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unusual grave


paul guthrie
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In Thirteen Years After Will Bird, author of the great Ghosts Have Warm Hands, mentions 3 Belgians buried in Red Farm Cemetery behind Ypres near Vlamertinge. One headstone and it says two civilians, one trunk. Upon inquiry he was told the third person had been decapitated, hence trunk! I hope this headstone has not changed.

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This is what I feared, this is a new stone, looks quite new. The one Bird saw was as I described, too bad. Can what he said be verified or disproved from CWGC records? If he was correct and I have no reason to doubt him the new stone has different language. Also possible what he saw was not a permanent one but by 1932 it should have been , right?

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From memory, I don't think the stone is that new, Paul. Perhaps if Jacky does go to Red Farm he can give his opinion on this. Of course, even if the stone is many years old this doesn't mean that it's the only stone ever to mark the grave. W. J. Bird does use the word "stone" but if he saw a stone it wasn't this one.

What makes me wonder is that he records the inscription he saw as "Two civilians and one trunc" which is not how I would have expected the IWGC to have spelled it. Quite apart from the spelling, I doubt whether the IWGC would have been quite so brutally frank on one of their headstones.

So what did W. J. Bird actually see? And when was it removed? I'm just as interested as you to know more.

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Tom, as always book is at home , I am at office, will check tonight but think he said trunk. IWGC would not likely say that you are right, could he have seen a war time stone or some sort of marker? Got to look and see if he said stone, think so.

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Paul,

You and (begging their indulgence) others might like to see the lovely, tiny Red Farm Cemetery.

redfar2.jpg

It's one of the smallest in the Salient - it has only 63 graves - and was only in use in April and May 1918.

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I have been this morning very early to Red Farm. I must agree 100% with Tom it is a moving small Cemetery especially at day-break.

First of all it is indeed the stone which is seen on Tom's photo. The type of the stone is the usual standard CWGC one. It is not new in the sence of the use of the newest type of stone. However the inscription on it has already been done I think by computer (the lettering is somewhat smaller) which could indicate that the actual one replaced another. The cross on the stone is not the same as on a 'normal' headstone and the inscription 'tree civilians of the 1914-1918 war' is very unusual because of the use of the words 'of the 1914-1918 war' which is much different of the inscription on unknown soldiers headstones which is 'of the Great War'. I wonder if this is typical for civilian burials in CWGC Cem's.

Jacky

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I'm glad you found something special in the atmosphere of Red Farm Cemetery, Jacky. Interesting that you noticed that the lettering is smaller than usual and the cross is carved differently. I probably didn't look carefully enough to notice these things but I did spot another difference in the lettering (which is visible in the photo) - some of the words have larger first letters, which makes the inscription look immediately different from the usual style in which all letters are always the same size. Maybe these little variations were deliberate to make the stone slightly different from the surrounding soldiers' graves?

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There are civilians buried in several CWGC cemeteries around the world either because they were already there when the war graves were added or they were buried outside the war periods. Often they had some connection with the military (or with CWGC).

Most of these have private memorials but the Red Farm stone is an example of the use of the CWGC standard design to keep uniformity within one of their cemeteries.

I confess that I have not personally seen one of these civilian stones on the Western Front and I suppose that there will be others. I presume the graves of CWGC workers that are occasionally found in their cemeteries will have this 'official' style of memorial although they should have the corners clipped to signify their status as 'non-world war burials'.

Anyone got a photo of a CWGC employee grave?

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I remember war grave men in a civilian cemetery in Courcelette and military one at Heburteurne? I have a picture of them somewhere.

Back to Will R. Bird. My copy is a modern reprint and says trunk. He refers to a stone and an inscription which he calls extraordinary " two civilians and one trunk". My best guess is the stone there now is a replacement and someone considered the old one undignified. I am also guessing the person who chose the words for the original was not a native English speaker.

I have doubts that the CWGC knows the answer.

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MY version is also a moderm reprint, by IMCC Ltd. Paul, and says,

"The inscription on one stone is extraordinary. It is the grave of three Belgian peasants who were killed, and states: "Two Civilians and one trunc." I made enquiries and was told that one man had had his head clipped off, hence he was not a civilian but a "trunc."

When I first read this I assumed that it was the unusual spelling which W. J. Bird found among the "extraordinary" qualities of the grave.

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I confess that I have not personally seen one of these civilian stones on the Western Front and I suppose that there will be others. I presume the graves of CWGC workers that are occasionally found in their cemeteries will have this 'official' style of memorial although they should have the corners clipped to signify their status as 'non-world war burials'.

Anyone got a photo of a CWGC employee grave?

Happy to oblige. Here is part of the CWGC employees' plot in Ypres Town Cemetery.

cwgcgraves.jpg

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In "Thirteen Years After" W. Bird also says that he was told of a rumour that all the soldiers (and presumably the three civilians) buried in Red Farm Cemetery were killed at the same time by a single shell.

Although it's a small cemetery, 68 people killed by one shell seems a remarkable number. Terry, is there anyway you can check the validity of this claim using your registers?

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As always, the story is probably untrue but with some basis in fact!

Firstly, such an unusual catastrophe would probably be mentioned in the register introduction. It is not and, in fact, there appears the following statement - "For much of the First World War, Vlamertinghe was just outside the normal range of German shell fire". Not conclusive, I know.

However, the register does list twenty casualties all killed on 27 April 1918 almost all of them from the Royal Garrison Artillery. One casualty's entry states " killed in an explosion at Hagle Dump, Brandhoek".

It is possible that most of these twenty (and few others who died in the couple of days following) were casualties of a German shell landing in an ammunition dump or even of one of ours going off accidentaly.

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Roy Hemington of CWGC France, the man who has helped with the two headstone situation, tells me one of his Belgian colleagues says this:

Row A Grave 5 was noted as ' Un enfant et deux troncs d'adultes' which is probably what appeared on the original wooden cross. We have no record of the grave being marked with a stoen inscribed 'Two civilians and a trunk' which is at odds with the original description anyway. The grave is now marked by a headstone to three unknown civilians.

How interesting! At one time there was likely a photo of this, will never be seen again. Also still interesting, Bird specifically referred to a stone and an inscription.

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Re. the reply you asked about in another topic, Paul............

I have been thinking about it a great deal and I keep coming back to the same conclusion, which is that maybe Bird never actually visited the cemetery himself, but only talked to people who told him about it, mentioning two noteworthy "facts."

Before mentioning the civilian grave, Bird refers to a "rumour" which suggested that all the men buried in the cemetery were killed by the same shell.

If he had really visited the cemetery, it would only have taken a few moments looking at the dates on the graves in this tiny place to realise that this couldn't be true. He would have identified the twenty Terry told us about as having the same date of death.

If he had really visited the cemetery and located the civilian grave, he wouldn't have quoted an inscription which wasn't there to be seen. (And he would have found that the true inscription on the grave is more tragic and dramatic than the one he gives and would have given him a better "story.")

So I think he might have just padded out some interesting anecdotal notes taken during a conversation with someone. How does that sound to you?

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It's really not clear but what you say is quite plausible, by the time he was there IWGC had headstones in place unless I am badly wrong. And I do not know that they would have changed their inscription at a later date when stone was replaces as has almost certainly happened.

One thing I feel fairly sure about is that this was a war time cemetery and by the time war graves go there, there were the trunks, the body and the cross and they could not remove them without some real problems.

How many other instances are there of civilain graves in CWGC? Not speaking of nurses etc. but civilians killed by fire as these must have been. I have seen none I remember but I am going to Red Farm!

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Back to Red Farm. Never been there but will visit during our WFA USA eight day seminar/tour in April.

In A Haven In Hell Paul Chapman says 46th Field Ambulance was there. On 7 31 02 ( hey, I'm an American!) Noel Chavasse was brought there where he was seen by Arthur Martin-Leake.

In her biography of Chavasse Ann Clayton says CCS 32 was near Brandhoek between Poperinghe and Ypres, so she essentially confirms this without calling it Red Farm but I am surprised there is not a large cemetrey since the CCS had just been moved there because of the upcoming offensive, nonetheless maybe it stayed only a short time. With this crowd I will know soon!

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Red Farm isn't a cemetery attached to the Dressing Station at Brandhoek, Paul. Brandhoek has three cemeteries, Brandhoek Military Cemetery, Brandhoek New Military Cemetery and Brandhoek New Military Cemetery No 3, all very close together.

Brandhoek Military (672 burials) was used by a Dressing Station which opened in 1917.

Brandhoek New Military (559 burials) was started when the first cemetery became full and this is where Capt. Chavasse is buried. At the time of Capt' Chavasse's death, No. 32 Casualty Clearing Station was at Brandhoek (July 17th to November 17th, 1917) and it was at this CCS that Capt. Chavasse died.

Brandhoek New No. 3 (966 burials) was opened when Bradhoek New became full and was in use until May, 1918.

Red Farm was indeed started next to a dressing station but I don't believe it was the same one and anyway this didn't happen until April 1918, by which time the Dressing Station (and for a time, the CCS) at Brandhoek had already filled three cemeteries.

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Right Tom, and thanks. I have been to them Chavasse grave but not to Red Farm. I had forgotten it was 1918 only. Also he was moved from there to CCS at Brandhoek because there was a group or unit that dealt with abdominal injuries.

From Chapman's account, one believes he was unconscious when Martin-Leake saw him.

By the way, Ann Clayton will speak on Chavasse at the meeting I mentioned above. It is possible to attend the seminar without taking the five days of touring though five UK people are in the group. If you are interested in seeing who the speakers are, go to our WFA USA web site.

Almost all are Belgian because I wanted people who are not on the regular WFA circuit.

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