11

Known unto God – 423

German – 1

Unnamed - 673

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