Paul Chapman

Paul Chapman

Always keenly interested in history from a very early age, particularly that relating to the Ypres Salient during the First World War, as the years progressed and the ability to travel afforded, so began over thirty-five years’ experience of walking the fields, roads, and tracks of the salient building up a knowledge of the region which very few can match. As a freelance guide, the author has a reputation for being one who is capable of drawing on a wealth of personally compiled and meticulously researched details relative to individual casualties that is literally second to none. And, well-known throughout the locality his knowledge, professional manner of delivery, sense of propriety, and easy-going personality have earned him acknowledged respect and recognition.

In Memory & In Mourning: Ypres Salient Cemeteries.

The concept of the series of books – ‘In Memory & In Mourning: Ypres Salient Cemeteries’ – is to provide not only the visitor to a particular cemetery, or memorial – all within the confines of the region are included – with information never previously available; there is equal interest for the student, the historian and general reader. Details, extended accounts, stories, anecdotes that enable the individual to identify with the casualty on a personal level. Often a coincidental aside will add another dimension which, when put into perspective asks – If it were related on site – Would it make a difference to the visit, enhance it? Add a dimension without which the visit would otherwise be no more than just another visit to another site; the overall related without mention of the individual personal? Therein lies the purpose, and intent.

The accounts compiled cover not only virtually every manner by which these men died; they record personal details of who they were, where they came from, occupations, etc. Stories of political, artistic, literary, historical, famous and infamous connections: Death in all forms grotesque, macabre, unbelievable, surreal – Blown apart, decapitated, multiple mortal wounds, shot through the head, throat, heart, killed accidentally, dragged along a road by a runaway mule, shot by a comrade cleaning a rifle, disarming a grenade, burnt to death in a house fire, run over by a lorry, drowned, hit by falling debris, impaled by a fence; train derailments, disease, frozen, suicides, heart attacks, executions including that of a fourteen year old, men who after their death were reported unknown by those who they had designated next-of-kin, underage and over, burials and exhumations: The list is endless. The result of over thirty years research and dedication: Unique – None of them have ever been previously published.

Volume 1

In Death’s Dark Shadow: Brandhoek – Vlamertinghe & Elverdinghe

From personal experience by utilising extended details and accounts of casualties when guiding people around the Ypres salient, the stories of individuals have always made a significant difference. To visit, walk around the cemeteries of the First World War, is a sobering and emotive experience in itself; the serried ranks of headstones standing silent witness to those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defence of the land in which they rest eternal. When walking among them whilst their names, ages, regiments, dates of death are all clearly displayed, uniformly recorded in stone, the circumstances of their deaths can be no more than assumed: Killed in action? Died of wounds? Men died but, unless personal knowledge or informative documentation is available to enlighten otherwise, to walk among them is little more than an act of respectful remembrance in contemplation of the collective loss.

Volume II

In Sound Of The Guns: Meteren – Godewaersvelde & Poperinghe

In the region surrounding the Belgian town of Poperinghe and Meteren, a short distance across the border in France, an area of little more than fifteen square miles, 22,400 British and Commonwealth servicemen and women who died in the service of their country during the First World War, each marked with a Portland stone headstone, are buried in 15 Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries. In the homes they left behind a place would be forever vacant, a grief inconsolable; a smile, a touch, the sound of a voice once familiar fondly remembered forever stilled. Not Forgotten.

Sadly, as the years passed and those who once loved and knew them passed away, recollections handed down recalled in remembrance became faded and lost; their graves in foreign fields unvisited and unknown. Forgotten.

Meticulously researched and compiled this volume reveals the stories, the lives – who they were, where they came from, the everyday, and how they met their deaths – individual and collective of over 2,000 of those who are buried in this region. Lest We Forget.

Volume III

In Flanders Fields: Boesinghe – Poelcapelle / Langemarck & Passchendaele

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow, Between the crosses row on row… Familiar words from a poem well-associated with remembrance of the fallen. Written in a region where the debris of recent bombardments, the landscape pitted with huge shell craters brimming with liquid mud and slime, and the sickly odour of death, constant and repulsive, were part of the everyday. Cut down by machine-gun and rifle fire, bodies tossed into all manner of macabre and grotesque postures, torn to shreds by the artillery shells that continually screamed overhead and pitched into them; swallowed by the mud.

From 1914 and the fighting around Langemarck to the Second Battle of Ypres and the introduction of gas as a weapon of warfare in 1915; the stalemate of the trenches in 1916 where acts of everyday attrition and localised attacks served only to continue and increase the loss of lives; the ‘slaughter in the mud’ the Third Battle of Ypres, 1917, through to the breakout of the salient in 1918. The region between Boesinghe and Passchendaele – a name that became synonymous, associated with the very worst aspects of the war on the Western Front – was a place of dread, the very mention of it enough to strike fear into the stoutest of hearts. A sector that witnessed a combination of some of the most awful conditions and bitter fighting imaginable where death was a constant companion. A veritable killing ground, a charnel house, where thousands of men died; their enemy just as much the awful conditions this region afforded them as the enemy in their trenches and reinforced strongpoints facing them across fields once green which, over four years of constant warfare, had become a seemingly never-ending morass of thick glutinous mud.

Within these pages, from the twenty-four cemeteries across this sector, are to be found extended details, accounts and stories of the circumstances that cut short the lives of over 1,400 whose headstones stand in testimony to their loss, their sacrifice. In Flanders Fields…

Volume IV

Sacred Soil – Hallowed Ground: Ypres, La Brique, Potijze & Zonnebeke

Once vibrant and prosperous from late 1914 to the autumn of 1918 the ancient Belgian town of Ypres was a place of dread reputation. Systematic and indiscriminate shelling steadily took their toll, reducing its houses, places of trade and commerce to little more than heaps of rubble. As men marched on the approaches to and from the city, the stench of putrefaction in death, hung like a pall; sickening, vile it assailed the senses for miles. Passing through the town’s cobble-stone streets could only be accomplished in any numbers by night, eerily illuminated by flames, engulfed in a thick fog of smoke from burning buildings, the explosion of shells, and dust from falling masonry, shards of shells, bricks, stones flying through the air; one’s next step might well be one’s last. A place of dread where on one side lay the front lines, on the other a region where scattered camps provided respite from a land from where death was one’s constant companion. In the town itself men lived, Field Ambulances and Dressing Stations worked constantly, in the cellars of ruined buildings, in the vaults beneath the once grandiose Cloth Hall and cathedral, in the casemates of the town’s ancient defensive ramparts, anywhere that offered some vestige of shelter from the shells that continually dealt death and destruction all around.

As the war progressed so the region surrounding Ypres, its green meadows, well-tended farmland, woods, copses and hedgerows, its chateaux, farms and small villages, became a landscape littered with the detritus of war, broken limbers, shattered artillery pieces, broken and abandoned equipment, corpses human and animal, and a morass of water and thick mud, criss-crossed by duckboard tracks, torn and scarred, pitted with countless thousands of shell craters. For four long years, everyday seeming like an eternity, men fought, died and suffered in this region in defence of a town that, should it fall, would provide the enemy access to the Channel ports behind.

After the war Winston Churchill said, “I should like us to acquire the whole of the ruins of Ypres. A more sacred place for the British race does not exist in the world.” Sacred, consecrated in the blood of sacrifice, its soil hallowed for all time in memory and in mourning of those who fought and died there.

Volume V

Nightmare Beyond Description: Menin Road, Hooge & Zillebeke

Commonwealth War Grave Commission headstones uniform in size and design are unique in the amount of information recorded on them: Regimental Insignia, Name, Rank, Number, Regiment, Date of Death, Age, and in many cases a personal inscription, an epitaph, inscribed at the foot of each stone. And, behind each headstone, each individual thus commemorated, lies a story. Of the 3,000 casualties individually (and collectively) herein recorded from cemeteries in the Menin Road – Hooge – Zillebeke sector lie stories of men who fought and died in one of the worst of all regions where circumstances and nightmare beyond the wildest of imaginations, mutilation and death, were part of the everyday. The Menin Road highway to hell, Railway Wood where miners and men fought hand to hand above and below ground, Hooge bitterly contested apex of the salient, the oddly named Lover’s Lane and Krab Krawl, Bond Street and Warrington Avenue, Sanctuary Wood, Mount Sorrel, Stirling Castle, the infamous Hill 60 and a host of other places in this relatively small region of the Ypres sector were of such awful renown that those who survived their terror were traumatised, haunted by horrific memories, to the end of their days. When these men from villages, towns, cities, far flung corners of the Empire, from every walk of life, volunteered to serve their country nothing could prepare them for that which they would witness, experience and endure.

Clerks, farm workers, shop assistants, butchers, tailors, all manner of trades and occupations; they left behind a home, loved ones, friends and colleagues, marched away to war and never returned, leaving only their memory and an empty place that could never again be filled. Men well associated with the upper-echelons of society, palaces of royalty, stately homes and manor houses, to the streets where Jack the Ripper once stalked and a life poverty-stricken an accepted norm; best of friends and complete strangers poles apart, fought together, died together. Whether cut down by machine gun fire, torn apart by shellfire, suicide, execution by firing squad, freak accidents, illness and natural causes, heroic attacks or simply holding the line: In death they lay silently side by side, equal and undivided. These are their stories.

Volume VI

The Road To Hell And Back: Voormezeele – Dickebusch, Hill 60 & Zandvoorde

From Zandvoorde north-west of Ypres where men and horses, sabre flashing cavalry charges proved no match against massed infantry and machine guns to Hill 60, a place of evil reputation scene of continuous attacks and counterattacks, bitter and bloody hand-to-hand fighting, scarred and pitted by countless shell craters and the detonation of explosive packed mines; a mass grave where thousands of those who fought and died there still remain buried beneath its once again peaceful slopes. Larch Wood from whereabouts men, deep underground, toiled endlessly, stealthily excavating long claustrophobic timber-shored tunnels forward ends of which huge amounts of explosives were packed and detonated beneath heavily defended enemy trenches and strongpoints directly above. It was a war like no other where the constant threat of countermining by both sides, frequently a reality, saw explosive charges collapse tunnel galleries, destroy workings, killing and entombing those therein whilst those above lived in fear of that which at any moment might belch forth from the earth and end their lives.

Approaching this region under the roar of massed howitzer fire from the heavy gun batteries that littered the region as far back as the eye could see and beyond, accompanied by the field batteries closer up; behind them along the roads from and around places like Dickebusch, Ridge Wood, Elzenwalle, Voormezeele lay camps, stores of materials, Field Ambulances, some semblance of civilisation. Those who marched up from these places and knew not that which lay before them would thereafter forever fear, those that had previous experience knew the closer they got so the slimmer the chance of returning grew less. All roads led straight into hell. Ahead a place of desolation and destruction where only battered stumps remained of woods once thick with trees, hedgerows obliterated, houses and farm-buildings shattered ruins; men stooped and exhausted returning their faces expressionless their eyes dead, stretcher-bearers carrying men wounded, mutilated, without hope, the dead and dying away from this awful place. The whole area constantly swept by shell and machine-gun fire, fraught with danger, nowhere was safe.

Railway Dugouts bordered on one side by Zillebeke Lake where shells threw up great geysers of foul brackish water and mud, on the other by the railway embankment where in numerous dugouts men took shelter, lived and died in a troglodytic world where all around shells fell continuously exhuming the dead buried in the scattered graves thereabouts, adding to their number by the hour. The farm nearby, or what remained of it, the closest to the front horse-drawn transports could approach, home to a Field Ambulance, a place where trench stores and rations were dumped and collected from by work parties sent to fetch and carry them back to the trenches under cover of darkness.

Between 1914 and 1916 such was the intensity of enemy artillery fire on the main passage of troops and transports through Ypres the Menin Gate and Hell Fire Corner countless casualties dictated another, alternative route be utilised. Although more circuitous the road departing the city across the causeway via the Lille Gate was selected, as were the roads leading from Voormezeele and Dickebusch. More preferable than Hellfire Corner perhaps, more circuitous definitely all approaches via this direction – the road to hell and back – led to and from the equally and appropriately named Shrapnel Corner.

The accounts herein recorded are from a place where few who experienced its environs and lived to tell the tale of a hell where barbaric and savage fighting, daring and thrilling deeds and actions, regularly sanitised and grossly over-exaggerated, filled and sold newspapers, fed the masses, the majority of whom could never imagine nor envisage the reality. Accounts of unbelievable heroism, acts of gallantry and self-sacrifice, above and beyond all endurance and expectation were commonplace, recognised, acknowledged and rewarded; for each and every one so there were countless numbers, witnessed, accepted as no more than part of the everyday, recorded as one among many who did that which was expected and, in so doing, died fighting the enemy, paid the ultimate price.

Volume VII

 Fields Of Death & Glory: Reninghelst – Locre, Kemmel & Vierstraat

Men of all nationalities from towns and villages all over the world, all manner of trades and occupations; members of royalty, musicians, poets, novelists, playwrights, actors, explorers, adventurers, petty criminals, rich and poor, rascals and rogues. From England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Australian outback and tales of ironclad bushranger Ned Kelly to far flung islands and descendants of HMAS ‘Bounty’ mutineers; the plains of India to the foothills of the Himalayas, green forests and valleys of New Zealand, mountains and prairies of Canada and the United States, jungles of South America, from the frozen and barren wastelands of the Russian steppe to the sun scorched veldt of South Africa. Men who were accidentally shot by a comrade cleaning a rifle, killed while demonstrating the safe handling of grenades, died of exposure, run over whilst riding a bicycle and men who, unable to take any more, chose to end their own lives. The skeletal remains of Highlanders lost in a forgotten attack found three years later by a night patrol, the miraculous escape of one and the death of twelve comrades in the worst tunnelling disaster of the war, six men impaled by an iron fence thrown by a shell blast, killed while watching a football match, executions by firing squad including that of a fourteen and sixteen year old; blown apart by shellfire, cut down in attacks that served little or no purpose or on days frequently reported as ‘All Quiet. Nothing of importance occurred.’ These men answered their country’s call and made the ultimate sacrifice; whether General or Private, equal in death, they trod the paths of glory that lead but to the grave.

Volume VIII

At The Going Down Of The Sun: Messines, Neuve Eglise, Wulverghem & Bailleul

Dubbed the Great War for Civilization the First World War was the first time that men of all nations fought a common enemy on a scale never before seen nor envisaged. It was the first total war in British history to affect every aspect of national life, and stands as the supreme icon of the horror and inhumanity of armed conflict. Our picture of the war is still vivid, the poems speak just as freshly to students today as they did to older generations, and the poignancy of the many photographs and newsreel footage touches us still. Those smiling, young, unsuspecting faces marching into Flanders; those exhausted, shattered bodies struggling through the mud, the squalor and filth of the trenches where the ever-present sense of death and the macabre were just another facet of everyday life: They could be our faces and bodies, or belong to those we know and love.

How soldiers endured all this is beyond comprehension, after a relatively short period of time at the front, in a world of nightmare beyond even the wildest imaginings of Edmund Danté, any retained part of the thin veneer of the civilisation they had known and left behind had been stripped, abandoned, coarsened in varying degrees; men became accustomed to look on life cheaply by the exacting conditions in which they were forced to live to get the job done and survive. Stories abound, memoirs tell, of men becoming dehumanised by the war, the inhumane stripping of enemy corpses for souvenirs and items of value, snipers taking special enjoyment in picking off members of burial parties, men assisting other men in difficulties their actions performed in humanity and all too often in vain. In an advance soldiers were under strict orders to ignore wounded comrades yet they repeatedly ignored this and, in heroically striving to assist, often served no more than to provide another name to the ever-increasing list of casualties. Time and time again they risked their own lives to go out onto the bullet and shell swept battlefield to search for wounded and fallen comrades; bringing in the latter that they might be given ‘the dignity of a decent burial’ – rites that all too often proved short-lived. Some, hastily buried, re-emerged from the earth during the next rainstorm; countless numbers were exhumed or blown to pieces by bombardments.

Volume IX  

Service and Sacrifice: Ploegsteert

Frequently referred to as ‘cushy’ and ‘quiet’ the Ploegsteert sector was regularly utilised for the indoctrination of inexperienced troops into the routines of trench warfare. Taken into the trenches hereabouts in small parties and instructed by seasoned regular units; eventually taking responsibility for holding these until such time as they, in turn, handed over to another unit. Any imaginings of a cushy and quiet existence were very quickly dispelled by unremitting sentry and guard duties, mud, slime, vermin; night patrols into No Man’s Land, working and carrying parties, burial parties; continual casualties from shells, bombs, mines, machine-gun, rifle, sniper fire; bombardments, sporadic and intense; raids, minor attacks; hours of cold and wet, boredom and discomfort, punctuated with moments of deadly peril. Nobly doing their duty – the realities of life in the trenches were ever present. Service and sacrifice, part of the daily routine.


Volume X

Ploegsteert Memorial

Serving the region of the front line Caestre – Dranoutre – Warneton in Belgium to the north; Haverskerque – Estaires – Fournes in France to the south, including the towns of Hazebrouck, Merville, Bailleul and Armentieres, the Forest of Nieppe, and Ploegsteert Wood, the Ploegsteert Memorial records the names of 11,447 casualties who have no known graves, missing from the Battles of Armentieres, 1914, Aubers Ridge, Loos and Fromelles, 1915, Estaires, 1916; and Hazebrouck, Scherpenberg and Outersteene Ridge, 1918. For the most part those recorded here did not die in any set-piece large scale offensives such as those that took place around Ypres to the north or Loos to the south; rather it records those who were killed in small localised engagements, the day to day of trench warfare which characterised this part of the line, raids and minor attacks to draw attention away from major offensives elsewhere.

The names of officers and men of the Australian and New Zealand forces are not recorded here, nor those of Canadian and Indian regiments (recorded on Memorials at Ypres, Vimy, Neuve Chapelle) that fought and died in the region. It also does not include those who were lost in the Southern Pincer Sector at the Battle of Aubers Ridge, 9 May 1915 (1st, 2nd Meerut and 47th Divisions; Le Touret Memorial).

The Ploegsteert Memorial is 22 metres in diameter, 12 metres high, with the names inscribed on panels within the interior; two carved stone lions guard the entrance one couchant quietly resting, the other alert, rampant, snarling in defiance toward the direction from which, should it materialise, an enemy attack would most likely approach. Designed by Harold Chalton-Bradshaw, sculptured by Sir Gilbert Ledward, the Memorial was unveiled by the Duke of Brabant, 7th June 1931.

If the dead here recorded were to march four abreast from Hyde Park Corner, below Hill 63, to Strand Cemetery a short distance down the road, it would take them eleven hours to pass the memorial.