Kemmel & Bayernwald Trenches
A view of Kemmel Hill shortly after the War. Photo: NELS
Kemmel village can be found about six miles south-west of Ypres, and is reached by following the N336 out through the Lille Gate, and then turning right onto the N331 about half a mile further on (just before the level crossing).
Located just to the north of the village centre is Kemmel Chateau Military Cemetery. The entrance is flanked by twin brick-built arches, and the village cemetery is located immediately to its left. The land and rows of graves curve slightly uphill away from the road, and then downhill. Many of the headstones are quite irregularly spaced. The cemetery was established early in the war, in December 1914, taking its name from Kemmel Chateau which stood to the rear of the cemetery location. The chateau at certain stages in the war housed an Advanced Dressing Station (ADS), and the cemetery continued to be used until March 1918, when Kemmel was taken by the Germans. Although it was retaken later on that year, both the cemetery and the chateau suffered from shelling with the chateau being destroyed. In total there are 1,135 First World War soldiers buried here, all but three being identified. In addition, located in a row on the left by the entrance are 21 Second World War burials.
Buried in Row J is Private James Jacobs of Lancaster, who served with the 2nd King's Own (Royal Lancasters). He was killed in action on the 25th of June 1915, and the register tells us that he was the grandson of a Crimean War veteran. In Row X is one of the many Canadians buried here: Private Henry Harry Jackson (originally from Cumberland in England). He enlisted in September 1915, and probably died as a result of wounds he suffered when his battalion, the 72nd (British Columbia Regiment), carried out a raid near Kemmel on the 16th of September 1916. The battalion war diary reports that it was a bright moonlit night, and that although all the raiding party returned to the trenches, five of them were wounded. They did however take two German prisoners - capturing enemy soldiers to determine which units were in the line was often an objective of raids. Also buried here is an uncle of the novelist Daphne du Maurier - Lieutenant Colonel Guy du Maurier, who was a veteran of Burma and South Africa. He was commanding the 3rd Royal Fusiliers, and was aged 49 when he died in March 1915.
There is a small square in the centre of the village, with shops and restaraunts lining it. From here, a road leads out of the village and up the hill. After a few hundred yards there is a parking area and information boards on the left hand side. Also here, although sometimes not easy to see behind the trees, is a tall modern sculpture as shown below. I have recently been informed that this statue has been destroyed, however.
Just opposite this, a cobbled track leads uphill off to the right, past the restaraunt De Alverman. This road leads up Kemmel Hill (Kemmelberg). The road winds uphill steeply, past the tower of the Belvedere restaraunt on the left. The tower can be climbed for an entrance fee and has excellent views of the surrounding country. This tower is a replacement for one sited here before the war, which was used as an observation post during it.
Carrying on up the hill, at the top is another parking area, by which is a large French Memorial. This is a tall, imposing white monument, with the figure of an angel on the front. It was unveiled on a misty day in September 1932, by Marshal Petain, who also referred in his speech to the British 9th Division which was also involved in the action. The figure represents France, the granite monument behind is 54 feet high and topped by a poilu's helmet. On the front are the words 'Aux soldats Francais 1914-1918'. The angel has her eyes closed, with what seems an expression of suffering and sadness on her face.
The memorial is to commemorate French soldiers who fought and died here in April 1918. The British held Kemmel Hill against a determined German onslaught on the 17th of April 1918, and it was just after this that the French took over the lines here. The Germans attacked again, using gas, on the 25th of April, and this time broke through taking the hill. However, their final offensive was now running out of steam. On a road a little to the west of Kemmel Hill is one of the demarcation stones that mark the limit of their advance.
The cobbled road then continues from the summit down the other side of the hill, and at this point is extremely steep indeed, and the cobbles can be slippery. Down this road, visible from the monument at the top of the hill, is the French Cemetery and Ossuary.
There are information boards outside the Ossuary to the left, and these show interesting photographs of the site over time. The earliest show the excellent views behind the Ossuary, which in later photographs and today are blocked by trees.
Old photographs of the French Cemetery and Ossuary on an information board nearby
The Ossuary was constructed after the war, and contains the remains of many of the French soldiers who fell trying to defend the hill in April 1918. For those used to the individual headstones of Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries, it is somewhat shocking to learn that 5,294 soldiers are buried in this small area, with only 57 of these identified. The 57 identified are listed alphabetically by name on the front of the obelisk in the centre of the Cemetery. On the other side is a plaque which gives the total number.
This approach of mass burials contrasts with that of the Imperial War Graves Commission (IWGC), the forerunner of the CWGC. It was determined very early on that the names of each and every British and Commonwealth soldier who died would be commemorated individually, either on headstones above their individual graves, or else on 'special memorial' headstones when it was thought they were buried in a certain cemetery, or it was known they were but the location of the grave had been lost. For those who had no known grave, their names would be inscribed on a series of Memorials to the Missing, such as at the Menin Gate in Ypres and at Ploegsteert to the south. Anyone visiting CWGC cemeteries will have seen the many unknown burials, again each with an individual headstone with the inscription "Known Unto God".
Just south-east of Kemmel Hill is Lindenhoek Chalet Military Cemetery, located a little way off the N331. Tiers lead up along the side into the cemetery, which was started in March 1915 and used until October 1917. After the Armistice, more than a hundred additional graves were concentrated here from the battlefields in this area. In total, there are now 315 men buried or commemorated here, and of these 67 are unidentified. To the left of the Cross of Sacrifice are special memorials to four men known, and two beleieved to be buried here. Some of the headstones in back row appear quite discoloured from lichen.
The names of six men from the 1/4th East Yorkshires, all of whom died on the 17th of June 1916, appear on just three headstones in row K of Plot One. Nearby, another five men from the same battalion who also died on the same day are commemorated on a further two headstones. At least some of these men were from 'A' Company, as recorded in the register. This territorial battalion in fact lost 18 men and one officer killed in action on the 17th of June 1916, and a further nine died of wounds the same day, although it is not possible to say how many of these might have been wounded on the 17th of June 1916 itself. In fact, all those who were killed in action that day, except one, are buried here at Lindenhoek Chalet Cemetery. The single exception is Archibald Fraser, who is buried not far away in Loker (Locre) Churchyard. Those from the battalion who died of wounds that day are all buried in Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension, a large cemetery which was near a number of Casualty Clearing Stations during the war.
With the help of the Great War Forum, the War Diary for the 1/4th Easy Yorkshires showed that at 12.25 a.m. there was a German gas attack on their trenches near Wytschaete. The gas cloud was reported as "very thick" and it lasted for about 20 minutes. The single officer who died was Second Lieutenant William Carlton, who died in F Trench. At that time there was a dressing station at Lindenhoek, where several of those affected by gas died. On June the 18th 1916, the War Diary records that Second Lieutenant Carlton and 17 other ranks were buried at this cemetery. The cause of death was detailed as six from shell-fire and eleven from the gas.
Kemmel Hill is a tourist area, popular with cyclists and walkers, and the views from the hill over the surrounding countryside can be superb. Back in the village, just off the roundabout is a tourist information centre. This is where to go before visiting the Bayernwald trenches. The information centre will supply a code number which is then used to gain entry to the Bayernwald trenches. Although this restored trench system is some way from Kemmel, and in fact nearer Wijtschate, I have covered it on this page as the ticket has to be purchased in Kemmel, and there are also sites of interest on the route taken to reach it.
The map on the back of the ticket they shows how to reach the trenches but can be misleading. It does not show all the turns or features, and it is easy to take a wrong turn.
To reach the trenches: From the tourist information centre, return to the roundabout just before it and turn left on the N331 heading back towards Ypres. Continue quite a way along, past La Laiterie Cem (on the left), and then past a Demarcation stone and American Monument on the right.
The American monument is a large white Rocheret stone set within short white pillars. An information board is located on the left hand side, giving the historical background. The monument commemorates the actions of US soldiers from the 27th and 30th Divisions who fought in August and September 1918. Around 1,300 from the 27th Division and 800 from the 30th Division died in these actions, which followed a German withdrawal. The monument stands in the middle of the area over which the US troops made their advance, and was erected in 1929. Some of the Americans who died during these actions are now buried in the Flanders Field American Cemetery, which is near Waregem, about 35 miles east of here.
Just to the right of the American monument is a Demarcation Stone. These were erected after the war to mark the furthest points to which the Germans advanced, and originally there were many, although only a small number now remain. This one was moved from it's original location here (or nearby) after the Second World War to Vierstraat. It was moved bak to the Kemmel road in 2005.
To continue to the Bayernwald trenches, after the American monument take the next right turn, just after a large two-tone building on the left with the word "PREFAB" printed on it. There is a signpost here as well.
This small road winds, first downhill and then uphill again towards a wood on the left. Just before the end of the wood is a left turn which again is signposted, and this comes out of the end of the wood. There is a small parking area on the left and Croonaert Chapel Cemetery can be seen in the field to the left (the pathway which leads to the cemetery is a little further on).
Parking your car at the parking area, to reach the trenches walk up the road to the right, past a new house being built on the corner. When I made my visit, a shell lay on the verge here, probably dug up during the building of the new house.
The entrance to the trenches is on the right, and the code you are given at Kemmel should be keyed in, then the door will unlock.
There is a sheltered information area on the left as you enter, which has information boards about the trenches including wartime aerial photographs as well as a modern aerial view of the site, and a 'You are here' legend on each to allow one to understand exactly the context of the wartime layout. There is also a bronze relief map of the salient.
Also here are wartime photographs of German soldiers manning these trenches. There is a schematic showing the layout of the trench system which includes four bunkers and two mineshafts. Another information board explains that one of the mine shafts was unearthed in 1971 by schoolteacher Andre Becquart. He later excavated the four bunkers, and opened the site as a museum. However, after he died the site was more or less abandoned, until in 1998 restoration work commenced. This was initially made possible by Heuvelland council, and later also by the Association for Battlefield Archaeology in Flanders. The restored trench system was opened in 2004, and there are several places at which one can enter the trench system itself.
There are a number of information boards at various points within and outside the trenches, and one of these explains that the earliest trenches were built with wood and sandbags, whilst later (1916) trenches were constructed with reversed A-frames connected by wickerwork. There are wartime photos of trenches which can be compared with the restored trenches. There are even portions of corrugated "elephant iron" used to form part of the trench edge at one point.
The trenches are surprisingly shallow, and to keep ones head below the parapet one would have to duck the whole time. Wooden A-frames make firing steps. In some places low bars of wood run right across the trench which were well below my head height. This meant ducking even more to pass through these sections.
The trench system contains two mineshafts, one (Berta 4) 17 metres deep. This was the shaft discovered by Andre Becquart in 1971. An information board nearby shows the layout of the shaft, as well as photographs from it's excavation. In May 2006 when I visited, it was full to the top with water.
There are four bunkers within the trench system, made of pre-fabricated concrete blocks as can be seen in the photographs. An information board explains that those near the front line were constructed of the pre-fabricated blocks, which makes sense as the positions would have been subject to enemy fire. Further back, concrete without the need for prefabrication could be used.
One bunker has half it's structure missing on the left side, and this allows the thickness of the roof to be seen. The height of the bunkers was limited to 1.2 metres, and orders were that they were only to be used as shelters during violent shelling. It was believed that 'larger constructions would affect the offensive mind' of the soldiers.
The largest bunker has two entrances, and was also completely water filled when I visited. Whilst four bunkers can be seen today, in 1918 there were 10 bunkers at Bayernwald. An information board shows details of how they were constructed, plus a photograph of one partly built.
One trench was taped off when I visited, with the side having started to collapse. However, this is a marvellous site to visit - not only because of the trenches themselves, but also the thought that has gone into the information boards that give background to the bunker construction and the mineshafts, as well as contemporary pictures of trenches and other items. Nowhere near as busy and popular as the trenches at Sanctuary Wood, perhaps because of it's more remote location, the Bayernwald trench system deserves a higher place on the list of "must visit" sites in the Salient.
Sites North of Kemmel
Returning to the main N331 the same way you came, one can, instead of turning left at the crossroads back towards Kemmel, go straight across, following a minor road. The small settlement at these crossroads is known as Vierstraat At the first left turn leading off this road is another Demarcation Stone, similar to that seen near the American Monument (above).
Just a little way down the road leading off by the demarcation stone is Suffolk Cemetery. A short path leads up to it, and there are only three rows of graves, with just 47 men buried here. Only eight of these are unknown. The cemetery was started in March 1915 by the 2nd Suffolks, and used by them for just that month and April 1915. The front two rows contain these burials, and the headstones are quite close together. In November 1917 one man was buried here, and after that the cemetery was not used again until October 1918, when the bodies of men killed during the German advance six months earlier were buried here by the 38th Labour Group. The bodies were mainly those of men from the 1/4th and 1/5th York & Lancaster Regiment. The cemetery at that time was known as Cheapside Cemetery, as the small road it is located beside was known by that name. In early 1918 there were a number of camps nearby, with structures around the location of the cemetery; the position known as Fort Toronto.
One of the Suffolk graves intrigued me. It is that of Private S. Jessup, and according to the CWGC entry, the 'S' stood for 'Sergant' - a very unusual Christian name. Further research showed that the Medal Index Card for this man lists his first name as 'Sergeant'. Soldiers Died in the Great War also lists his first name as Sergeant, but his last name as Jessop, rather than Jessup. It shows he was born in Framlingham and enlisted in Ipswich. He had arrived on the Western Front on the 26th of January, 1915. Even more interestingly, whilst there was no surviving service record in the WO/363 series, there was a record in WO/364 - to a man of the same name but who had enlisted at Ipswich in the Royal Field Artillery in November 1913. He had then been court-martialled early in 1914 and sentenced to 42 days in detention (14 of which were remitted). On the 26th of February 1914 he was discharged from the Army for misconduct under paragraph 392 (X.I) of the King's Regulations. Unfortunately, there is no further detail and this paragraph in the regulations themselves is not further defined. The possibility that this was the same man was strengthened by the fact that the pension record lists his next of kin as elder brothers Alec and Clement Jessup, of the High Street, Hadleigh, Suffolk. The CWGC entry also lists the next of kin as Mr. C. Jessup of 55 Benton Street, Hadleigh - a different address, but the same town. Sergeant Jessup was 22 years old when he enlisted in 1913, meaning he would have been born in 1891. Turning to the 1901 Census, there is only one Sergeant Jessup listed - living in Framlingham in Suffolk (about 20 miles north-east of Hadleigh) but with a birthdate that matches, and with elder brothers Alexander (Alec) and Clement. Their father was Frederick Jessup, a blacksmith born in Thetford in Norfolk, but their mother, Ellen, was born in Hadleigh in Suffolk. In 1901, Frederick was 63 whilst Ellen was 49, so it might seem possible that if Frederick died after the 1901 census, Ellen and the family might have moved back to her village of Hadleigh. It seems very likely that Sergeant Jessup re-enlisted when the war broke out, and although he had previously been discharged, the Army may have accepted his previous blemish (if indeed he declared it when he re-enlisted). In any event, he was killed in action on the 24th of March 1915. During March and April 1915, the 2nd Suffolks suffered 80 fatalities, so this was obviously a busy time for the battalion.
Returning from Suffolk Cemetery to the demarcation stone, turning left again on this roads leads to two more cemeteries. First reached, on the left side of the road, is the interesting Kemmel No. 1 French Cemetery. Despite this name, and that it is marked on the NGI Belgian map as "Fr.Mil Begrfpl." (as opposed to "Br. Mil Begrfpl." for British cemeteries), this is a CWGC maintained cemetery. The CWGC entry for this cemetery states that "the origin of the cemetery is not known". It was found by the French Graves Service shortly after the Armistice, and then contained Commonwealth, French and German graves. Some more German graves found by the Belgian Graves Service were then brought here, as were more Commonwealth graves from both nearby and further away. Later on, all the French graves were removed, some to the nearby Ossuary at Kemmel (see earlier on this page), and some to the French cemetery at Potijze. There are estimated to be 253 Germans buried here, and of the two rows of headstones marking Germans graves at the back of the cemetery, the first row is actually a mass grave. There are also a few German graves among the other rows. There are 296 Commonwealth graves, and of these only 36 are identified, reflecting, I suppose, the lack of records of this cemetery originally and also the later recovery of bodies from other sites which were then brought here. Still, it is a tiny number of identified graves, and in percentage terms although not numerical terms must be one of the highest of unidentified soldiers for any CWGC cemetery. Those who are identified died in all years of the Great War, although the majority of the graves are from the later years. Railway sleepers run along the cemetery boudaries in places. From the back of the cemetery, Kemmel Hill is visible.
Just across the road is Klein-Vierstraat British Cemetery, which has a better documented history. It was started in January 1917, and the first three plots date from that year until the middle of January 1918. Plot 4 was begun in April 1918, and after the Armistice more graves were concenterated here from two smaller cemeteries at Poperinghe and Westoutre, as well as from battlefields nearby. There are now a total of 804 Great War burials, 109 of them being unidentified. At the front right of the cemetery is a square structuure which houses the register box, and the rows of graves are set on a slope downwards from the front of the cemetery.
Locre (today Loker) is a small village located about two miles or so to the west of Kemmel. Next to the road leading there (Lokerstraat) are some British bunkers, known as the Lettenberg bunkers. These are located to the right side of the road just as you come out of Kemmel, climbing up a hill towards Locre, at the edge of some woodland. They are reached by a short path through the woods, which is signposted - take the left fork of the track as it enters wood.
The bunkers were constructed in the spring of 1917, although the 175th Tunnelling Company had been digging to create underground headquarters here for some months before that. There are four bunkers, including a first aid post which has a red cross painted on the wall, and a command post located at the far end. There are information boards outside the bunkers.
Locre Hospice Cemetery is to the south-east of Locre village, reached by following a small road called Godtschalkstraat. Following this small road will eventually lead you back to Kemmel. The cemetery is on the upslope of a hill, to the right of the road as you leave Locre, and now behind a newly constructed house. A grass track leads to it from the road, to the left of this house. Locre Hospice Cemetery is a long narrow cemetery, containing just three long rows of graves. The cemetery was started in June 1917, and used up until April 1918. The Hospice itself from which the cemetery takes its name was originally nearby. Usually some distance behind the lines, in April 1918 Locre was captured by the Germans, fought over and then retaken by the French on the 30th of April 1918.
There are just under 250 Great War burials or commemorations here; and at the far end of Row 3 are 14 Second World War burials. These graves are not marked on the plan of the cemetery available on line at the CWGC website, and they have been hand-drawn in on the plan in the register at the cemetery. Behind the Cross of Sacrifice are nine special memorials commemorating men known to be buried in the cemetery. At the front of the cemetery is a seat looking up towards the Great Cross at the far end, and on the back of this seat is the inscription found in all CWGC cemeteries in Belgium about the ceding of the cemetery land in perpetuity.
A path runs by the right hand wall of the cemetery to a site at the rear of the cemetery where Major William Redmonds grave is located. Despite being buried outside the walls of the cemetery Major Redmond is listed in the register, where further details are given: he was mentioned in Despatches and was also awarded the Legion of Honour by the French. He had served as MP for Wexford since 1884, and was aged 56 when he died of wounds (although the inscription on the cross itself states "killed in action") received at the Battle of Messines. Rather than the usual Plot, row and grave number, his grave position is described as "close to path leading to the cemetery".
Major Redmond, along with three other men, was originally buried in the garden of Locre Hospice, and standing either side of the grave cross are two stones which originally were part of the Hospice buildings. Behind the cross is a modern pipe which has been put in place, surmounted by a figure of the Virgin Mary.
On the road leading into Locre is the rebuilt Hospice. In front of it is a small part of a stone wall from the original. The information board tells the story of Major William Redmond,
Sources & Acknowledgements
Beatrix Brice: The Battle Book of Ypres
The Great War Forum
Major & Mrs Holt: Battlefield Guide to the Ypres Salient
Michael Scott: The Ypres Salient
Paul Reed: Walking the Salient
Rik Scherpenberg for information on the Demarcation Stone
The Times online archive