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Remembered Today:

Messines Ridge British Cemetery: Case #3 - Unknown Captain King's Royal Rifle Corps


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This carries over from the topic regarding the Messines Ridge British Cemetery:



On the detailed list of candidates we find this one:


I noticed while working on the New Zealand Officer Case #1 that some of the other men in that same list for 28.W.2.a.6.5 were from November 1914 and that this area is remote from the area of Messines, being east of Comines and south of Wervicq. Did that suggest that our Captain KRR might also be 1914?


Checking further, I see that on the list of KRR Captains that there are only two (2) that remain as Unknown Captains in Belgium from 1914. Much to my surprise. the GRRF clearly is marked that the KRR Captain is from 1914! (3rd on the list for GRRF 1821873)

doc2015130.JPG doc1821873.JPG


That means that the UNKNOWN CAPTAIN is one of these two (2), from different battalions:


We would also have to include, as a possibility, Captain Walter Neave Wells, although of "The Buffs (East Kent Regiment" he was attached to the 1st Battalion King's Royal; Rifle Corps. I believe that the consensus is that attached officers kept their original regimenal identification, while attached, but better to be safe.


In the list of the twenty (20) other identified men of the King's Royal Rifle Corps buried in the Messines Ridge British Cemetery, there are three (3) that were lost in 1914. All three were buried by the Germans at 28.Q.34.d.3.4 (COG-BR 2015128). All were 2nd Battalion KRR men and their burial location is just south of Bousbecque, which is about 2,500 yards northeast of where the Captain's remains were recovered. That points the finger at Captain Hawley.


There is an issue with out two Captains listed above - Captain Spottiswoode was in the 6th (Reserve) Battalion (LLT LINK), so we need to know if he was actually with the 2nd Battalion in the same area.

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Captain Spottiswoode definately WAS with 2nd BAttalion - his death being specifically mentioned in their war diary.


Edit: Apologies - War diary says he was 'wounded and missing' - but obviously with the Battalion. even so.



Edited by Neil Mackenzie
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Captain Hawley only joined the Battalion on 1st November with a draft of men. The War Diary is not very detailed but, the following day, 2nd Battalion seems to have moved to woods south of Hooge before being asked to move to support 1st Battalion KRRC who had lost heavily. Hawley is noted as being in charge of the men from the draft - suggesting that they had not even had time to allocate them amongst the 4 companies - and they took over some trenches 'north of the road' (presumably the Menin Road) that had been held by 1st Battalion. Hawley was killed by a 'sniper' around 4pm. In reference to C and D companies the Herenthage Chateau is mentioned which might help with the location of the Battalion. This chateau has been discussed on the Forum before (15 years ago!!).



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Just reading the war diary now - combined for September & October 1914 but all nicely typed (war diary page 18 of 845). They are heading to the area on 26 October 1914 as they head down the Menin Road (war diary page 47 of 845). A lot of names not familiar to me yet, as they reach Herenthage Chateau 28.J.20 (near Gheluvelt).


As Neil has kindly reported, Captain Spottiswoode is reported wounded and missing (war diary page 50 of 845). Killed at that time was 2nd Lieutenant Dean, also on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial as an unknown. It appears this is in the area of Veldhoek at 28.J.15, so away from the area where the remains were recovered. Spottiswoode is mentioned again on the first page of the November 1914 war diary, apparently they just broke up the handwritten entries (war diary page 53 of 845).


It would appear that Captain Hawley arrived with a draft of 105 men on 1 November 1914. POP UP from Neil just arrived. On the 2nd the KRR go to assist the 1st Battalion where Hawley is killed by a sniper at 4pm - but not in the area of the remains as still near the Chateau.

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We have a separation distance of about 11,000 yards between the remains and the locations of death. Back to the drawing board, as if buried by the Germans, it was someone taken to that area perhaps?

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For sure WHITSON and SHUTE were buried by the Germans and both have ICRC records. Both were at "Beerdigt zu Bousbeque" (this document).

That all points to the KRR Captain being someone that was captured or at least buried by the Germans. There were no MAJORS that may have been posthumously promoted and so far none of the Lieutenants.

Edited by laughton
added links
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Now that I have the GERMAN name it makes sense that for the page on the start of this cemetery I can now fill in the blank trench map coordinates. Some places it has the "c" in the name and other places it does not. The rest of the information may be incorrect as there is another page with additional burials.


The trench map coordinates would be in this area from the COG-BR documents: (may be exactly the same and someone reversed the 5 and 6)

On the map, it may be the circle on the end of the small road [Ypres]28.



BOUSBECQUES EAST GERMAN CEMETERY ?, on the South side of the village, where four soldiers from the United Kingdom were buried by a German Field Hospital in November, 1914.


UPDATED 14 January 2020: It appears that the comment I made above (now also in red) was correct, as there are two (2) distinct cemeteries and a misleading statement about the Bousbecques East German Cemetery. Thanks to Luc @LDT006 the cemetery is to the south and west of the commune of Bousbecque (not the east - so no idea why it has that name) and there were more than four (4) men buried there. If I have it correct now, it is the cemetery shown on COG-BR 2015128 that is located at  28.Q.34.d.3.4. The Unknown Captain of the King's Royal Rifle Corps was not buried at the Bousbecques East German Cemetery rather at the Wervicq-Sud cemetery (I do not know its real name) that is located at 28.W.2.a.6.5, as listed on COG-BR 2015130. As for the reference to the German Field Hospital, I do not know if that was specifically related to, or linked to, one of the cemeteries or whether burials may have taken place anywhere in the area.

Edited by laughton
added correction note in red
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@Neil Mackenzie I think it makes perfect sense that it was Captain John Spottiswoode, as he was reported WOUNDED AND MISSING and is a logical candidate for the German Field Hospital at Bousbecques. Captain Hawley was sniped at the Chateau and thus no reason he would be at a German field hospital.


He does have an ICRC record (front and back). He has a number of file numbers that I am not familiar with and certainly not the normal PA files. The fact that the Germans did not name him when he was buried probably means they did not know who he was, thus never recorded on a list. He must have been alive when they found him or they would not have taken him to the field hospital.


Perhaps his Officer File at the UKNA Kew has some report on the nature of his injuries and whether anyone knew if he was taken away?



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I also checked on Captain Wells who was attached to the 1st Battalion and reported killed on 27 October 1914. He was killed at the same time as Queen Victoria's youngest grandson "Prince Maurice Victor Donald Battenberg" (war diary page 44 of 229). Interestingly, he died before the British Royal Family relinquished their German titles during the Great War and became Mountbatten's. His remains were recovered and he is buried in Ypres Town Cemetery. An interesting story for a Canadian! The war diary reports he was killed outright on top of the hill with Captain Wells. Strange that they recovered Lieutenant Battenberg but not Captain Wells? He was KIA and so not a candidate for the German Field Hospital.



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20 hours ago, laughton said:

Strange that they recovered Lieutenant Battenberg but not Captain Wells?


While some accounts say Battenberg was killed instantly the IWM record suggests he died of wounds (https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205290249)


If that is correct (and I have no idea if it is) that might be the difference.



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I had not noticed that on the bottom of the second ICRC card shown above it appears that someone inquired as to whether Captain Spottiswoode was at Wervicq. That was sometime in mid January 1915 and the reply was n'est pas a Wervicq (he is not at Wervicq). I assume they are talking about the German POW camp at Wervicq? Maybe there was a German field hospital there as well. Perhaps Luc knows?


If Captain Spottiswoode died shortly after being captured and was not identified by name, then not even the Germans would know that he had been buried in the area. The Germans would not have taken a Captain 10,000 yards southeast from 28.J.20 to 28.W.2 if he was already dead. That eliminates Captain Hawley, who was killed instantly by the sniper, leaving only Captain Spottiswoode who was "wounded and missing".

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On 14/01/2020 at 16:15, laughton said:

I assume they are talking about the German POW camp at Wervicq? Maybe there was a German field hospital there as well. Perhaps Luc knows?


There were no POW camps at Wervicq, maybe very temporary before they were send to Germany.

You can find several field hospitals on the ICRC documents in the other topic:

Feldlaz. 4, 9 and 11. This was early in the war and I don't know their location, they moved during the war

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Okay, got that "Feld Lazarett" or "Field Hospital" - could not find "Feldlaz", so just a short-form.


No ICRC documents for the other candidate Captains, as both were reported KIA in the field, although none of the three have known burial locations.


Only one (1) would have moved,  that being the one that was "wounded and missing", Captain Spottiswoode. However, I was puzzled that there was no report of him at Wervicq, when they inquired - then realized that was not until January 1915, at least two (2) months after his death. He had no cross on his grave at Wervicq and was only identified as a KRRC Captain when his body was exhumed. The Germans must have known they buried a Captain but did they record that information anywhere? Had they done so, they would have been able to respond "We did bury a KRCC Captain but he was not identified". Whether they would do that or not, I do not know.


Mike might be able to help here if he can have a look at the Officer Files for the three candidates: (only Wells comes up with a record link)

  1. Captain John Spottiswoode 31 October 1914, 6th (Reserve) Battalion, served 2nd Battalion King's Royal Rifle Corps (had been a Corporal #R41086)
    • remains the strongest candidate as he was the only one reported wounded and missing
  2. Captain Cyril Francis Hawley 2 November 1914, 2nd Battalion King's Royal Rifle Corps (medal card)
    • second rank candidate, although reported killed on the battlefield and no ICRC record of enquiry
  3. Captain Walter Neave Wells 27 October 1914 3rd Bn. The Buffs (East Kent Regiment) attd. 1st Bn. King's Royal Rifle Corps (Officer's Record)
    • lowest ranked candidate, probably still wearing "Buffs" insignia and killed on the battlefield, no ICRC enquiry

The other Captains' remains could be buried anywhere after the post-war concentrations, if they were recovered. Perhaps Hooge Crater Cemetery?

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Thanks Mike - your the best!


Anything I can do for you here in Canada? Need a Polar Bear or Igloo?


Yes I saw this ....


The good news is that the squadron history-finished c.1921, clearly states re. these 2 that their plane was seen gliding downwards from about 8000 feet near Lille-with the propeller stopped..


Was waiting to see what Trevor had to say ... as he is the Aviation expert. I am seeing that the CWGC and Air Group are taking a much stronger stand on aviation cases. Bertie & Ernest are the classic example, that is a "slam dunk" case and they just won't budge.


Big snow storm here tomorrow - off to get the plow on the tractor ready - so I can also send you ice, snow or mixed rain and sleet. We get it all here!

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  • 2 weeks later...

Fascinating thread. You might be interested to know that Lieutenant Colonel Pell, c/o 1st Queen's, was also wounded and captured at Gheluvelt on 31st October 1914 and was taken to Wervicq (presumably to one of the field hospitals mentioned). Here he died whilst being operated on. He was buried at ref Sheet 28 Q25.A.5.2 which corresponds to the location of the civil cemetery. In 1920 the 9 casualties buried there were exhumed and reburied at Zandvoorde. Amongst the 9 is an unknown officer of the KKRC; perhaps one of the other officers from the battalion who died from wounds received during the battle?



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Thanks Andy, that will be useful information going forward to the reporting stage. Here are the details captured so they can be saved:

Lieutenant Colonel

Died 04/11/1914

Aged 48

Cdg. 1st Bn.
The Queen's (Royal West Surrey Regiment)

D S O, Mentioned in Despatches


The COG-BR is good as it has a number of men from this location, all of which should be checked, maybe even against the German ICRC lists? It appears that these might cover several pages, perhaps even some with a slightly different pinpointed location but all close by in 28.Q.25. It looks like they go from at least 83 to 89 and perhaps many more. This will take some research!


There is an ADDITIONAL BONUS to Andy's post in that the COG-BR identified is in a series that was not captured for the ZIP Files on the Shared MediaFire site. I will go back in the morning and collect these new ones and add them to the list. A page, topic and list was started for this cemetery back in July 2018:



I will add the new file links to that topic.




Edited by laughton
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  • 4 months later...

Getting back to this case. Where is his "Officers File"? Found his "Soldier's Effects" and it does report that he DIED OF WOUNDS RECEIVED IN ACTION. Not sure how they know that if they lost the body, so does this mean that they did have his remains when he died?


No sign of the Captain Hawley file either?


Without some factual evidence, this case is stalled at the starting gate.


If we look into Andy's lead, there are the two (2) Captains, one (1) Lieutenant and four (4) Second Lieutenants for the candidate concentrated into Zantvoorde from 28.Q.25.a.5.2.


surname initials death rank unit country cemetery or memorial
HAWLEY C F 2/11/1914 Captain 2nd Bn. Belgium YPRES (MENIN GATE) MEMORIAL
SPOTTISWOODE J 31/10/1914 Captain 6th Bn. Belgium YPRES (MENIN GATE) MEMORIAL
CASEY J 30/10/1914 Lieutenant 1st Bn. Belgium YPRES (MENIN GATE) MEMORIAL
CROSSMAN W R M 2/11/1914 Second Lieutenant 2nd Bn. Belgium YPRES (MENIN GATE) MEMORIAL
DEAN F 31/10/1914 Second Lieutenant 2nd Bn. Belgium YPRES (MENIN GATE) MEMORIAL
St. AUBYN P 31/10/1914 Second Lieutenant 2nd Bn. Belgium YPRES (MENIN GATE) MEMORIAL
WARING E R 29/10/1914 Second Lieutenant 1st Bn. Belgium



There is no ICRC Record for Lieutenant James Casey, Second Lieutenant William Crossman, Second Lieutenant Frank Dean or Second Lieutenant Edward Waring. I have not found St. Aubyn.

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