POTIJZE CHATEAU LAWN CEMETERY
POTIJZE CHATEAU LAWN CEMETERY
- Identified Casualties:
The cemetery is located to the north-east of the town of Ieper. From the station turn left and drive along M.Fochlaan to the roundabout, turn right and go to the next roundabout. Here turn left into M.Haiglaan and drive to the next roundabout. Turn right into Oude Veurnestraat, this then changes into Diksmuidseweg and Brugseweg. Drive along this road and continue straight over the traffic lights to the end of the road. At the T junction turn left (still Brugseweg) and continue along this road (the N313) to the village of Sint Jan. At the crossroads in the village turn right onto the N345 (Potijzestraat), continue along this road to the next crossroads and turn left into Zonnebeekseweg. The cemetery is located on the left hand side by the crossroads.
The Potijze Chateau Cemeteries.
The old chateau grounds at Potijze are the site of three Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries containing over 850 Commonwealth burials of the First World War. Potijze Chateau Grounds, Potijze Chateau Lawn, and Potijze Chateau Wood cemeteries were all formed in the spring of 1915 and used for the burial of Commonwealth soldiers until 1918. The architectural features of the cemeteries were designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield in the 1920s.
Potijze during the First World War
For almost the entire period of the First World War the village of Potijze was held by the Commonwealth forces but stood directly behind the Allied trenches and was well within range of German guns. It was here that soldiers entered the communication and support trenches that led to the front-line. Although subject to constant shell fire Potijze Chateau, a country house dating from the nineteenth century, remained intact throughout the war and was occupied and used by Commonwealth troops. In the spring of 1915, during the Second Battle of Ypres, it was headquarters of the 27th Division, then under the command of Major-General Thomas D’Oyly Snow. The ground floor was later used as an Advanced Dressing Station while the first floor, which commanded views of the German lines, served as an observation post. For much of the war the Chateau was surrounded by a cluster of dug-outs and trenches and a large shed on the grounds, known to soldiers as ‘Lancer Farm’, housed ammunition and trench stores. Working parties would pause here to collect tools, coils of barbed wire, duckboards, bombs and other supplies before moving up the line.
There was particularly heavy fighting in the vicinity of Potijze in August 1917 during the opening phase of the Third Battle of Ypres, also known as ‘Passchendaele’. A young officer serving with the Manchester Regiment later recalled the devastation caused to the landscape around the Chateau by the relentless British and German artillery fire:
'This was a country where the desire to kill and destroy had developed to an unimaginable intensity. Nothing of use was to be left by either side, and every yard of ground almost was searched by the gunners to carry out their cruel game.'
Yet Potijze was never a quiet sector. On 9 August 1916, as the Somme offensive raged further south, the first and second battalions of the Hampshire Regiment spent ten days in trenches just east of the Chateau. As they were preparing to leave the Germans staged a surprise attack using a potent form of phosgene gas. Both units were caught unawares and although no ground was conceded the regiment suffered over 240 casualties, about half of whom were killed. The 1st Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers were stationed on the same stretch of front and also suffered numerous gas casualties. Over 60 men who fell in the attack are buried in rows A, E, and F of Chateau Wood Cemetery.
Edmund Blunden, a young English officer serving with the Royal Sussex Regiment, was stationed here at the beginning of 1917. He later recalled the atmosphere of Potijze during the third winter of the war:
'The new year was yet very young when the battalion filed through Ypres to take over the trenches at Potijze, which we came to know very well. It was not the worst place in the Salient. I had seen it already, and its arrangement was simple – a breastwork front line, running from Zonnebeke road to a railway bank on the south; a support line; two good (or not too bad) communication trenches – Haymarket and Piccadilly, Battalion headquarters dugout was near Potijze Château, beside the road. It boasted a handsome cheval-glass and a harmonium, but not a satisfactory roof. This headquarters also enjoyed a kind of Arcadian environment, for the late owner had constructed two or three ponds in the grounds with white airy bridges spanning them, weeping willows at their marges, and there were even statues of Venus and other handsome deities on little eminences, although I did not examine them closely. The château itself, much injured as it was, was not destroyed, and in the upper storey my observers gazed through a telescope on a dubious landscape; lucky these, whose day could not begin before eight, and ended at four with the thickening of what little light there had been. Littered on the damp floor beside them were maps of parts of the estate, some of a great age, and log-books of the number of woodcock, hares, rabbits and I forget what, formerly laid low by shooting parties of this fine house.'
In the decades after the war, Blunden became a celebrated poet and author, and his memoir, Undertones of War, is considered a classic of First World War literature. In the 1960s he acted as a commissioner with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
(updated - August 2012)