Essex Farm Cemetery was established as a dressing station cemetery from April 1915 to August 1917. The burials were made without definite plan and some of the divisions which occupied this sector may be traced in almost every part of the cemetery, but the 49th (West Riding) Division buried their dead of 1915 in Plot I, and the 38th (Welsh) Division used Plot III in the autumn of 1916.
Essex Farm Cemetery is managed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC). The cemetery contains 1,088 UK, 9 Canadian, 102 Unknown and 5 German graves, as well as 19 special memorials.
It was while based at the Dressing Station at Essex Farm, that Chief Canadian Medical Officer Colonel John McCrae wrote his now famous poem “In Flanders Fields”.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:“In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae.
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
On 2 May 1915, one of McCrae’s patients and a friend, Lieutenant Alexis Hannum Helmer, 1st Brigade Canadian Field Artillery, was virtually blown to pieces by an 8-inch shell. McCrae was touched by the last words in Helmer’s diary.
It has quieted a little and I shall try to get a good sleepLast entry in the diary of Lieutenant Alexis Helmer,
McCrae said the committal service over Helmer’s body as he was buried in the cemetery. Helmer’s grave was destroyed in subsequent fighting and so Lieutenant Helmer is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial.
On January 28, 1918, while still commanding No. 3 Canadian General Hospital (McGill) at Boulogne, McCrae died of pneumonia at the British General Hospital in Wimereux, France. He was buried the following day in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission section of Wimereux Cemetery (Plot IV, Row H, Grave 3), just a couple of kilometres up the coast from Boulogne, with full military honours.
ONE OF THE YOUNGEST
Rifleman Valentine Joe Strudwick, 8th Battalion Rifle Brigade (the Prince Consort´s Own) , is one of the youngest battle casualties commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
Valentine Joe Strudwick (known as Joe Strudwick) was born in Dorking, Surrey.
The 1901 Census of England and Wales records Joe Strudwick living with:
- his Father Jesse (Jobbing Gardener)
- his Mother Louisa (Laundress)
- his sister Alice (Laundry Maid)
- his brother Jesse
- his sister Florence
The 1911 Census of England and Wales records Joe Strudwick living with:
- his Mother Louisa (Laundress)
- brothers Charles and Jack
- sisters Florence and Dora
in two rooms at 63 Orchard Road, Dorking, Surrey.
After lying about his age, he was only 14 years old, Strudwick enlisted in the Rifle Brigade at Lambeth. He entered the France and Flanders theatre on 12 August 1915. While fighting in the Boezinge area, he was killed in action on 14 January 1916.
Valentine Joe Strudwick is entitled to the following medals: 1914-15 Star, British War and Victory Medals. The Soldiers’ Effects records show two payments to his Father Jesse: £8 9s 1d on 14 July 1916 and £6 on 1 September 1919.
Valentine Joe Strudwick, age 15, is buried in Plot I, Row U, Grave 8.
THOMAS BARRATT, VC
Thomas Barratt, born 5 May 1895 at 9 Foundry Street, Darkhouse, Coseley, near Dudley, Worcestershire, was the son of James and Sarah Ann Barrett.
Thomas Barratt enlisted in the South Staffordshire Regiment at Bilston. Private Barratt and his unit entered the France and Flanders theatre of operations on 11 September 1915.
The citation for the award of the Victoria Cross medal to 17114 Private Thomas Barratt, 7th Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment was published in the London Gazette (Supplement) on 4 September 1917 Page 9260:
For most conspicuous bravery when as Scout to a patrol he worked his way towards the enemy line with the greatest gallantry and determination, in spite of continuous fire from hostile snipers at close range. These snipers he stalked and killed. Later his patrol was similarly held up, and again he disposed of the snipers. When during the subsequent withdrawal of the patrol it was observed that a party of the enemy were endeavouring to outflank them, Pte. Barratt at once volunteered to cover the retirement, and this he succeeded
in accomplishing. His accurate shooting caused many casualties to the enemy, and prevented their advance.
Throughout the enterprise he was under heavy machine gun and rifle fire, and his splendid example of coolness and daring wasLondon Gazette (Supplement) 4 September 1917.
beyond all praise. After safely regaining our lines, this very
gallant soldier was killed by a shell.
Thomas Barratt, age 22, is buried in Plot I, Row Z, Grave 8.
Thomas Barratt, VC, is commemorated by
- Memorial in Coseley Parish Church.
- Memorial in Garrison Church, Whittington Barracks, Lichfield, Staffordshire.
- Memorial in Darkhouse Baptist Church.
- Plaque at Barratt Court, Batmans Hill, Princes End, Coseley.
Private Thomas Barratt is entitled to the 1914-15 Star, British War and Victory Medals. This group, including his Victoria Cross, are at the Staffordshire Regimental Museum.