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Bailleul Communal Cemetery

Bailleul Communal Cemetery https://ngatapuwae.govt.nz/bailleul-communal-cemetery Bailleul was home to the Second Anzac Corps headquarters during the Messines offensive. Ngā Tapuwae Trails https://ngatapuwae.govt.nz/sites/default/files/stop/media/22487067.jpg

Bailleul was home to the Second Anzac Corps headquarters during the Messines offensive.

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Bailleul Communal Cemetery

You’re standing in the Commonwealth War Graves extension to the Bailleul Communal Cemetery. Bailleul was the 2nd Anzac Corps headquarters at the time of the Messines offensive, and in fact, Godley’s headquarters was here throughout 1917. It was part of the complex system of headquarters and medical centres behind the frontlines.

What is particularly evocative about Bailleul is that the graves are butting up against each other, and many of the headstones have two names inscribed on them, with men buried on top of one another. The graves that you’re looking at are of those who were killed during the Messines offensive. In preparation they dug long trenches, and waited for the casualties to come in.

Bailleul was also a centre for many of the field hospitals, and as the wounded came in and died, they were laid out in rows, most probably covered with quicklime, and then the next layer of bodies was put down. The casualty rate was such that these trenches would have been rapidly filled, New Zealanders buried with Australians, and so on.

The medical system and technology had evolved significantly during the war, and by now, 1917, it was a well-oiled machine. As the wounded arrived, by stretcher or by field ambulance, they were quickly sorted into relevant sections. Extreme cases were sent one way by medics and those who were lost causes, most likely to die, were placed to one side. There was a system in place for every injured soldier, whether they had head wounds, gas symptoms, gangrene, or needed splints. Even those who were suffering from shell-shock, which we now know as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, were catered for - as were those suffering from extreme fatigue.

Among these graves is an interesting fellow. George Bollinger. Bollinger was a Gallipoli veteran, and his diaries detailing his experience are particularly revealing. He was of German background. His sister studied music in Germany, and he had numerous cousins fighting in the German Army. Because of this, he was subjected to a hate campaign in New Zealand. Letters were written to the police and the government, suggesting that he had enlisted to shoot good New Zealanders in the back. Even though he was suffering from the impact of his Gallipoli experience, he believed he had no choice but to go back to the front. In one of his last letters home, before the Messines offensive, he spoke about the impact of shell-shock, but said that what kept him going was the mateship with his platoon. Bollinger was mortally wounded at Messines.

If you go back along this row, past the entrance path, there are the graves of two New Zealand Brigadier Generals, separated by four headstones. One is for F.E. Johnston, Earl Johnston, who commanded the New Zealand Brigade on Gallipoli and in the Battle of Chunuk Bair. He was shot by a sniper on 7 August 1917, two years to the day after the first attack on Chunuk Bair. Everyone who saw him, when he returned to command in 1917, spoke of a man who almost fearlessly sought death.

Four graves along from him is Brigadier-General Brown, a Gallipoli veteran who commanded the 1st New Zealand Infantry Brigade. He was killed by an artillery shell on Messines Ridge while standing alongside the New Zealand Divisional Commander, Major-General Sir Andrew Russell. When the shell burst, a piece of shrapnel cut Brown’s jugular. Russell, however, was shaken, but unhurt. So here, you have this rare situation, where two New Zealand brigade commanders are buried within five to ten metres of each other.

The soldiers who lie in this cemetery are evidence of the high number of casualties that occurred, even with a successful attack - such as the battle of Messines, and a reminder of the sacrifice given by so many Commonwealth soldiers.

How to get here

Getting there

Drive back the way you came taking a right onto the ringroad (R33). Go straight through the first roundabout and then take a right onto the N38. Continue on this road. After about 4 kilometres it will cross the France/Belgium border. As this road turns into the D948 follow the signs to the A25 towards Bailleul/Lille. After about 5 kilometres, the D948 will cross over the A25.  As you cross the bridge, get into the left-hand lane to join the sliproad onto the A25 towards Bailleul/Lille. After about 14 kilometres, take exit 10 signposted to Bailleul. (Do not take exit 12 to Bailleul – Centre)  Follow the signs to Bailleul and at the roundabout take the third exit to Bailleul. At the second roundabout take the second exit onto the D933/Rue de Lille.

When you come to the town centre at Place Charles de Gaulle (clock tower ahead), take the first right on to the D23/Rue de Ypres. You will see a signposted right turn to Bailleul Communal Cemetery. The Cemetery is on your right.

Where to stand

Enter the military cemetery and count the rows of headstones until you reach the 15th row. Walk down this row until you are level with the pillared structure.

GPS
50°44'17"N
2°44'36"E
Decimal GPS
50.73815
2.743382
  • The funeral of Brigadier-General Francis Earl Johnston, with The Last Post being played. Bailleul, 12 August 1917.
    The funeral of Brigadier-General Francis Earl Johnston, with The Last Post being played. Bailleul, 12 August 1917.Credits

    Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Ref: 1/2-013382-G. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22487067

  • New Zealand soldiers, some playing trombones, trumpets, and drums, marching through Bailleul.
    New Zealand soldiers, some playing trombones, trumpets, and drums, marching through Bailleul.Credits

    Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Ref: 1/2-013395-G. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22724149

  • A studio portrait of George Wallace Bollinger, 1916.
    A studio portrait of George Wallace Bollinger, 1916.Credits

    Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Ref: PAColl-0049-1. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22859089

  • General Herbert Plumer (left) and General William Garnett Braithwaite, at Bailleul, France, 15 May 1917.
    General Herbert Plumer (left) and General William Garnett Braithwaite, at Bailleul, France, 15 May 1917.Credits

    Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Ref: 1/2-013388-G. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22916261

  • General Godley (far right) attends the funeral of Brigadier-General  Francis Earl Johnston at Bailleul. 1917
    General Godley (far right) attends the funeral of Brigadier-General Francis Earl Johnston at Bailleul. 1917Credits

    Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Ref: 1/2-013403-G. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23087612

  • Guns captured at Messines, Bailleul, 1917
    Guns captured at Messines, Bailleul, 1917Credits

    PH-ALB-419-H813, Auckland War Memorial Museum, Tāmaki Paenga Hira

Stories & Insights

As a conscientious objector, Briggs refused to serve the army at home or abroad.

An eager medical student, Currie got a lot of practice in the field.

For his bravery and devotion to duty, Rogers was awarded the Military Cross.

Soldiers walk among the ruins in the town of Ypres, Belgium, 1917.

The main centre of conflict since 1914, the Ypres Salient was defended by the British and home to three major battles throughout the war.

A New Zealand Division ambulance with shrapnel-proofing at a casualty clearing station near Albert. September 1916.

Due to the rising number of casualties, a highly efficient system of medical treatment centres and transport was established.

New Zealand soldiers pose

Vital to soldier's wellbeing was time away from the front, where men could rest, play sport, read, and write letters.

Useful resources for those looking for more information.

A selection of First World War vocabulary and common phrases.

Take the next trail

The next Ngā Tapuwae trail is Passchendaele. Proceed to Dochy Farm.
Link to the first stop

Decimal GPS:
73.16606927809583
-102.07452690624996
Sequence:
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Decimal GPS:
73.1912090133783
-98.16339409374996
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Decimal GPS:
50.740402392562665
-106.52911221875002
Sequence:
3
Decimal GPS:
67.09203121498165
-22.085719562500003
Sequence:
4

Stop Images

Sequence:
1
Decimal GPS Real Location:
50.85202
2.891078
Sequence:
2
Decimal GPS Real Location:
50.84468
2.888852
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3
Decimal GPS Real Location:
50.85025
2.696962
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4
Decimal GPS Real Location:
50.73815
2.743382