War Diaries

 

 

Ypres Salient September 2004

 

 

Sunday 26th

An early start (6am) and no traffic hold ups, sees us in Dover for 09-30hrs.

A pleasant ferry crossing to Calais and then on to the Motorway system via Dunkirk to Flanders.

We turn off the motorway and take the Pop (Poperinghe) Road. A road taken by many thousands of troops as they made their way to the hell that was the Salient.

We reach Abeele and on our left is the small CWGC Aerodrome cemetery.  On a previous visit we found two unusual inscriptions in this cemetery. One was in Welsh and the other ‘ Old Pal, why don’t you answer me’.   We turn off the main road and meander our way towards Ypres.   We pass close to Mont Kemmel, Whitesheet, and Voormezeele all around are cemeteries large and small. Young men from all the Commonwealth (Empire) countries lie side by side.   Indian and Gurkha troops thrown in to a Flemish winter, freezing yet fighting ferociously for King and Empire.

We stop at Spoilbank cemetery.  It sits on the edge of a nature reserve, which saw heavy fighting in WW1. Just up the road is Essex Farm cemetery.  Beyond Spoilbank we can see the Spires and towers of Ypres.   In previous visits we have found this an ideal place to stop.  Coffee break, a stroll and toilets!

All around the farmers are getting their crops in.  This area is full of sweetcorn but also has market gardens, tobacco and hops (Hommel in Flemish).   We drive on to Railway Dugouts (Transport Farm) cemetery.  Designed by Edwin Lutyens and has original graves and concentration graves. Many were obliterated before they could be marked.  It contains some 2,460 graves, which includes 636 Canadians, over 150 Aussies, 4 Indian and 2 German. Also special memorials to men whose graves were lost.  These ‘Kipling’ graves (Normally they have Kipling’s ‘Their glory shall not be blotted out’) usually have believed or known to be buried near here. You will often see headstones from destroyed cemeteries arranged around a large Portland stone block.  There are two brothers from Canada here Reginald and George WILD, killed on the same day – 21st August 1916. A 16-year-old is also here. The brother of Robert SERVICE (author) as well. So many men with their own stories to tell. The plants still have some flowers and the large horse-chestnut trees tower over the cemetery.  I take my photos and also get hit on the head by a falling ‘conker’.  A train goes past to remind us of how important this area was in WW1. A large and narrow gauge railway system supplying the troops at the front.  I lay a wreath on the memorial stone to all the men who’s graves I will photograph on this visit and to all those I have visited in the past.

As we drive around the Zillebeke area to Ypres we pass the road junctions that became infamous – Hellfire Corner, Shrapnel Corner, Hellblast Corner. We drive towards Hill 60 and then on to the Menin Road. The Theme Park full of people sits uncomfortably in a place thousands died.   Hooge Crater and Birr Cross Roads cemeteries are passed as we enter Ypres.

 To our hotel and all the amenities of the 21st century.   After checking in and getting my parents settled, Barbara and I head off again.  Just on the outskirts is the Menin Road South Cemetery.  The plants look lovely and one or two small maple trees stand amongst the graves.  This cemetery was amalgamated with the North cemetery that once stood opposite. A/Capt T R COLYER-FERGUSSON, V.C. lies here, killed on 31st July 1917.

Then to Ypres reservoir Cemetery, which was once called the Prison Cemetery as the Prison still stands behind it. As does a school.

Concentrations from other small cemeteries have almost doubled its size.  A Brigadier General who won a V.C in the Boer War lies between two other ranks.

Looking from the memorial stone you can see the spire of St. Martin’s cathedral.

We return to the 21st century and a welcome bath before dinner.  We then stroll through Ypres to the Menin Gate.  The Buglers of the local Fire brigade sound the last post as they do every night. 

They shall not grow old,

As we that are left grow old,

Age shall not weary them

Nor the years condemn

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning

We will remember them.

 When you go home,

Tell them of us and say,

For your tomorrow,

We gave our today.

To hear the bugles and to see the thousands of names that surround you makes even the strongest shed tears.  Anyone, who does not, must be harder than the stone that surrounds him or her.

Monday-

We set off for the morning. Past Salvation corner which was supposed to have a Salvation Army hut there. Knowing the Tommy, I believe that the other explanation is more likely – Turn one way and you marched past the hazards of the stricken city of Ypres, the other took you to Hell-fire corner and to say the least a hot reception. Firstly to Duhallow which was an Advanced dressing Station during 3rd Ypres.  The graves are neatly lined up from the road to the canal. It was named after a South Irish Hut.

Then to Essex Farm which still has the Advanced Dressing station standing.  Beside it the small cemetery where John McCrae penned his immortal poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ after his friend was killed.   His friend is commemorated on the Menin Gate Lt. A HELMER.  Here also is the memorial to the 49th (West Riding) Division. 15 year old V J STRUDWICK killed on 4th January 1916 also lies here. The many crosses around his grave show how people feel about one so young dying.

We then drive towards Pilckem Ridge the scene of much fighting in 1917.  Through Langemarck and Poelcappelle to Poelcappelle Cemetery.   This has 75% unknown and has concentrations from all around.  I had just mentioned to my parents that this cemetery is rarely visited – when a coach turned up!

The alleged youngest soldier of the war lies here aged 14.  Although some doubt has recently been cast on his age.   It is a top a hill and the wind howls through it.  On the plus side, the house next door has a large aviary and the birds sing in the sun.

We then make our way to Tyne Cot, which was named by the Northumberland Fusiliers as the German bunkers (which still sit in the cemetery) looked like Tyne Cottages. 

Nothing can prepare you for Tyne Cot.  The largest British War cemetery in the World.  Designed by Herbert BAKER. From the air, I think it looks like a cathedral.

One of the German blockhouses sits under the Great Cross and the other two in trees further down the cemetery.   Were normally you see memorials with lions on them, in Tyne Cot you have two angels kneeling. Such was the horror of 3rd Ypres (Passchendaele). The cemetery has 11,871 graves of which 70% are unidentified.  The first graves, which were laid during the war (some 350), sit around the great cross and then you have the lines upon lines of graves moving down the hill.  Soldiers on parade for the last time. They stand and bear witness to the futility of war.  Two Aussies won V.Cs taking the German blockhouses. It then became an advanced Dressing Station (ADS). Some German graves were moved in from outside as a symbol of unity in death.  The number of graves is difficult for the mind to comprehend.  You have to focus on one or two men to take it all in. Then behind the cemetery you see the Memorial with 33,750 UK names and 1 Newfoundlander (not part of Canada then). The New Zealanders wanted their own memorial and the central Apse has the names of 1,176 NZ.

I have over forty photos to take plus all of the Sherwood Foresters on four panels.   Two spots of rain but then it stops!  

I always remember a ‘Tommy’ joke about 3rd Ypres, which shows what they thought of it.   Basically a Tommy saw an Aussie up to his shoulders in mud. The Tommy rushed over and got his arms under the Aussies and started to pull him out. ‘Careful’ said the Aussie; ‘I am still on my horse’! (Shortened version).

I take all of my photos and realize that by now I have photographed every panel at least once on my visits. 

We then move on to the new museum at Zonnebeke. It is in the Chateau. They have excavated the trenches and living areas, which ran under Zonnebeke.  It is an amazing experience. The constant noise of water pumps, shells men screaming whilst being operated upon.   Well worth a visit.

Back to Ypres and the comforts of the 21st Century again.

Tuesday

Today was given over to R & R and a trip to the coast. Although you are never far from the Great War. We travelled to Diksmuide, which is a pleasant little town.  It has a museum which I will visit one day. The Ijzertoren (Izer Tower) 22 stories high.

Then to De Panne and a walk on the Prom.  I have another motive for this day. Looking for a good place to deposit the family for a holiday but close to the battlefields.  De Panne is ideal.

We drive back via the St. Sixtus Abbey but alas the brewery is closed.

Then on to Dozinghem cemetery and the café nearby which is an ideal stopping off point.   We drive to Pop (Poperinghe) and the Nine Elms British cemetery.  Sadly a number of men ‘shot at dawn’ are buried here.  Not that you would know as the headstones give nothing away.

We then drive to Lijssenthoek cemetery. This was a large clearing area next to Remy sidings. The graves in this cemetery are almost all ‘known’. It has British, US, French, German, Chinese burials. It is such a beautiful and peaceful cemetery.  I visit the grave of someone I took a photo for last year. They are from Canada and in their 70s.  To my joy, I see that a couple of weeks ago they visited the grave themselves. I am so pleased that they managed to make the trip.  I shed a tear when I read their entry in the book.   We then drive back to Ypres via even more cemeteries. In one Brandhoek is the only man to win two V.C.s in WW1 – Capt CHAVASSE, RAMC.

In the evening we visit the Menin gate again and this time a piper plays a lament and ex-servicemen lays wreaths – We will remember them.

Wednesday-

Our day in Ypres.  My parents visit the ‘In Flanders fields’ museum and St. George’s church.  Barbara and I have a couple of photos at the Menin Gate.  I remember the words of Lord PLUMER ‘ He is not missing, he is here’.  Also two quotes are kept with me –

It was the common soldier who carried the heaviest burden as the terrifyingly vast lists of names on the Menin gate and the Tyne Cot Memorial bear witness. There are almost 55,000 names on the first and nearly 35,000 on the latter. None have known graves.

And yours is a pilgrimage in memory of those who passed this way. You will tread reverently, for it is holy ground. It is a shrine of those who won the right for us all to have a country of our own.

 We walk the ramparts and visit the Ramparts cemetery. Probably the most beautifully situated cemetery in the world. It sits on the bank of the moat that surrounds the ramparts.  The sun glints on the headstones.  It has less than 200 graves including men of the Maori regiment.  

We return to the Town Square and a well-earned coffee. The day is sunny and the square is a lovely place to sit and watch the world go by.  Then it is time for book buying for me.  Chocolate buying for Barbara. I am amazed that when we enter the shops, the people always remember us.  Possibly I am spending too much!

Prior to dinner Barbara and I go for a drive to Pilckem Ridge area.  We pass New Irish Farm cemetery, Minty Farm – full of red roses, Track X – Surrounded by sweetcorn and invisible unless you know its there, Mintys Farm, No Man’s Cot and Buffs Road.  The past the sign showing were Kitchener’s wood once stood and back to Ypres.

Thursday

A drive through the battlefields and home.

We leave by the Lille gate and pass many cemeteries as we go.  We visit Locre Churchyard cemetery and also Locre No 10. The latter is an interesting one as there are more German graves than British.  The Germans are in several mass graves and number some 78, whilst the British are 58.  Along the Messines Ridge via the Island of Ireland peace park to Plugstreet (Ploegsteert) and the memorial. This is for men killed in the North of France but the French would not allow a memorial. There is also the Berkshire Cemetery Extension and Hyde Park corner cemetery.  In the latter is Albert FRENCH aged 16 yrs.  After he was killed the Government refused to pay his father a pension because he had lied about his age (nothing changes). Eventually his Father received 5s a week. Also eventually his age was added to the headstone.  Beyond the cemetery is Plugstreet Wood. It was here that Bruce Bairnsfather (Royal Warwicks) penned his first cartoons.  Near here both Winston CHURCHILL (during one of his sulks) and Adolf HITLER fought.   Also Sir Anthony EDEN also served near here.  One shell could have changed history. 

I believe that both Churchill and Hitler have paintings on show locally.

Photos taken at The Ploegsteert Memorial.

We stop in Plugstreet for a coffee before leaving Belgium.  We pass the first cemetery in Belgium were I took my first photo for someone – London Rifle Brigade cemetery.

Then into Armentieres parles vous and via Baileull and Meteren to the Motorway system and Calais.  A stop in Dover for a couple of hours before tackling the M25 and M1.  Five hours later we arrive home.   80 photos to process and get out.

 This visit was done in memory of –

SMITH. S

HOWGILL T H

HARMS A

MARTINDALE C

LOOMES W G

MEWIS C

GREGSON S

DAY H G

AUSTIN E A

POND F A

HOPEWELL J

THORNTHWAITE  W

SHEARWOOD A E

OWEN  R

BALL J

FLETCHER  H

SCHNEIDER J

GRANT W A

SLATER L

EDGE A

TESTER V G

FROST W E

FURNISS G W

GANE F E

BILLINGHAM J

UNITT B

CARTWRIGHT S

BROOKES H

BILLS B W

HEAD J E E

ATTWOOD L

BENTLEY G

WATERFALL

Their names live for evermore

Steve and Barbara MORSE September 2004

 

  

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