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Passchendaele New British Cemetery is a World War One graveyard and memorial site in the town of Zonnebeke, Belgium near the battlefield of Passchendaele. The Battle of Passchendaele was a fierce conflict in the First World War and part of the Battle of Ypres.
Comprised of three levels and designed by Charles Holden, Passchendaele New British Cemetery was founded following the Armistice. It was populated by graves from both Passchendaele and Langemarck and today acts as the final resting place of 2,101 Allied soldiers, most of whom are unidentified.
Managed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Passchendaele New British Cemetery also has numerous First World War memorials.
Passchendaele New British Cemetery was designed by Charles Holden with W.C. Von Berg as Assistant Architect created in c.1923, it contains 2,093 graves. This is one of Holden’s earlier war cemeteries, with the shelter building of Portland stone designed in his most abstracted elemental manner, creating an effect which is undeniably military in character and which Philip Longworth, historian of the War Graves Commission, described as “almost cruelly severe”. This was surely appropriate in a cemetery named after the village, completely obliterated in the war (and now spelt Passendale), which was the immediate but seemingly unattainable objective of the 1917 offensive.
The Road to Passchendaele Part Fourteen – Passchendaele New British Cemetery
We arrive at Passchendaele New British Cemetery beneath a glooming sky.
The rain is still holding off, just, and anyway, it would feel inappropriate, really, to end our tour in glorious sunshine.
Albertina marker, the furthest east of the twenty four, I think, to be erected in 1984 to commemorate the death of King Albert fifty years earlier, each with its own inscription, in this case, ‘Eind-offensief Passendale – 28 September 1918’, the date (approximately) when the village was recaptured by Belgian troops for the final time as the war neared its end.
Baldrick gleefully contemplates yet another cemetery. The road, were you to follow it for a couple of miles, actually leads to the New Zealand Memorial at s’Graventafel, where we recently paid a visit. And before I forget, you will now find a tour map, showing all of the cemeteries and memorials we have visited on our way to Passchendaele, in the Tour Maps section (one of the links on the banner at the top of the page).
The huge, prison-like facade to the cemetery, topped by blockhouse-like structures at either end.,…
…and the view on entering. Trust me, this cemetery is considerably larger than it first looks.
Cross of Sacrifice. Even the pillars beneath the ‘blockhouse’ are, well, blockhouse-like! And I am pretty sure that architect Charles Holden had exactly that in mind when designing this cemetery, bearing in mind the proliferation of blockhouses across the battlefield, many of which would still have been in evidence (some still are, of course) when he visited the area to view the land on which the cemetery was to be constructed.
Because this is a post-war cemetery, made after the Armistice when men were brought in from graves on the battlefields of Passchendaele and Langemarck. On our immediate left the single row of Plot I, with Plot III on the right.
Of the twenty five graves in Plot I, only six, all Canadians, are identified, their headstones bearing dates between 30th October & 12th November 1917.
Cross of Sacrifice, and behind,…
…the single row of Plot II, with Plot IV on the left. Again, six men in Plot II, all Canadians, are identified, and apart from one man killed two weeks earlier, all died between the same range of dates as we saw in Plot I.
The cemetery plan, thanks to the CWGC, can be viewed here, and quite frankly, without it you will have no idea where you are a bit later as we make our way to the far end of the cemetery (which you cannot yet see in these shots), so I’d have a look at it if I were you.
The Stone of Remembrance (above & below) is sited just beyond Plots III (left) & IV (right)…
…Plot V to the left of the Stone in this shot,…
…and Plot VI to the right of the Stone in this one.
Looking roughly east, back towards the cemetery entrance across the headstones of Plot IV, Passchendaele church on the horizon. Now unfortunately, as you may have spotted, there was so much moisture in the air that a number of the following photos are afflicted by the photographer’s curse, condensation on the lens – and of course I had no idea this had occurred until I checked the pictures much later. And no, my photoshopping patience does not stretch that far!
So, with apologies, on we go – and by chance, as you will see, the problem resolves itself later. To the north east of the Stone, this is Plot VI, one of two plots, as we saw a couple of photos back, with headstones at 90º to the rest of the cemetery. Only eleven of the ninety burials in the plot are identified. Panning to the left of Plot VI…
…now on the right in this shot, with Plot VII on the left (and below),…
…and finishing our 180º pan, we are now looking south west at Plot V, the other plot whose headstones are at 90º to the rest of the cemetery.
Views from behind Plot V looking north west…
Plot V Row E, fifteen unidentified men. Of the ninety men buried in Plot V, just ten are identified.
And from here on, as I suggested earlier, the cemetery plan becomes essential. Plot VII, Row B in the foreground. Again we see the use of the Broad cross on identified New Zealand burials, and the Latin cross on unidentified. Note the three unknown sailors in the second row.
Canadian burials in Plot VII Row E,…
…and panning right from the same position…
…Plot VII Row D now on the left, Row C on the right.
Plot IX Row E in the foreground, Plot XI behind.
Canadian & Australian burials, known and unknown, at the other end of Plot IX Row E (also front row below).
Plot XI and, beyond, Plot XIII,…
…these steps leading down to a second terrace, Plot XII on the right.
Plot XII and beyond, Plot XIV, with Plot X Row E in the foreground,…
…the first three graves in the row, two of whom are unidentified, being men of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. It seems curious to see headstones bearing the inscription ‘A Seaman of the Great War’ in a cemetery so far from the sea, but these men were fighting as soldiers. Able Seaman J. H. Bowden, the man buried in the first grave, was a member of the Anson Battalion of the Royal Naval Division (as were the three unknown sailors we saw in an earlier picture), so one presumes the others may very well have been too.
The second terrace, with Plot XII in the foreground.
There is an unusual grave in Plot XII Row D, an unidentified man of the Royal Guernsey Light Infantry. Whether there are any others in the cemetery I cannot tell you, but there are no identified men of the R.G.L.I. buried here, that’s a fact. It made me wonder why he is here, but sure enough, I discovered that between 9th & 14th October 1917 the R.G.L.I. were involved in the Battle of Poelcappelle (their only action of Third Ypres as they were then sent for training for the upcoming Battle of Cambrai in November), and this unknown soldier must have been killed at that time.
Plot XII. There are 205 Canadians among the identified men buried here, more than any other nation, and God knows how many unidentified.
Unsurprising, of course, as it was the Canadians who took the village of Passchendaele on 6th November 1917. Private Leonard Oliver Millership, the only identified man among these six in Plot XII Row E, was killed on that day, as most likely, were the men who now lie on either side of him.
Men of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, some identified and some not, in Plot XII.
Plot XII, and beyond, Plot XIV.
Plot XIII Row F in the foreground, with Plot XV behind,…
…and panning right, a second set of steps leading down to the third and final terrace, special memorials along the wall in the background, and Plot XVI on the right (and background below),…
…Plot XIV Row F now in the foreground.
The seven special memorials are all to men who are believed to be buried among the unidentified burials here.
In a cemetery with so many unknown burials perhaps one might have expected, indeed hoped for, more than just seven.
There are 2,101 burials and commemorations in the cemetery, of which 1,600 are unidentified. Of the identified men, all but twenty died in the three months between 20th September & 26th December 1917.
As we near the end of our tour, during which we have visited ten cemeteries and three memorials, I should mention that there are other cemeteries that contain burials from the Third Battle of Ypres, such as Birr Cross Roads and Hooge Crater Cemetery, to name but two, but, as these cemeteries also contain many men from other actions as well, they have, or will, find their way onto this site in their own right.
And I know of at least one Passchendaele memorial that I have yet to visit maybe there are more. If so, hopefully I will get the chance to visit them and by extension show them to you, at some future date.
In the meantime, we shall make our way back up the cemetery.
The two rows nearest the camera are in Plot XIV, the headstones beyond in Plot XII.
..and similarly on our right, the first two rows are in Plot XIII, the rows behind in Plot XI.
Nearing the Stone of Remembrance, Plot VIII on the left, Plot VII on the right.
As we near the cemetery entrance, past Plot IV on the left and Plot III on the right (and below),…
…it would be remiss of us to finish this tour without a look at the losses incurred during the three months of the battle. Casualty figures for Third Ypres have become disputed over the years. In fact the only undisputed fact appears to be the British figure of 24,065 prisoners taken. The twenty-eight volume History of the Great War, the Official History, put British casualties for Third Ypres at 244,897, and estimated that German losses, equivalent details of which were not available, at some 400,000.
Over the years British casualty figures have been put at anything between 240,000 & 300,000, German figures as low as just under 200,000 and as high as 400,000. When in doubt I find A.J.P. Taylor as good as any to fall back on. He was dismissive of the official figures, talking of ‘conjuring tricks’ with ‘farcical calculations’. He suggested 300,000 British killed and wounded, and some 200,000 Germans.
The first random Passchendaele book, a 1996 publication, that came to hand from the post-flood library quotes figures of 275,000 British casualties, of which 70,000 were killed, with German casualties at just under 200,000. Leon Wolff’s ‘In Flanders Fields’, admittedly published nearly sixty years ago now, spends several pages discussing casualty figures before deciding that the 1922 figures published by the War Office as ‘Statistics of the Military Effort of the British Empire during the Great War’ are likely correct. These give total losses for the B.E.F. in the second half of 1917 as 448,614, of which 75,000 were casualties of the Battle of Cambrai, leaving 373,000 other casualties. Weekly ‘wastage’ along the whole Britsh front, prior to Third Ypres, was running at some 7,000 men a week, so over the course of the battle this in itself would account for not far off 100,000 casualties, leaving British losses at approximately 273,000 for the battle the same report gave German casualties as 270,710.
The wonderful Lyn MacDonald, referring to the British casualties, contents herself with the line, ‘It has never been possible to calculate the precise number of men who were killed during the Third Battle of Ypres’, and continues ‘After the war the official estimates ranged from as few as 36,000 to as many as 150,000. The truth probably lies somewhere between the two.’
Whatever figures you choose, a lot of men died in the mud and the mire to capture, or defend, this bloody ridge.
On 10th December 1917 a German attempt to retake Passchendaele village ended in chaos and failure.
A German history stated, ‘Passchendaele remains in the hands of the Canadians. The battle is finished. Not long after the first snow falls from the grey heavens into the water filled craters. At first it mixes with the mud and blends with the mushy mass. However one morning it remains and covers the place of horror with its white blanket… This strip of land gradually falls asleep.’
Which makes it sound a decent enough place to spend the winter.
It wasn’t. Despite the official end of the battle on 10th November, the shelling never stopped throughout the winter months, battering the frozen troops on both sides, and although there were no more major attacks, you can bet that zealous commanders would be ordering trench raids left, right & centre, your occasional periods of sleep would be rudely interrupted as you found yourself volunteered for a wiring party, or the hated trench mortar crews (your own, not the Germans!) would turn up in your sector, launch a few missiles at the opposite trenches, and then scurry off again, leaving you to take the inevitable consequences.
Ypres Salient Battles 1917
The Battle of Messines was an offensive by the British Second Army against the German Front Line on the high ground of the Wytschaete-Messines Ridge. The ridge lay in a north to south direction a few miles south of the town of Ypres. Two of the villages on the ridge were Wytschaete (called “Whitesheet” by the British troops) and Messines (now known by its Flemish name of Mesen). General Herbert Plumer was commander of the British Second Army. The German Army called this position the Wytschaete-Bogen, which translates as the Wytschaete Bow or Curve.
Planned from 1916, the Battle of Messines was to be a prelude to the Third Battle of Ypres, which had the high ground of the Passchendaele Ridge to the north-east of Ypres as its objective. The objective of the Messines June offensive was to remove the German Army from its domination of the positions on the high ground of the ridge south of Ypres, which they had held since October 1914. A successful operation at the Wytschaete-Messines ridge would break through the German Front and straighten the British Front Line, thereby reducing the manpower needed to man it, and place the Allies in an improved position south-east of Ypres. They would then be in a better position to protect the right flank of the large-scale British attack planned for the end of July to the east and north-east of Ypres.
From the early spring of 1916 mining operations were carried out to dig the tunnels and lay the explosive for a total of 21 mines. The troops involved in the mining were military tunneling companies and engineers from the Australian, British, Canadian and New Zealand forces.
In the early hours of the launch of the attack, 7 June, 19 of the 21 mines were blown at 3.10am. The German defenders on duty in the Front Line were shocked and hurled into the air, along with concrete bunkers, equipment and tons of earth. 19 enormous craters were left after the debris had crashed back down again. A dull rumble from the explosions was said to have been heard in London.
British, Irish, Australian and New Zealand infantry carried out the assault on what was left of the German line and over 7,000 German prisoners were taken. Artillery and tanks moved up, German counter-attacks were held off and by the end of the first day the British objectives had been reached.
The largest of the mines, packed with 41 tons of ammanol explosive, was located over 80 feet below ground under the German position at Spanbroekmolen. This was the location of a windmill by that name. The crater has filled with water and has been preserved as a memorial site, a “Pool of Peace”.
In the centre section of the attack on 7 June the 36th Ulster Division and the 16th Irish Division advanced side by side. A memorial to the men of these Irish divisions and all men of Ireland who fought in the First World War is located at Messines (Mesen):
From early in 1916 it was the intention of the Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F.), Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, to break out of the Ypres Salient. Having successfully secured the high ground of the Wytschaete-Messines Ridge in the Battle of Messines (7-14 June) the plan for the next operation was to advance against the German Front Line east and north-east of Ypres. On reaching the strategically important high ground of the Passchendaele Ridge to the north-east of Ypres, the British intention was to continue to push westwards, cutting off access for the German forces to the Belgian ports of Ostende and Zeebrugge. German forces were in control of these ports and using Zeebrugge in particular for shipping and submarines (U-Boats).
A British offensive in Flanders before the autumn weather closed in would also draw the focus of German Army commanders away from the Aisne battlefield. The large-scale offensive on the Chemin des Dames Ridge in April of 1917, planned by the French Commander-in-Chief, General Robert Nivelle, was a failure. Very high casualties for the French Army resulted in a struggle to maintain discipline in some of its units and soldiers mutinied.
In Flanders, the Third Battle of Ypres was launched on 31 July. The British Fifth Army commanded by General Hubert Gough advanced in a north-easterly direction away from its positions near Ypres with the Passchendaele Ridge in its sights. The French First Army was on its left. The British Second Army, under General Herbert Plumer, was on its right, holding the ground won during the Battle of Messines a few weeks earlier. Some ground, approximately two miles, was gained on the first day, but that night rain began to fall. The ground all around the British attackers quickly turned into a quagmire. Churned up by the artillery bombardment of the German Front Line and rear areas, the ground the British were now having to advance across was badly damaged and filling up with of rainwater which could not drain away through the heavy clay soil. Added to this, several small streams flowed through the area and their natural drainage channels had been destroyed. Due to persistent rain over the next few weeks the whole operation became literally bogged down in thick, sticky Flanders mud. Conditions were so bad that men and horses simply disappeared into the water-filled craters.
The German defensive line had been fortified during the previous months in their expectation of an attack here. The British advance turned into a battle of 8 phases, inching closer to the Passchendaele Ridge in a series of actions with limited objectives. The capture of the Passchendaele Ridge eventually took over 8 weeks to achieve.
The cost to both sides in human casualties was immense at between 200,000 and 400,000, although exact figures for British and German casualties continue to be a matter of discussion for military historians. The great tragedy for the British Army and the Imperial Forces of Australia, New Zealand and Canada, who suffered so many losses in the fight for the few miles from Ypres to the Passchendaele Ridge, is that only five months later almost all of the ground gained in the mud and horror of the battles for Passchendaele was recaptured by the German Army during its April offensive in 1918.
The Third Battle of Ypres comprised 8 phases. Formally called the Third Battle of Ypres, the battle which began on 31 July often takes the name it is more commonly known by, the Battle of Passchendaele, from the First and Second Battles of Passchendaele, which were in fact the last two phases of Third Ypres.
Having looked around the galleries inside the museum visitors are invited to make their way into an impressive network of outdoor British and German trenches. The trenches have been constructed using the same materials and methods of construction to give an accurate example of a set of 1914-18 trenches on the Western Front.
The Western Front Today - New British Passchendaele Cemetery
New British Passchendaele Cemetery, which dates from the 1920s, contains 2,100 burials and memorials: 1,019 UK, 646 Canadian, 292 Australian, 126 New Zealand, 6 Guernsey, 3 South African, 1 Newfoundland and 7 special memorials. Around 75% are unknown.
Among the latter the Albertina Memorial records the closure of the Passchendaele Offensive on 28 September 1918.
It is the 25th and last of the diamond-shaped markers erected by the Belgians from 1984-88 to commemorate the death of King Albert I.
Each bears his monogram and marks a significant site or event relating to the First World War.
Before Endeavours Fade, Rose E.B. Coombs, After the Battle 1994
Major & Mrs Holt's Battlefield Guide - Ypres Salient, Leo Cooper 2000
Saturday, 22 August, 2009 Michael Duffy and Eamon Duffy
A "listening post" was an advanced post, usually in no-man's land, where soldiers tried to find out information about the enemy.
- Did you know?
The Road to Passchendaele Part Nine – Dochy Farm New British Cemetery
31st July 2017 will mark exactly one hundred years since the start of the Third Battle of Ypres, the Battle of Passchendaele as it is popularly known. In advance of that anniversary, this post, and the following five, will complete what began, more than two years ago at Buffs Road Cemetery, as an occasional look at the cemeteries and memorials associated with the battle, and which will finally end up on the Passchendaele ridge at Passchendaele New British Cemetery in the not-so-distant future.
This is actually our third visit to Dochy Farm, but the first opportunity to spend some time here. Dochy Farm New British Cemetery can be found in the middle of the battlefields of Third Ypres, a little way north west of the town of Zonnebeke, itself some five miles west, and slightly north, of Ypres (Ieper) itself.
The cemetery is a post-war concentration cemetery, the majority of men buried here killed during the Third Battle of Ypres between October & December 1917 in the battles around Boesinghe, St. Julien, and Passchendaele.
On entering, Plot III is directly ahead of us…
…with the Stone of Remembrance now on our left. We shall take a closer look at the lie of the land in the background later, because that’s the way to Passchendaele.
The cemetery is made up of twelve long rows of burials split into twelve plots. We shall begin our look around at the far, western end of the cemetery, and on our way,…
…a few of the facts, and the cemetery plan (thank you, kind people of the CWGC). The original Dochy Farm was a German strongpoint which fell to the 4th New Zealand Brigade on 4th October 1917 during the Battle of Broodseinde.
The cemetery was started after the war when more than 1,400 men were brought in from the surrounding battlefields and buried here,…
…of which by far the majority are unidentified, 958 of the headstones here bearing no name, although the nationality or regiment of many has been established, as you will see later. Now at the north western end of the cemetery, this photo shows Plot IV in the foreground, with Plots VIII & XII behind.
Looking south east down the length of the cemetery, Plot IV still nearest the camera,…
…and further right. Plot IV consists of five rows of headstones, as does Plot VIII beyond.
Canadian and Australian casualties, known and unknown, in Plot IV Row E.
Plot VIII Rows D & E on the left, and Plot XII Rows A & B on the right.
The four plots (Plots IX to XII) at the rear of the cemetery all consist of just two rows each.
Panoramic view from the west corner of the cemetery looking east.
View of Plot VIII, looking west towards the corner from which the previous shot was taken, from the middle of Plot VII. Only 97 of the 305 Australian casualties buried here are identified.
View to the west of the Cross, Plot XI nearest the camera,…
…and to the east (above & below),…
…Plot X nearest the camera and Plot IX beyond.
One of only two special memorials in the cemetery, this one in Plot X, to men who are believed to be buried among the unknown men who now lie here.
Machine gunners at the start of Plot IX Row B, in the southern corner of the cemetery.
Eastern edge of the cemetery, looking south west, Plot I nearest the camera, Plots V & IX beyond,…
…and the five rows of Plot I again, now looking north, the rebuilt Dochy Farm visible across the road.
British burials in Plot I. Of nearly 950 British casualties buried in the cemetery, over 500 are unidentified. That’s a slightly dodgy six on the date of death inscription on the headstone of Corporal Wilfred Sykes, don’t you think? Compare it with the six on the headstone of Private Powell to the right. Anyway,…
…the In Perpetuity panel, cemetery register & visitor’s book can be found in this brick building in the eastern corner of the cemetery,…
…from where we continue along Plot I (above & below).
New Zealand burials in Plot I. 98 New Zealand casualties are buried here, of which 52 are unidentified. Another good example of the use, or otherwise, of the Broad cross on New Zealand headstones, as was discussed in a recent post.
Canadian burials in Plot I only 35 of 83 Canadians buried here are identified.
Plot II, Row E in the foreground.
Royal Marine in Plot II Row D. From here we make our way back west along the rows of headstones to roughly where we started:
Plot VI, Row B nearest the camera.
Plot VI, Row A now in the foreground (above & below).
Looking south east across the headstones of Plot VI in the foreground, with Plot V further along the rows.
Plot VII, Row A in the foreground.
Australian casualties in Plot III Row B.
Unidentified burials in Plot III Row E. So many of the men buried here are unknown that there now follows a selection of the unidentified burials (and a few identified) from across the cemetery, many, as you will see, whose regiments are known, but whose identities are not:
Two of seventeen South African casualties buried here, eight of whom are identified.
You will notice another identified South African in the second row here.
Beyond the Stone of Remembrance, across the road, are the rebuilt buildings of Dochy Farm itself, and if you look closely past the red roofed building, you can just see a white memorial in the middle of four poplar trees, which is where we are heading next. The green and brown fields in the distance beyond and to the right of the farm buildings are part of a small spur that slopes away towards the right of the picture that the Canadians christened Abraham Heights in 1915, and which was one of the New Zealand objectives on 4th October 1917.
On 4th October 1917, when the New Zealanders attacked across this land in what became known as the Battle of Broodseinde, the site of the cemetery would have been in No Man’s Land.
The copse in the middle distance to the left is Berlin Wood, a German strongpoint defended by concrete pillboxes and captured late on the day of 4th October, with Abraham Heights in front of it, a little to the right Passchendaele church tower can just be seen on the horizon beyond the trees of Haalen Copse (you’ll have to enlarge the photo for this one), and near the centre of the picture you can see Tyne Cot Cemetery, where nearly 12,000 casualties are buried, making it the largest CWGC cemetery in the world.
And not far away there’s a memorial to the New Zealand Division and their exploits on 4th October 1917, and that is our next destination. Before we leave, I mentioned at the beginning that this has been our third visit to Dochy Farm, and you will find a selection of photos taken on those previous visits, one, as the snow began to fall, the other on a beautiful summer’s day, near the end of the post that you will magically be transported to if you click here.
World War One Battlefields
Now spelt Passendale, the small village of Passchendaele five miles north-east of Ypres is the name by which the final stages of the Third Battle of Ypres is known. It is the name, along with the Somme, which has come to symbolise the Great War for many. The Third battle of Ypres was preceded by the attack on Messines ridge in June 1917. The main battle commenced on the 31st of July 1917, and stretched on until November the 10th, 1917. This year, 2017, marks the 100th Anniversary of this phase of the conflict. To visit the area see the Travelling to Ypres and Staying in Ypres pages
The Passchendaele Battlefield
The final phase, the advance on Passchendaele, took place in October and November, the aim being to take the strategically important high ground of the Passchendaele ridge. The first battle of Passchendaele, on the 12th October, failed to take the village, and the second battle of Passchendaele lasted from the 26th of October until the 10th of November. The map below shows the sites described on this page. Just south west of the village is the large cemetery and Memorial to the Missing at Tyne Cot, covered by a separate page.
For battlefield touring in the area, the Holt’s Guide to the Ypres Salient is the guidebook I would recommend to visitors it contains specific itineraries covering the relevant sites, a really useful map showing all the sites, and I still carry my copy on every visit I make to the battlefields.
Passchedaele locations map
Good books covering the battle are Lyn MacDonald’s Passchendaele and The Sacrificial Ground by Nigel Steel and Peter Hart.Jack Sheldon’s The German Army at Passchendaele gives the German perspective.
Passchendaele church was totally destroyed by shellfire in 1917. However, it has since been reconstructed and now dominates the village square. Within the church are three stained-glass windows in honour of the 66th Division.
The left window shows″ at the bottom, with the names and shields of several northern towns above, including Bury, Accrington, Bolton, Blackburn and Wigan. The larger central window states th Division, British Expeditionary Force, In Memoriam”. St George is shown above, and further up a shield with three lions representing the Duchy of Lancaster. The shields and names of Manchester and Salford are towards the top. The right window states ” and has more shields, of Padiham, Bacup, Todmorden and others.
Outside the church in the central village square is a bronze plaque. This was sculpted by Ross Bastiaan, and shows a relief map of the Ypres Salient, along with some information on the battle of Passchendaele. There are also some statistics: the plaque states that 1,000,000 from the British Empire were killed, and 2,000,000 wounded on the Western Front during the Great War. It was unveiled by the Honourable Bill Hayden, Governor General of the Commonwealth of Australia, on the 1st of September, 1993. There are similar bronze relief plaques at Messines and the Menin Gate in Ypres.
The Ross Bastiaan Plaque in Passchendaele square
Passchendaele New British Cemetery
Just to the west of Passchendaele on the road to s-Graventafel is Passchendaele New British Cemetery. This was created by concentration of graves following the Armistice. The structure of the front of this cemetery is somewhat unusual, with almost a barred window appearance such as a prison might have (see picture below). Almost all the graves date from the autumn of 1917, and therefore from the Third Battle of Ypres.
There are 2101 burials here, and more than three-quarters are unidentified. The cemetery is set on three tiers, with steps down to the lower tiers as you move away from the road. The very large proportion of unknown burials is obvious as you walk along the rows. Right at the back are seven special memorials to men who are believed to be buried here.
Just outside the Cemetery is the last of the Albertina markers to be erected by the Belgians in the 1980s to commemorate the death of King Albert I. This one states “Ein defensiv Passendale 28th September 1918”, and marks the end of the last Passchendaele offensive towards the end of the War.
Other Sites Nearby
The site of Crest Farm lies just south of the village, on a street called Canadalaan. This fortified farm on the high ground was on the line of the final offensive to take the village. This is one of several official Canadian memorial sites, and marks the attack made from here by the 1st and 2nd Canadian Divisions on the 6th of November 1917. The Australian 9th Brigade had previously taken Crest Farm on the 12th of October, but it had not been held. It was retaken by the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada on the 30th October.
The layout and the commemorative stone is similar to that at Hill 62 (and other Canadian memorials on the Western Front), and below is a picture of the memorial, showing Passchendaele church in the centre of the village in the background. It was not a great distance, but the price in blood for those few yards was very high. The village and the ridge were finally taken on the 10th of November, 1917.
Heading south from the village on the N303, just as the houses in the village end and before large modern warehouses (with the name PASFROST), a grass track leads off to the left which is signposted to the 85th (Nova Scotia Highlanders) Battalion Memorial. The 85th were part of the 4th Canadian Division.
The memorial is a short way along the path, and the plaque records that it was erected by the battalion ‘in memory of the gallant comrades who gave their lives in the operation before Passchendaele at Decline Copse and Vienna Cottage October 28th to 31st 1917‘. The names of those who die are listed – 12 officers and over 130 other ranks.
On the 17th and 18th of October 1917, men from the battalion viewed a relief map (made at 1:1000 scale in concrete at Ten Elms Camp near Poperinghe) of the area they were to attack. On the 17th Lieutenant Frank Hutchinson joined the battalion. He was one of those who would die in the attack less than two weeks later (like many of the others he has no known grave and is commemorated on the Menin Gate).
The battalion spent the next few days practicing for their attack, and on the 27th Lieutenant Walter Martell led an advance party into the line, with the remainder of the battalion following the next day.
On the 28th of October the 85th Battalion moved to Potijze, where they had supper, and then moved up to the front line. A German counter-attack had driven the 44th Battalion (which they were relieving) back, and men of the 85th helped out.
There were four officers killed here, even before the main attack (due on the 30th). Captain MacKenzie was shot in the abdomen by a machine gun, and survived a little while to direct operations, dying shortly afterwards. Lieutenants Martell and Anderson were killed, whilst Lieutenant Christie was wounded. He was taken back to the Regimental First-Aid post, but there he was killed by a shell, as was his batman who had come back with him. This Aid Post was located at ‘Tyne Cottage’ – Tyne Cot.
The preparations for attack were made after dusk on the 29th, and the next morning, the attack was scheduled to begin at 5.50 a.m. ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’ Companies were to make the attack, on ground from where the railway used to run (to the south of where the monument stands), across to the road which is now the N303. ‘D’ Company was in reserve. There was a preliminary barrage, but it was felt to be light and of little use in this sector.
The attackers were met immediately with rifle and machine-gun fire from the Germans, with nine officers hit immediately, two Company Commanders (Captains Hensley and Clayton) being killed outright. The fire-fight continued, and progress could only be made by the men leaping from shell-hole to shell-hole. Anyone attempting to walk or stand upright was hit – such as Sergeant Rushton of ‘A’ Company, who stood up, shouted “Come on ‘A’ Company!” and was instantly killed. Listed as a Corporal on the CWGC website, Oscar Rushton has no known grave.
At this point, Major Anderson brought some of the reserves of ‘D’ Company forward. This gave the Canadians the impetus they needed and they pushed on, capturing machine gun posts and ‘putting the crews out of action’. They took their objective (the Blue line) at 6.38 a.m., nearly an hour after they had started out.
It was just after this that Lieutenant Hutchinson, in charge of the battalion Tump Liners (a group which carried supplies and equipment in containers partly supported by a band around the forehead) led them up carrying ammunition but was killed after being with the battalion less than two weeks. Major Anderson, Second in Command of the Battalion, was also killed about this time.
The 85th Battalion held their positions for the remainder of the day and the next, although Germans could be seen firing and trying to counter-attack from Passchendaele village and Hill 13. The 85th were relieved on the evening of the 31st of October. They had captured ten machine guns and a field gun, taken a large (but unknown) number of prisoners and expended around 50 rounds of ammunition per rifle.
The cost to the 85th Battalion had been considerable. Of 33 officers involved in the attack (including those at Battalion Headquarters), twelve were killed (those listed on the memorial here), whilst another 11 were wounded. Of the 20 officers with ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’ companies, only one, Lieutenant W Bligh, came through unharmed.
Like most War Diaries of the Great War, this one does not give much information on other ranks, although the number of names recorded on the memorial shows that over 130 were killed, and Brigade records show over 320 recorded as ‘wounded’ or ‘missing’ in the attack – and this was just one small part of the Third Battle of Ypres.
Erected just after the war, the memorial is set on a herringbone pattern brickwork base, and the stone of the monument looks completely unweathered. The memorial stands near the site of one of the 85th Battalion’s objectives – a German strong-point marked as ‘Vienna Cottage’ on trench-maps, and mentioned on the memorial itself. This spot is worth visiting, not only to see the memorial but also because there are excellent views from here, back to the village and also in other directions.
Continuing south on the N303, the village of Broodseinde is located where the N332 crosses the N303. There is a roundabout where the roads meet, with a modern sculpture in the centre and just off the roundabout is a memorial to French soldiers.
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Although it is most associated with the mud that came a little later, the battle actually started at the height of the summer – exactly 100 years ago this week. At dawn on July 31, 1917, British forces assembled in the Ypres salient went over the top. The salient was an area of the British front which protruded into German-held territory, leaving it surrounded on three sides by the enemy, and therefore highly vulnerable. It had been formed in the fighting of the first weeks of the conflict and had already been the scene of much carnage, as both sides had fought to break the deadlock, by the time the Third Battle of Ypres, the latest attempt, started.
The campaign was launched a year and a month after the Somme offensive, further south on the Western Front. The ambitious aim was not just to strengthen the lines around the salient, but – once that was achieved – to break right through to the Belgian coast and neutralise the German U-boats operating from there. This determination had taken on added urgency after Germany resumed unrestricted submarine warfare on earlier in 1917. Following the British morale-boosting victory at nearby Messines in June 1917, Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig calculated that German morale was low and that there was every chance for a decisive fight.
Specialist Battlefield Guides
All of Leger’s battlefield tours are accompanied by specialist guides. Their individual in-depth knowledge of warfare will be informative, as well as enhance your overall experience, as they recreate a fascinating perception of the history and factual events of each battle. Discover the actual catalysts for war, the strategies employed and the final, inevitable outcomes, as well as experiencing the emotional human side of the front line.
Please note: On certain tours, you may get tour guides other that the ones listed below.