Ten Small Cemeteries not to Miss on the Western Front #BattlefieldTopTen

While we may not be travelling anywhere at this time, here is my list of ten cemeteries you may have missed while visiting the Western Front. All of them are small, with less than 100 graves, representing more intimate resting places across the battlefields. The sites I have included here are some of the ones I have found most emotive on my previous trips, but I'd love to know some of your recommendations too - of places I may have missed. Please add them in the comments below.

The cemeteries that line Redan Ridge on the Somme are, for me, some of the most atmospheric on the whole front. Walking across the fields between them, one really gets the sense of the battle's landscape and the importance of this slightly elevated ground. The majority of burials here date from November 1916, when 2nd Division captured this area after more than four months of fighting, a reminder too that the Somme was not just a one day battle in July, but a protracted campaign.

This small cemetery has a wonderful view looking out from the Messines Ridge on the outskirts of Wijtschaete. It's located just below the Bayernwald trenches (behind the trees in the above photo), making it a really atmospheric place to visit as it's easy to orientate yourself onto the map of the Battle of Messines, when this cemetery was in No Man's Land. The British forces advanced up this bank and through the trenches behind on their way to taking the ridge. By visiting cemeteries like Croonaert you can really get a feel for the landscape of the battle and what the men buried here were up against.

I always find the battlefields around Hebuterne, to the north of the Somme front, to be really quiet. There's rarely many tourists here and it's somewhere I always like to go for a peaceful cycle ride in an evening when I'm staying nearby. This cemetery contains the bodies of 53 soldiers, 46 of whom are buried in one mass grave. Their deaths don't relate to a particular battle, but rather to an attack on the German rearguard made on 27th February 1917, during the German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line. A visit here is a reminder of the serious loss of life that could be sustained in localised attacks throughout the war.

It is also on the edge of Rossignol Wood, a quiet rural spot which had its own significance during the war. It is here that chaplain Theodore Hardy won his Victoria Cross in April 1918, aiding the wounded during the German recapture of the Somme. Simon Jones has written an interesting article on the wood, which can be read here.

Zivy Crater is a cemetery with a very different feel from many of the others I have listed here. The crater itself was the result of a German mine blown on 3rd April 1917 to disrupt British tunnelling preparations for the attack on Vimy Ridge. After the battle, the Canadian Corps' burial officer used the crater for the bodies of those who died in this area during the first day of the Battle of Arras on 9th April 1917.

When the Imperial War Graves Commission formally constructed the battlefield cemeteries after the war, they opted not to build individual headstones (as there are at the mass grave in Owl Trench Cemetery) but instead inscribed the names of the buried are inscribed on the perimeter wall, more akin to a memorial to the missing. The nearby Lichfield Crater was similarly constructed and the pair are a worthwhile visit if you are in the area.

I find Red Farm interesting for a different reason than many on this list. Unlike Hebuterne where there is an overwhelming sense of peace, or the open views of Redan, this cemetery feels small and cramped, tucked in next to a farm off the Ypres road in Brandhoek. Yet the impression given by this cemetery tells another interesting story. The land around it has returned to normality: the farm rebuilt and livestock in the fields. Yet, amongst busy modern life remains this small enclosure where time stands still. A memory of a century ago. It's not particularly scenic or peaceful, yet that in itself is a worthy tribute. The men buried here died so life in Ypres could carry on. It definitely makes for a good place to stop and reflect.

For the Arras Centenary in 2017 my family and I stayed in the village of Fontaine-les-Croisilles. Cuckoo Passage was one of our closest cemeteries, which we could reach by walking up a sunken lane. It was ploughing season and all manner of artefacts had been pulled from the fields, from the ever-present shells and lengths of barbed wire, to water bottles and tools. The area around the cemetery itself was wide open fields, with very little to be seen on the horizon. Unlike at Red Farm, it seemed almost as if time had stood still here. The fields at this time of year looked empty and the track which led to the cemetery was rough and grassy.

The graves here largely belong to the 17th battalion of the Manchester Regiment, who were killed on the 23rd April 1917 during a German counter-attack in the Battle of Arras. On the day the Manchesters were able to hold out in their hastily-dug defences, but it was with heavy cost. 41 of the battalion's 93 lost are buried at Cuckoo Passage.

When I think of the battlefields I quite often think of Lone Tree. It's a cemetery I visited on my first battlefields tour when I was 13 and I had a photograph of the view from it in my room when I was an undergrad. Located opposite the Spanbroekmoelen Peace Pool crater, it is a classic stop on battlefields tours, although that doesn't make it any less worthy of being on this list. This cemetery can be visited shortly after Croonaert Chapel as both are on the Messines Ridge and similarly contains burials from June 1917. This is one of the highest points of the ridge, with a view across to the formidable Mount Kemmel, the biggest hill in the region. While the cemetery itself is very interesting, the view from it is particularly good for orientating oneself on the battlefield and for understanding how the battlefield worked south of Ypres.

Triangle Cemetery has an unusual architecture. As its name suggests, it is triangle-shaped, with its perimeter wall looking as if it is pointing into the junction between two roads. The burials within are not, however, arranged in a triangle, with the narrow end of the cemetery now being filled with planting.

The village of Incy-en-Artois where this cemetery is located was captured by the 4th Canadian Division on 27th September 1918. The burials date from throughout September and October when this area was part of the Canadian assault of the Hundred Days Offensive near the St Quentin Canal.

Although it doesn't necessarily feel like it, this is the biggest cemetery on this list, with almost 100 men buried here. The majority are Canadian, but there are also three Royal Air Force graves, belonging to men of 209th Squadron. Two of them, Captain Dudley Allen and 2nd Lieut Richard Bingham were killed on 8th October 1918 when their Sopwith Camel aeroplanes reportedly collided. Theirs is a reminder of the important role that was played by air forces on the battlefield as well as a tragic reminder of the accidents that could - and did - cost lives.

Hedge Row Trench is another striking cemetery, which demonstrates one of the many ways the Imperial War Graves Commission overcame logistical challenges after the war. Burials had been made on this site between March 1915 and August 1917, but the original graves were later destroyed by shellfire from the battles around Ypres. It was deemed impossible for the individual graves to be reconstructed and so the Commission instead arranged the headstones around the boundary of where the bodies were known to be buried.

I visited this cemetery on a beautifully frosty morning in February 2018. It makes part of a fascinating walk around The Bluff: a largely wooded area south-east of Ypres which saw a number of small actions throughout 1916.

Is this one even technically a cemetery? Regardless, RE Grave is yet another different form of commemoration. The Cross of Sacrifice marks the spot where 12 men of the 117th Tunnelling Company were killed in underground operations here between November 1915 and August 1917. Their bodies were trapped beneath the ground, and so the cross was erected in memorial to them. However, the CWGC have chosen to mark this as a cemetery, rather than strictly a memorial as the burial place of the men is known, even if it is inaccessible. This was an area of fierce mining operations throughout 1916 and 1917 and a number of small craters can still be seen in the neighbouring Railway Wood, as well as remembered at the nearby Hooge Crater.

So, that's my list of ten small cemeteries not to miss on the Western Front. Are you adding any of these to your next battlefield itinerary? Or, are there any you would include in your #BattlefieldTopTen? Let me know in the comments below.


(Thanks to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website - cwgc.org - for a lot of the information that is included in this post.)

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