The Essex Farm Cemetery is located just a few miles outside of Ypres in Belgium. It was designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield, who also designed the nearby Menin Gate.
There are 1,185 graves at the cemetery including that of Rifleman Valentine Joe Strudwick of the 8th Battalion the Rifle Brigade, who died on 14th January 1916 aged 15 - one of the youngest deaths in the British Army during World War One.
The cemetery also includes groups of headstones for the men who are known to be buried within the cemetery but whose burial locations are not clear. However, the majority were known to those who worked at the nearby medical centre and so were named.
Essex Farm was used as an advanced dressing station between April 1915 and August 1917 as it was based near the front line trenches. This meant that it could provide first aid to the wounded before they were transferred to the Casualty Clearing Station.
Initially, the dressing station was just a series of dug outs near the Ypres Canal, but it eventually became a more permanent addition to the area and concrete shelters were built that remain there to this day. Nowadays, there is a memorial nearby to Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, who wrote the poem “In Flanders Field the poppies blow” on 3rd May 1915.
McCrae was a Canadian doctor who worked on Essex Farm and wrote his famous poem following the death of Lieutenant Alex Helmer, who was killed by an artillery shell. McCrae was specifically moved by the last words in Helmer’s diary, which stated that he believed that the action in and around Essex Farm had started to slow and that he was looking forward to a good night’s sleep.
There are many stories that attempt to depict how the poem was written, with some saying that it was written in 20 minutes while McCrae sat by Helmer’s grave while another states that it was written while McCrae sat on the steps of an ambulance at Essex Farm.
As a result of the fighting that took place in Essex Farm, Helmer’s grave was destroyed and he now has no headstone in the cemetery. However, he name appears on the Menin Gate in Ypres.
McCrae described Essex Farm as a “nightmare” as the shelling was almost continuous due to its proximity to the front line. As a result of this, the cemetery continued to grow as soldiers died from their wounds just two miles from the Western Front.
"Essex Farm Cemetery". HistoryLearning.com. 2019. Web.