Essex Farm Cemetery is on the “Must see” of most tours of the Ypres Salient. it is also one of those, Oh no, not another cemetery, and there is the danger of eyes glossing over at yet more graves. Yet it is such a fabulous place to visit. So much can be done here for the entry level battlefield tourist. The difference between single graves and trench burials. How to spot the special interest graves. The graves are next to where the Advanced Dressing Station, ADS. was. One of the most visited by parties from schools is that of Valentine Joe Strudwick who was only 15 when he was killed. An opportune moment to mention that there are at least eight 15 year olds who have no known grave commemorated on the Menin Gate.
Private Albert Richard Ashley, East Surrey Regiment died 27 April 1915
Private John Averill, North Staffs, 05 August 1915
Private George Bulleid, Canadian Infantry 22 April 1915
Private Hector Cameron, Canadian Infantry, 21 April 1915
Private Joseph Edwards. Kings Own Scottish Borderers, 18 November 1914.
Private John Forsyth-Ingram, South African Infantry, 11 April 1918
Private Alfred Huxtable, Kings Royal Rifle Corps, 06 August 1915
Private Walter Webb, Royal Fusiliers, 26 April 1915.
As well as at least fifty 16 year olds with no known grave also commemorated. Trust me on this one.
John “Jimmy MacCrae was here although the bunkers were built after he had left. MacCrae worked in a 8 ft by 8 ft. (For those who used metres instead of real money, It is easy to convert Square feet into square metres. Google it.) dug out bunker. Lex Helmar in whose memory, “In Flanders Fields” was written is also commemorated on the Menin Gate. There is a memorial to all the Macraes who died in the Great War at Eilean Donan Castle in Scotland. The castle is often visited, the memorial is almost equally ignored.
What was an ADS?
The ADS is the nearest Medical Service unit to the front line. It is where the wounded are transferred from the care of the Regimental Medical Officer to the Royal Army Medical Corps. There were usually one, sometimes two ADSs per divisional front. The ideal place for an ADS was about 2000 yards behind the front-line. Ok, divide by 13 and then multiply by 12 will convert that into metres. This was out of the range of rifle fire. The also should be a significant amount of protection from most types of open sight gun fire. The sites chosen had some degree of shelter from most things. The embankments at Essex Farm are a good example of this.. The Artillery also wanted the same sites as they were ideal for Medium Artillery emplacements.
ADSs were not hospitals. Surgery was only carried out in extreme emergencies. There were basically a collection point. A place where the wounded could be sheltered before they were evacuated. Here they could be given hot drinks, or very urgent medical assistance, morphine and or anti tatanus injections.
John MacCrae wrote in a letter to his mother of what life was like during the second battle of Ypres. This is around the time he was at Essex Farm.
Dated May 17th 1915
“The farther away we get from Ypres the more we learn of the enormous power the Germans put in to push us over. Lord only knows how many men they had, and how many they lost. All the guers down this way passed us all sorts of kudos over it. Our guns-those behind us, from which we had occasional prematures-have a peculiar bang sound added to the sharp crack of discharge. The French 75 has a sharp wood-block-chop sound, and the shell goes over with a peculiar whine-not unlike a cat, but beginning with n-thus-neouw. The big fellows, 3000 yards or more behind, sound exactly like our own, but the flash came three or four seconds before the sound. Of the German shells-the field guns come with a great velocity-no warning-just whizz-bang; white smoke nearly always air bursts. The next size, probably 5 inch howitzers, have a perceptible time of approach, an increased whine, ad a great burst on the percussion-dirt in all directions. And even if the shell hit on front of the canal bank, and one were on the back of the bank, five, eight or ten seconds later one would hear a belated shirr, and curved pieces of shell would light-probably parabolic curves or boomerangs. These shells gave great back kick; from the field gun shrapnel-airburst-have a double explosion, as if a giant shock a wet sail for two flaps; first a dark green green burst of smokw; then a lighter yellow burst goes our from the centre, forwards. I do not understand the why of it.
Then the 10 inch shells: a deliberate whirring course-a deafening explosion-black smoke, and the earth 70 or 80 feet in the air. These always burst on percussion. The constant noise of our own gus is really worst on the nerves than the shell; there is the deafening noise, and the constant shirr of shells going over head…
The road thirty yards behind us was a nightmare to me. I saw all the tradgedies of war enacted there. A wagon, or a bunch of horses, or just a stray man, or a couple of men would get there just in time for a shell. One would see the absolute knock out, and the obviously lightly wounded crawling off on hands and knees: or worse yet, at night one would hear the tragedy-“that horse scream”-or the man’s moan. All our wagons had to come there (one every half hour in smart action), be emptied, and the ammunition carried over by hand. Do you wonder that the road got on our nerves? On this road, too, was the house where we took our meals. It was hit several times, windows all blow in by nearby shells, but one end remained for us. Seventeen days of Hades! At the end of the first day if anyone had told us we had to spend seventeen days there, we would have folded our arms and said it could not be done.”
He also wrote a poem.