There are just over 600 British war cemeteries in Belgium, a staggering figure, and to visit them all would be a major undertaking. I think we visited five, including Tyne Cot, and we chose them for a number of reasons – the grave of the youngest casualty on the Western Front, graves of holders of the Victoria Cross and in one case, a double VC holder, the grave of a soldier ‘shot at dawn’ and even the grave of a female nurse, one of two female nurses buried in Belgium.
Essex Farm Cemetery is where the visitor will find Rifleman Strudwick and Private Barratt. Valentine Joe Strudwick died aged just 15. Thomas Barrett was awarded the Victory Cross posthumously for trying to protect his patrol from German snipers. He had volunteered to cover the patrol as it returned to British lines under heavy machine gun fire. He was killed soon after by a shell.
Essex Farm was the site of an Advanced Dressing Station and experienced battle surgeon John McCrea was stationed here. It was here, after being confronted with the dead body of his friend Alexis Helmer, McCrea left his dugout and either sat on the steps of an ambulance or at the foot of a tree and wrote a poem. That poem was In Flanders Fields.
In Brandhoek New Military Cemetery the visitor will find Private Rudd and Captain Chavasse. Charles Rudd was batman to Noel Chavasse. He was wounded in the same action as his superior office and died of his wounds six days later. Noel Chavasse is one of only three men to have won the Victoria Cross twice. He was a medical officer who repeatedly went into No Man’s Land looking for casualties, continuing with his forays until he was satisfied that all the wounded men had been brought in.
In Lijssenthoek Cemetery lie Staff Nurse Spindler and Major Tubb. Nellie Spindler was aged 26 when she was caught up in an artillery barrage at the Casualty Clearing Station at Brandhoek in August 1917. She died from a shrapnel wound to her chest. Four generals and over 100 other officers attended her full military funeral. Frederick Tubb had won his Victoria Cross at Gallipoli in 1915 as part of the Australian Imperial Force. In September 1917, he was in action at Polygon Wood and was wounded in the back by a German sniper. He was subsequently wounded a second time as he was being evacuated.