Ferme- Olivier Cemetery Elverdinghe is on the road to Poperinghe, about 1 mile West of Elverdinghe, some 3 miles from Poperinghe and from Vlamertinghe, and 4 miles from Ypres.
Used continuously between June 9th 1915 and August 5th 1917 by Field Ambulances. Records 405 U.K. and 3 German burials.
Stephen Oliver Ferry Private No. 22591, 11th (Pioneer) Battalion, Durham Light Infantry killed in action 16th March 1916 aged 32 years. Buried in Ferme-Olivier Cemetery, Elverdinghe, West Flanders.
Son of the late Robert and Eleanor Perry of Sunderland.
The 11th (Service) Battalion was formed at Newcastle in September 1914 moving south to Woking as part of 61st Brigade in the 20th (Light) Division remaining there until the end of November 1914 when the Battalion moved to Pirbright under the command of Lieutenant - Colonel G. M. Davidson.
In December 1914 the War Office decided upon the formation of pioneer battalions as divisional troops. Early in January 1915 the Battalion was replaced in the 61st Brigade by the 12th Battalion of the King’s (Liverpool Regiment) and became the Pioneer Battalion of the 20th (Light) Division.
Pioneer battalions were a new concept to the British Army. Intended to provide the Royal Engineers with skilled labour and to relieve the infantry from some of the non-combatant duties, Pioneers became the work horses of the British Expeditionary force. The Battalions adopted a badge consisting of a rifle, pick and shovel, with a laurel wreath and crown and as it was envisaged that these units would spend much of their time digging, it was planned that at least 50% of the unit strength would be of men used to working with pick and shovel with the other 50% possessing a related trade ranging from joiner, masons and bricklayers to those working with metal. In addition to road making, demolition and entrenching the men were to be trained sufficiently to undertake technical work on railway embankments, construct wire obstacles and bridges and fell trees in all weathers and in all terrains. The battalions were also to be equipped and trained as conventional infantry so that on many occasions the pioneers abandoned their working tools and fought alongside the infantry in repelling enemy attacks.
In February the 11th Battalion, seemingly 95% of whom were colliers, moved to Witley and then on the 26th March 1915 to Larkhill before crossing to France on the 20th July 1915 by the Southampton – Le Havre route. By the end of the month the Battalion was engaged in clearing ditches and repairing roads near the Forest of Nieppe west of Armentierres and at the beginning of August one Company was employed upon strong points behind the 8th Division front at Fleurbaix. Between the 2nd and the 17th August 1915 all units of the 20th Division were attached to the 8th and 27th Divisions in the line to introduce the officers and men to the realities of trench warfare and the 20th Division then at the end of the month took over the line south of that held by the 8th Division in the flat lands north of Neuve Chapelle.
On the 17th August 1915 Private Stephen Ferry landed in France as part of a reinforcement draft of men and would have joined the 11th Battalion shortly thereafter when the Pioneer Battalion was working on the trenches in the British front line to the East of Bois Grenier, and Laventie facing Radinghem, le Maisnil, Fromelles and Aubers in German hands.
Plans had been made for operations on a considerable scale further south, to begin on the 25th September 1915. The French were to advance in Champagne and in Artois attacking eastwards from about Arras and Lens into and across the plain of Douai and in conjunction with this the British were to attack near Loos on a front from about Grenay to the La Bassee canal. The 20th Division was not to be directly involved in the attack but was to make a smoke screen along the whole of the front to conceal the true points of attack and cover its own front and its flanks by covering fire being prepared to advance if the divisions on its flanks made progress. In fact there was heavy loss and no gain of ground although the Battalion was called upon towards the end of September to take over a portion of the line from the 9th Gurkhas in the trenches which were for the most part very wet and muddy the weather hindering the work of draining the trenches, repairing the parapet and strengthening the wire in front.
After the 25th/26th September 1915 there was no major offensive by the British but in the period to mid- October a number of small scale attacks were made with little result, save a reduction in ammunition stocks and increase in casualties, the object being in part to lead the enemy to expect an attack and hold his troops to this part of the line to assist the operations of the French south of the La Bassee Canal. With this in mind on the 13th October on the 60th Division front near Mauquissart a feint attack was planned with dummies representing the assaulting troops. The 60th Brigade front line was at this time held by the 6th King’s Shropshire Light Infantry on the right, the 11th Battalion Durham Light Infantry in the centre and the 12th Rifle Brigade on the left, the Battalion fighting as Infantry and not Pioneers. The Battalion and the Rifle Brigade used dummies made of sacks stuffed with straw and clothed with salvaged greatcoats and caps salvaged or else lent by the men. On the Durhams front the smoke was too thick for the dummies to be seen, except for the first few minutes but they were nonetheless extremely effective in deceiving the Germans whose trenches had been severely damaged by British Artillery. The enemy in consequence concentrated his artillery on the 60th Brigade front and whilst the enemy suffered a good deal from British shell fire, the casualties in the 20th Division were only about 50. Subsequently a German communique dealing with this demonstration came into British hands and read “A strong attack by the enemy was stopped at his trenches.”
On the 1st October 1915 Lieutenant Colonel G. M. Davidson relinquished command of the Battalion and was succeeded by Major A.E.Collins D.S.O., the Battalion continuing its Pioneer work in the Laventie trenches, duckboards in the trenches being raised above the mud and collapsed dug-outs restored. In October 1915 Company Sergeant Major Bonsfield was found drunk on duty!
The 20th Division remained in the Laventie sector until the 20th January 1916 when it was ordered North to join the Second Army. The Division spent some time first in the area of Cassel with parties of officers and N.C.Os. attached for 2 or 3 days at a time to the 14th Division, which the 20th Division was to relieve, on the left sector of the British front which ran on the north side of Ypres from a point 1500 yards due north of St Jean to the canal bank about 1000 yards south-east of Boesinghe.
The actual relief by the 20th Division of the 14th Division began on the 12th February 1916 and on that day the Battalion arrived at Elverdinghe Chateau as part of the Divisional Troops. At the same time units of the 20th Division began to relieve units of the 14th Division in the St Jean/Boesinghe sector, the trenches, if they could be described as trenches, being in a state of incredible disrepair. The ground between the canal and the German lines was nothing but a quagmire. It was therefore impossible to construct continuous front-line trenches, and those that did exist had in many places been blown in. The isolated sections of trench were separated from each other by gaps which in places were 80 yards or more across with very little wire in front of them. There was only a very small parapet in some places and hardly anywhere any revetment. There were practically no dug-outs, communications were few and bad; they were extremely difficult to drain and were constantly being diminished by shell fire. In marked contrast was the German line, which rested upon a series of concrete block-houses built in at intervals along their front.
The enemy had opened a severe bombardment of the British front during the course of the relief but then work could begin on the trenches and there was a tremendous amount to be done to make a good line. 1600 men of the 59th Brigade worked almost every night at this time and good progress was made; the line of the 60th Brigade was worse than ever after the bombardments and in all parts of the Divisional front enemy shelling continued daily, hampering the working parties and necessitating still more work.
All companies of the Royal Engineers and of the 11th Battalion were kept working hard during the time spent in this sector, reclaiming the front line system and improving communications. The amount of work being carried out can be judged by the fact that at one time an average of four tons of material was taken up the line each night from the workshops and dumps of the 96th Field Company of the Royal Engineers alone. The 11th Battalion was employed in digging and revetting trenches, putting out wire, making dugouts and machine gun emplacements, sinking wells, and repairing and relaying tramways. On the 21st February 1916 the weather changed to become cold and frosty, and two days later snow fell and a hard frost covered the canal with ice; after another fall of snow on the 26th, a thaw set in leaving the ground sodden and the trenches in a very bad state.
During this period the enemy mortars caused much damage and destruction and the German guns harassed the working parties by day and night.
In February 1916 the 11th Battalion sustained three casualties, Private John Cousins being killed in action on the 11th February, buried in Ferme-Olivier Cametery; Private James Cummings died of wounds on the 20th February, buried in Essex Farm Cemetery, Boesinghe, West Flanders and Corporal John Thomas Baker died of wounds on the 23rd February.
In March 1916 the Battalion sustained five casualties, Private James Smith died of wounds on the 6th March ; Private John Farrell (served as Brady) died of wounds on the 13th March and is buried in Ferme-Olivier Cemetery; Private Stephen Ferry on the 16th March; Private James Hewitt died of wounds on the 21st March and is buried in Boulogne Eastern Cemetery, Pas de Calais and Lance Corporal John George Dobson died of wounds on the 23rd March and is buried in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, Poperinghe, West Flanders.
Unless they had taken part in one of the major battles of 1915, fatalities in most Pioneer units were fairly light. The 11th Battalion Durham Light Infantry landed in France on the 21st July 1915 and between then and its arrival at the Citadel in the middle of August 1916 it had sustained one officer and 33 other ranks killed, with three officers and 153 men wounded. The Citadel was a Camp of considerable size about 2 miles South of Fricourt, in the Somme area. Total fatalities in the Great War, 288 Other Ranks and 5 Officers killed or died of wounds.
Stephen Ferry was killed in action whilst working in the British Lines in the St. Jean/Boesinghe sector on the 16th March 1916 from German mortar or artillery shell fire.
He was awarded the Victory Medal, the British War Medal and the 1914 – 1915 Star.
The Victory Medal (in bronze) and the British War Medal (in silver) were awarded to army personnel who entered a theatre of war in the period 1914 – 1918 (albeit the Victory Medal extends to 1919). The 1914 – 1915 Star was awarded to all those who served in any theatre of war against Germany and her allies between 5th August 1914 and 31st December 1915, except those eligible for the 1914 Star.