Location and background
War comes to Brandhoek
Fighting came to this area in October 1914. See the Long, Long Trail’s pages on the First Battles of Ypres 1914
Although the Ypres-Vlamertinghe-Poperinge and Vlametinghe-Ouderdom-Reninghelst roads were important supply and evacuation routes during the battle, it does not appear that Brandhoek came into any specific use by British forces at this time. Medical and other war diaries talk of much traffic going from Ypres to hospitals established at Poperinge, and at one point Vlamertinge is mentioned as a collecting point for motor ambulances.
During late November and December 1914 the British Expeditionary Force was relieved at Ypres by the French ally and for a while the Brandhoek area was within the French area of operations.
The earliest definite mention of Brandhoek that I could find in British war diaries comes on 1 February 1915 when the 28th Division began to relieve the French 31st Division (of XVI Corps) in the Ypres sector. Divisional headquarters left Borre and arrived at a farm at Brandhoek that day, as did the Divisional Cyclist Company which was billeted in three farms that it took over from the French. The HQ moved to “a chateau north of the railway” three days later.
The diary of the division’s chief medical officer (Assistant Director of Medical Services) says that his office also arrived on 1 February 1915 and set up in a school at Brandhoek on the Vlamertinge-Poperinge road.
Development of Brandhoek as a medical centre
Despite the danger from long range enemy shellfire and, increasingly, aerial attack, Brandhoek gradually developed into one of the most important sites of medical facilities supporting the Ypres sector.
On 4 February 1915 the medical officers of 28th Division agreed to establish a washing/bathing facility at Brandhoek. This is frequently mentioned in the divisional diaries but without a precise location being mentioned. It was the responsibility of 15 Sanitary Section of the Royal Army Medical Corps. The section remained there until 2 May 1915 when it moved to Place Bertin in Poperinge.
The earliest burials in Brandhoek Military Cemetery date to 8-10 May 1915. At least one can be traced to be a man who died of wounds whilst in the care of 8 Field Ambulance. This unit’s war diary describes its work in the Dickebusch and La Clytte areas but makes no reference to Brandhoek. It does mention a traffic route through a junction a mile SE of ‘In de wandeling'” which probably matches to “‘In de nieuwe wandeling’ shown above.
2/2nd Northumbrian Field Ambulance
On 1 June 1915 “C” Section of the Tented Subdivision of 2/2nd Northumbrian Field Ambulance of 50th (Northern) Division arrived at Brandhoek from Wippenhoek. It took over a school building for use as a dressing station. This station admitted its first patients next day and the first wounded men arrived on 3 June. The remainder of the Field Ambulance arrived on 4 June and moved into a farm building. “A” Section very soon left to set up another station at the Brabant School at Hoograaf. The Ambulance’s war diary reports the death at 1pm on 13 June 1915 of a Private of the 1/5th Northumberland Fusiliers who had a bullet wound in the groin. This man can be traced to be Pte 164 Thomas Denton Shale, a 42 year old from Byker, who now lies in Brandhoek Military Cemetery (plot I, row C, grave 2). His is the earliest burial in the group of cemeteries at Brandhoek that can definitely be traced to the man having succumbed whilst in the care of a medical facility. The 2/2nd Northumbrian Field Ambulance left on 24 June 1915.
8 Field Ambulance
The Northumbrian unit handed over the school to “C” Section of the Tented Subdivision of 8 Field Ambulance of 3rd Division at noon on 24 June 1915. Fans of the TV comedy series “Blackadder” will be delighted to know that the section was commanded by Captain Darling. The unit reports receiving casualties from the advanced dressing station at the asylum in Ypres. From 30 June it expanded the role of Brandhoek to take in all sick and wounded of the 3rd Division. Tented capacity would be provided for 200 cases, although it reported the site to be a bad one for pitching tents.
On 18 September 1915 the Field Ambulance reported that the “3rd Divisional Cemetery” at Brandhoek was now full and that a new site nearby be chosen (this would appear to be part of the site of the Branhoek Military Cemetery, rather than the new cemetery – see below). It also suggested that a squad of old soldiers and an NCO should be retained there as a burial party. Facilities at Brandhoek now included a circular drive so that motor ambulances did not have to reverse in the yard. During the Second Attack on Bellewaarde on 25 September 1915 Brandhoek received casualties from the Advanced Dressing Stations at Lille Gate (Ypres) and Maple Copse.
A detachment of 74 Field Ambulance of 24th Division was attached for instruction beginning on 6 October 1915.
51 Field Ambulance
“C” Section of the Tented Subdivision of 51 Field Ambulance of 17th (Northern) Division took over the Brandhoek dressing station from 8 Field Ambulance on 22 October 1915. (3rd Division was being relieved after several months in the Ypres sector). The same day, 22 year old A/L/Cpl 38802 Percy Johnston of the Ambulance was killed by a shell at the Maple Copse dressing station and brought to Brandhoek for burial: he lies in Brandhoek Military Cemetery I.F.24.
72 Field Ambulance
On 5 January 1916 the Ambulance withdrew, leaving a hand-over detachment of 20 men, as the division was being moved elsewhere. 72 Field Ambulance of 24th Division arrived to take its place. During February and March 1916 Poperinge was frequently shelled and bombed, but it does not appear that Brandhoek was affected.
Canadian Field Ambulances
On 18 March 1916 72 Field Ambulance withdrew, leaving a hand-over detachment for the arrival of 1 Canadian Field Ambulance of 1st Canadian Division but under temporary command of 3rd Canadian Division. The incoming unit described the location as a “large brick building with good ground floor accommodation and courtyard for turning the cars” and that the personnel were accommodated in a brick barn down the road. It also mentions hutments nearby and reported that Brandhoek – now called a Main Dressing Station – was shelled on 6 April 1916. The Ambulance’s Pte Phillips was wounded by shrapnel in further shellfire on 28 April.
“B” Section of 9 Canadian Field Ambulance of 3rd Canadian Division, newly arrived from England, arrived on 13 April 1916. It reported that sick parades were held daily at Brandhoek for men coming in from nearby units at rest or in reserve. This Ambulance was relieved by “B” Section of 10 Canadian Field Ambulance during the period 12-15 May 1916. “C” Section took over on 25 May.
The commanding officer of 10 Canadian Field Ambulance, Lieutenant Colonel Arthur William Tanner, 40, died of shell fragment wounds at 3.30am on 4 June 1916 having been evacuated to number 10 Casualty Clearing Station at Lijssenthoek. He had been wounded the previous day “at the front”. He was succeeded by Major George Rowe Philp, who moved the Ambulance’s headquarters to Brandhoek.
10 Field Ambulance
4th Division arrived after recent work in the Battle of the Somme and its 10 Field Ambulance took over from the Canadians on 22 August 1916, the latter having been ordered to the Somme.
4 Australian Field Ambulance
On 9 September 1916 the 4 Australian Field Ambulance of 2nd Australian Division arrived from the Somme. It reports taking over from “12th Canadian Field Ambulance at school house field ambulance Main Dressing Station”. [Unless a detachment of Canadians had been left behind, this can only be considered to be an error. The 12th Canadian FA was on the Somme at this time]
1/4th London Field Ambulance
1/4th London Field Ambulance arrived from Boeschepe on 19 October 1916. It relieved the Australians and reported taking over the school and a hut for use as a dressing station. The war diary reports receiving casualties from the Advanced Dressing Stations at Bedford House and Railway Dugouts.
Expansion of medical facilities at Brandhoek by X Corps
In April 1917 X Corps defined the scheme for evacuation of casualties from the Ypres salient:
9th (Scottish) Division was charged with construction of the lightly wounded MDs and 47th (London) Division the seriously wounded site.
4th London Field Ambulance would operate the X Corps Main Dressing Station for seriously wounded (map reference G.12.b.2.8). On 4 April arrangements were made for expanding it to capacity for 400. There were also plans for lightly wounded on the northern side side of railway crossing and construction of an ambulance train siding was reported almost complete by 26 April; by 18 May there were 18 marquees and a dispensary in an Armstrong Hut. The 4th London Field Ambulance continued to work at Brandhoek throughout the period of the Battle of Messines until it eventually left for Westoutre on 13 June 1917. On that day it handed over, according to its war diary, to “A” Field Ambulance of II Corps.
On 5 April 1917 23rd Division reported taking over use of the Main Dressing Station at G.12.b.7.8.
On 11 April 1917 X Corps reported 2 Nissen buts and an incinerator were being built at the site of the lightly wounded station; ground had been cleared at the seriously wounded site and readied for pitching 18 marquees, along with two huts with accommodation for 120.
72 Field Ambulance
On 13 May 1917 72 Field Ambulance (24th Division), then at Godewaersvelde, reported that it was to take over from 71 Field Ambulance (which had recently been based at Vlamertinghe) a hut at Brandhoek (at grid map reference G.12.b.5.9) to use as a Main Dressing Station. The map below shows this with a blue cross. It lies north of the railway. The Ambulance was also to form X Corps Main Dressing Station for lightly wounded in afield where the hut was situated. It further reported that several Field Ambulances had been in and out of this location and plans drawn up some time ago, but practically no work had been done and no material was to hand. 71 Field Ambulance of the same division was at Brandhoek at the time. Later that day, 72 moved to Brandhoek and set about producing new plans and getting work underway. Material shortages and even wrong poles for new pattern tents delayed construction.
97 Field Ambulance
97 Field Ambulance of 30th Division arrived on 28 and 29 May 1917, relieving 72, and began work to complete the facility that would be used as X Corps Main Dressing Station for lightly wounded. Tents were erected for the purpose. It finally opened at 3.30am on 7 June 1917 and by noon had processed 8 officers and 346 men, together with 6 German POWs. The figures over the next 24 hours were 40, 1582 and 77.
The war diary gives the location of 97 Field Ambulance as grid reference G.6.d.4.0. The map below shows this with a red cross. It lies north of the railway and alongside the main road.
II Corps reported that, on 26 May 1917, casualties would be conveyed from the Main Dressing Station (and also from the Divisional Rest Station at Waratah Camp G.15.a.3.0) by number 11 Motor Ambulance Convoy to the group of Casualty Clearing Stations at Remy Siding, Lijssenthoek. Scabies cases would go to 50 CCS at Mont des Cats. Dental cases would go to 17 CCS at Remy Siding or to 50 CCS. Ophthalmic cases would go to a specialist centre at Hazebrouck. Certain infectious cases would go direct to 7 General Hospital, Malassise. Self inflicted wound cases would go to 12 CCS at Mendinghem. A Corps Gas Hospital was to be opened at Waratah Camp.
At 3am on 12 June 1917, the dressing station for lightly wounded men closed to admittances. At 2pm next day, 97 Field Ambulance re-opened, this time calling it X Corps Main Dressing Station for seriously wounded, at G.12.b.5.9. This is shown by the blue cross on the map above. It was closed to admittances at 2pm on 21 June.
XIX Corps arrived in Flanders on 12 June 1917, taking over the MDS at Vlamertinge. Its 47 Sanitary Section set up at Brandhoek on 16 June 1917. This unit was responsible for sanitation of all of that part of XIX Corps area which lay east of Poperinge. Casualties of this Corps would be evacuated via Main Dressing Stations at Red Farm and Brandhoek. The latter would handle the corps’ “right division”: at the start of the Third Battle of Ypres this was 15th (Scottish) Division. Red Farm handled the “left division”. A corps walking wounded collecting post was established at Vlamertinge mill and these men taken rearward by broad gauge train until 2 August when this was halted and the service operated by bus or lorry.
46 Field Ambulance of 15th (Scottish) Division relieved 97 Field Ambulance on 18 June 1917. It reported that Brandhoek was being used as a collecting station for Walking Wounded, with capacity for 100 men accommodated in tents and one hut used as a dressing room.
Casualty Clearing Stations come to Brandhoek in preparation to support Third Ypres offensive
The relocation of three CCSs to Brandhoek brought female medical personnel to the area for the first time.
32 Casualty Clearing Station began to arrive from Warlincourt Halte near Arras on 3 July 1917 and relieved 46 Field Ambulance. It set up in “a field adjoining the dressing station” and came under enemy shellfire the same night. The war diary reports that it moved to a new site (presumably close by) on 21 July. All cases of abdominal and chest wounds, and compound fractures of the thigh, were to be sent to this CCS. The personnel were briefly evacuated due to enemy shellfire on 21-22 August (below) but soon returned. On 4 September an enemy aircraft dropped a bomb on the tented area but did no significant damage. This became an increasing feature of life at Brandhoek, as did falling fragments of anti-aircraft shells. 32 CCS left Brandhoek for Mendinghem near proven on 14 October 1917.
44 Casualty Clearing Station arrived from Colincamps (Somme) on 19 July 1917. It set about laying paths and erecting tents to accommodate 1000 casualties, as well as a Nisssen hut for use as an operating theatre and a separate cookhouse. 44 CCS was under orders to open on “Zero plus 2” (that is, 2 August 1917) and take in casualties from II, XVIII and XIX Corps. This was subsequently delayed until 10 August. On 31 July twenty nursing sisters reported for duty; on 9 August six surgical teams and a section of Field Ambulance of 56th (London) Division arrived for duty. First admissions on 10 August were almost entirely chest and abdominal wounds. On 21 August, enemy shellfire aimed at the railway alongside the camp: the war diary reports that the third or fourth shell killed Nurse Spindler (below). Hit in the chest, she died within five minutes. Four other nurses were concussed. The shellfire continued, with only short breaks, all day. It was decided to evacuate all patients from 32 and 44 CCSs, send the nurses to 62 and 63 CCSs at St. Omer and the rest of the personnel to 10 CCS at Lijssenthoek. Evacuation was carried out by motor cars as the railway remained under fire all next day. On 30 August a detachment returned to Brandhoek to construct sandbag shelters, but most of the rest of this CCS moved to Nine Elms near Poperinge.
3rd Australian Casualty Clearing Station arrived from Grevillers on the Somme on 21 July 1917.
The Third Ypres offensive (late July to November 1917)
The British offensive, the Third Battles of Ypres began on 31 July 1917. The numbers of casualties passing through Brandhoek greatly increased, as did enemy fire on the area. A new cemetery was begun as the original plot used for the purpose was full, and eventually a third also opened.
On 5 August 1917 three men of 47 Sanitary Section were killed, along with 44 others wounded, when their camp was bombed from the air. Ptes 545254 Bertram Boothman, 545289 Edgar Broad and 536470 Richard Margetts lie in Brandhoek New Military Cemetery in IV.D graves 4 to 6.
At 10pm on 16 August 1917, 3rd Australian CCS was bombed from the air. An officer and a man (which I have no traced) were killed. The CCS had admitted 146 casualties on the day along with ten wounded German prisoners.
The same CCS came under enemy shellfire at 10am on 21 August 1917. Pte 2421 William Edward Saunders, 26, a miner and Australian Army Medical Corps veteran of the Gallipoli campaign serving with the CCS, died of chest wounds. He lies in Brandhoek New Military Cemetery No. 3 (I. D. 37). Pte 14018 Henry James Thorsen died of wounds next day, having been evacuated to Remy Siding, Lijssenthoek. The CCS was evacuated due to the shelling and the personnel went temporarily to 10 CCS. It did not return.
The Battle of the Lys (April 1918)
The German offensive operation “Georgette” brought the fighting closer to Brandhoek on its southern flank and east of Ypres. Casualty numbers greatly increased from 10 April, lasted for a few days and then flared up again when the German attacked Mont Kemmel (Kemmelberg) on 25 April. Brandhoek once again came under direct enemy artillery fire. On 27 April a major ammunition dump at nearby Red Farm exploded, destroying the Advanced Dressing Station (operated by 138 Field Ambulance) there and killing some 200 men in the vicinity. The ADS was re-established at the Brandhoek school buildings, then in 6th Division’s area. The German advance caused the British to move their entire line of communication westwards, leaving Brandhoek as a much more forward location that it had ever been. Its value as a location for major medical facilities was much reduced due to risk of bombardment or attack.
See The Battles of the Lys for more detail
140 Field Ambulance
On 13 April 1918 140 Field Ambulance of 41st Division arrived after recently being in Italy and briefly on the Somme. It reported a chaotic scene. Two other Field Ambulances were waiting there for orders; there were 200 patients in addition to 64 scabies cases. It was impossible to open as a Main Dressing Station and efforts were made to evacuate the patients elsewhere. By 6pm the Ambulance was ready to admit wounded (it found the camp could accommodate 200) and gas cases. By 6pm next day, work had gone well and the camp was practically empty. That day, 140 was instructed to hand over to 139 Field Ambulance of 41st and 17 Field Ambulance of 6th Division. Most of the stores at Brandhoek were to be moved to Nine Elms on the other side of Poperinge.
139 Field Ambulance
139 Field Ambulance, also of 41st Division, had taken over the mill at Vlamertinge and had been instructed to convert Red Farm into a Main Dressing Station for seriously wounded and gas cases. On 15 April 1918 it handed over the mill to 138 and moved itself to Brandhoek, with its HQ going to Red Farm. Sitting cases were being evacuated by light railway from Brandhoek and lying cases by Motor Ambulance Convoy. Orders were received that Brandhoek would now be used as a Walking Wounded Collecting Post. The Ambulance was ordered to withdraw to Ten Elms on 25 April 1918 and makes no mention of handover of Brandhoek to any other unit.
17 Field Ambulance
This unit of 6th Division arrived on 15 April 1918 under orders to establish a Walking Wounded Collecting Post on the site of one of the former Casualty Clearing Stations. On 22 April it also opened a centre for scabies cases. The Ambulance HQ moved to Nine Elms on 28 April but continued to operate the WW post. A heavy enemy bombardment on 29 April brought in a rush of new casualties. A shell fell on the camp, killing two and wounding ten.
It is not easy to know which of the 27 men buried that day in Brandhoek New Military Cemetery number 3 were those killed by the mentioned shellfire but it seems likely that one (in grave III.A.26) was Pte 74626 William Bridgford, a Stourport man of 17 Field Ambulance who had earned the Military Medal in late 1917.
The published history of the French 12e régiment de dragons confirms that this unit billeted in farms and buildings in the area when passing through on the night of 28 April 1918.
On 14 May 1918 two elephant iron shelters were erected in the “house used as a dressing station” and the whole house strengthened against shellfire. 17 Field Ambulance began to hand over to 99 FA of 33rd Division on the night of 5-6 June 1918.
99 Field Ambulance
On taking over on 6 June 1918 this unit left just one officer and 16 men to operate a reserve ADS and the Walking Wounded Collecting Post at Brandhoek, while the rest went to Vlamertinge mill and other locations. The ADS established by the unit at Belgian battery Corner received much attention from German artillery and gas during the rest of the month. On 16 June, the erection of more steel and sandbagged shelters was authorised for Brandhoek and work commenced.
Brandhoek came under enemy fire on 30 June 1918, wounding three medical officers including Lieutenant A. R. Mobley MORC USA, attached 117th Infantry Regiment of the United States 30th Division.
The Ambulance began to report cases of an unknown but very debilitating disease: likely to be that known later as “Spanish Flu”.
On 11 July 1918 the Ambulance was relieved at all of its locations by the incoming 101 Field Ambulance, also of 33rd Division, the personnel of which arrived at Brandhoek by light railway.
101 Field Ambulance
The detachment at Brandhoek was withdrawn on 22 July 1918 due to heavy shellfire. Arrangements for walking wounded now re-routed them to Vlamertinghe mill.
134 Field Ambulance
This unit, belonging normally to the British 39th Division, moved into the area on 16 August 1918 to support the American 30th Division. It took over all the locations previously operated by 101 Field Ambulance but refers to Brandhoek now only as a stretcher bearer relay post. The associated nearest ADS was at Belgian Battery Corner and MDS at Mendinghem. This unit was withdrawn on 6 September 1918.
105 Field Ambulance
This unit, of 35th Division, arrived on 3 September 1918 and took over locations from 134 Field Ambulance. It mentions Brandhoek as being a location of “medical aid posts”. The Ambulance moved its HQ there on 16 September. Thirty stretcher bearers from 107 Field Ambulance also arrived on 18 September.
Final offensive in Flanders
On 28 September 1918 the British Second Army and Belgian Army combine and finally break out of the Ypres salient. More ground is gained in a day that in the entire Third Ypres offensive of a year before. The offensive continues through fighting in the Courtrai area and gradually the British lines of communication move eastwards, leaving Brandhoek further in the rear and increasingly out of danger.
See The final advance in Flanders for more detail.
The war diary of 105 Field Ambulance refers to its location at Brandhoek as XIX Corps Walking Wounded Station at the commencement of the attack on 28 September 1918. 366 patients passed through on this day and 395 the next. The Ambulance continued to be headquartered at Brandhoek until 17 October when it moved forward to Ypres and them much further to Bisseghem. Its diary makes no further mention of Brandhoek.
By 6 October 1918, all of the medical facilities under XIX Corps were moved eastwards and Brandhoek became something of a backwater. The light railway service bringing walking wounded to it was discontinued on 4 October but the outgoing service to Remy Siding continued for a while.
Other units at Brandhoek in late 1918
Other units mentioned by XIX Corps as being in he area in November-December 1918 included 41st Divisional Signal School and “T” Siege Park Workshops.
Individuals at Brandhoek
Many thousands of troops passed through, worked at, were accommodated in, or were killed or wounded in the Brandhoek area. The medical facilities were visited at times by very senior officers and dignitaries. The Field Ambulances and Casualty Clearing Stations mentioned above appear in numerous men’s service records. Let us pick out a few:
Brigadier-General Frederick James Heyworth, commanding 3rd Guards Brigade, was killed on 9 May 1916 by a sniper. He was going up to the front to see the situation at a crater in his lines that had been created by the explosion of an underground mine earlier that day. His body was brought back to Brandhoek and he now lies in the Military Cemetery (II.C.2). Heyworth’s long military career had included service in the Second Boer War, during which he spent some time in command of Lord Kitchener’s bodyguard at Pretoria. He was aged 53 when killed.
Kate Luard, head sister at 32 CCS in 1917. Born in 1872, she had been in France since August 1914. Kate was mentioned in despatches and earned the Royal Red Cross and Bar. A series of her letters, many written while she was at Brandhoek, have been published.
Noel Godfrey Chavasse VC and Bar, MC, Captain, RAMC attached 1/10th Battalion, the King’s (Liverpool Regiment)(Liverpool Scottish). The man whose death at Brandhoek is the cause of many a visit to this area. The only man to earn the Victoria Cross twice in the Great War (and one of only three to have ever achieved this honour), his grave has a unique headstone bearing two inscribed images of the VC.
Nellie Spindler, QAIMS nurse with 44 CCS. Born in 1891 she had been in France since May 1917. She died of wounds in the shellfire of 21 August 1917 (above) and was taken to Remy Siding at Lijjsenthoek for burial. She was buried with full military honours and with Lieutenant General Hubert Gough and various other very senior army and medical officers in attendance.
Visiting Brandhoek today
Today’s rebuilt Brandhoek bears little resemblance to its 1914 version, but can be identified from the road layout and that the railway still passes by on its southern side.
Three British and Commonwealth military cemeteries in the area of the old hamlet. The final construction of all three were designed by architect Sir Reginald Blomfield.
The original Military Cemetery was opened early in May 1915 in a field adjoining the dressing station. It closed in July 1917 when the New Military Cemetery was opened nearby. It now contains 669 Great War burials.
The arrival of the 32nd, 44th and 3rd Australian Casualty Clearing Stations in preparation for the new (Third Ypres) offensive launched in late July 1917 made it necessary to open the New Military Cemetery. It continued in use until May 1918 and now contains 530 British and Commonwealth and 29 German burials.
The New Military Cemetery No 3 opened in August 1917 and continued in use until May 1918. It contains 975 burials.
A little way west of Brandhoek and on the old Poperinge-Ypres road is Red Farm Cemetery. Established when German forces approached this area during the Battle of the Lys in April 1918, this plot was only used during April and May 1918. It contains 46 burials, 17 of them unidentified, and was designed by A. J. S. Hutton.
Postcard images from geneanet with thanks and reproduced under Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 FR