The village of Fleurbaix is approximately 5 kilometres south-west of Armentieres and Rue-du-Bois Military Cemetery is 3 kilometres south-west of the village.
Fleurbaix is a name less well known these days than the other village in the near vicinity; namely Fromelles infamously associated with the battle now known by that name. It had been formerly associated with Fleurbaix.
Four of the five Australian Divisions rotated through here in the period April - July 1916. The exception was the 3rd Division which consolidated and trained in the UK until late 1916. The area was known as "The Nursery" because after ferocious fighting in the immediate aftermath of the outbreak of war in 1914, the sector was relatively quiet and was seen as a good location with which to familiarise new troops to the nature of Western Front Trench Warfare.
However, casualties began occurring almost as soon as the first troops arrived and a number of established cemeteries were in the area were used, Rue de Bois being one of them. Other nearby cemeteries include Rue Petillon, Le Trou Aid Post VC Corner and the newest cemetery on the Western Front, Pheasant Wood. All contain casualties from the ill fated 5th Division attack of 19th/20th July.
The village was in Allied hands during the greater part of the war but it was captured by the Germans on 9 April 1918 after a very gallant defence by the 12th Suffolks. It remained within the German lines until the following September. The original Rue-du-Bois Cemetery, now comprising Plot I and Rows A and B of Plot II, was begun in November 1914 and used until December 1916. It was reopened in January 1918, and again in October. The majority of the graves were Australian, with Plot I, Row B, containing the graves of 27 soldiers of the 5th Australian Division who died in the Attack at Fromelles (19-20 July 1916). Plot II, Row A contains two big graves into which, about the time of the Armistice, the remains of soldiers of the 5th Australian Division and the 2nd/1st Bucks Battalion were brought from the battlefield of Fromelles. The number of the dead in these graves is not certain, but it is believed that the Australian grave contains 22 bodies and the Bucks grave 52.
The cemetery was enlarged after the Armistice when 423 graves were brought in from the surrounding battlefields and from certain small cemeteries, including:-
- LAVENTIE GERMAN CEMETERY, which was on the road going North from Laventie Village. The graves of 19 soldiers from the United Kingdom were found in this cemetery. The German graves were moved to Sailly-sur-la-Lys German Cemetery.
- PICANTIN POST CEMETERIES, LAVENTIE, was in the fields West of Picantin. These were two graveyards made in 1915, each containing the graves of 25 soldiers from the United Kingdom.
- TILLELOY CEMETERY, was near the road between Picantin and Le Tilleloy. It contained the graves of 27 soldiers from the United Kingdom.
Rue-du-Bois Cemetery now contains 845 Commonwealth burials and commemorations of the First World War. 395 of the burials are unidentified but there are special memorials to 13 casualties known or believed to be buried among them. There is also one German grave. The cemetery was designed by Sir Herbert Baker.
There are numbers of Australians interred here, some from fighting prior to Fromelles and others from the battle itself. A notable inclusion is Major Geoffrey McCrae, Commanding Officer of the 60th Battalion, one of the many commanding officers in the AIF killed 'leading from the front'.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission page is here - for full details of all graves in this cemetery. (www.cwgc.org)