Ypres Trip - Wednesday April 12th to Tuesday April 18th 2006
Wednesday saw an early start with no breakfast. Our house is being revamped and the Kitchen was removed on Tuesday.
This visit would be different as our daughter and eight year old Granddaughter accompanied us. The amount of research and photographs for other people would be less this time. I had to allow for two days cycling and a trip to a theme park. It turned out that both of them were full of questions and interested in the area and men. I would actually see the area through new eyes and even the theme park provided light relief.
We took our usual route through the clogged motorway network to the Channel Tunnel. We did eventually get our breakfast during a motorway stop and despite the hold ups for road works arrived in good time for our train. Aimee had traveled on the Chunnel when a baby but wanted to try it again.
Once we arrived in Calais, it was time to join the French motorway system heading for Dunkirk and then towards Lille. We left the Motorway at Steenvoorde and drove in to Belgium. We drove up to the Mont des Cats and its Monastery where there are views of the surrounding area. The four 'Monts' or Hills in the area are Cats, Noir, Rouge and Kemmel. Aimee has been studying French for a year and I was told - 'Noir is Black, Rouge is Red Gramps'. Cats though does not relate to the felines but possibly a greeting in old Flemish. We drove down to Godewaersvelde (God or Gertie wears velvet to the lads). The village suffered from regular bombing raids on the nearby railway. There were also airfields nearby which attracted German attention. Through the village and on towards the cemetery, which we missed!. This is a normal occurrence and we always allow for the scenic route. The reason was the lack of a CWGC sign but we made it anyway.
Godewaersvelde British CWGC Cemetery - This is a beautifully situated cemetery below Mont des Cats and the footpath to the same meanders around the edge. A bench on the path seemed an ideal spot for our picnic. Whilst Barbara and Debbie prepared the picnic, Aimee helped me search for the man we were visiting. The Cemetery was begun in July 1917 when three CCS (Casualty Clearing Stations) moved into the nearby village. One nurse is buried here also - Sister Kemp who was killed along with eight men of the RAMC on 20th October 1917. Aimee duly took a photo of her grave as she was the only lady buried there. It was so refreshing to impart my knowledge of the cemetery and those buried within it to her. She was full of questions about the area, the soldiers and the war. We paid our respects and took our photo -
281162 Bombardier R J NEAL, 36th Siege Battery Royal Garrison Artillery - 12 October 1917 - grave I. P. 9.
Sister E M KEMP, Territorial Force Nursing Service, 58th CCS, 20 October 1917, I.M.1
We always sign the visitors book at every cemetery and add the name of the man or men we have visited (or Woman).
We enjoyed our picnic before continuing on to one of my favorite cemeteries - Lijssenthoek. I actually mentioned to Aimee that it was my favorite cemetery and got the reply ' I thought Tyne Cot was your favorite Gramps'. I suppose they are all my favorites !
As we strolled around the cemetery Aimee asked about the different nationalities - British, Empire, French, German, Indian, Chinese, US etc. Why where they not all buried facing the altar?, because it is not an altar but the Stone of remembrance. usually a monolith which is acceptable to any faith or none. A focal point for the cemeteries. Why does the cross have an upside down sword?, because it shows that the fighting is over and the sword stands such as arms would against a wall. The hilt on top which is also a sign of mourning in the military. 'Why does one of the graves we are visiting have 38a', because men would be buried between two existing graves '(I think). 'Why are the German headstones different from ours' - good question!. Actually all countries have their own type of headstone.
We visit the graves and take our photos.
Private John PURVES 310011, 9th Gordon Highlanders, died of wounds, aged 22 years, 27 August 1917, XVIII. G. 12
Private Harry ELLSE, 16190, 35 years, 11th Sherwood Foresters, 12 April 1917, XI. C.38A.
He is not mentioned in Soldiers Died in the Great War so I decided to visit his grave.
Private Sam STEAD, 56463, aged 40 years,'A' Company, 9th Sherwood Foresters, XVII. K. 14A. 22 August 1917. One of my 9th men that I missed last time. I have now visited and photographed every 9th Bn man in Belgium (I think).
By this time Granddaughter is flagging as we were up at 6 am and have been on the road for 10 hours.
We drove to the hotel and checked in. As usual we were met as friends and it was lovely to be back. Whilst the family settle in to their rooms, I decided that I have time to visit some of the other cemeteries on my list. It was a pleasant evening and hopefully by this time - 6.30 pm it would be quiet. I checked my map and organised a circuit which would take in all the cemeteries I wished to visit.
I drove to Oxford Road Cemetery and visited the grave of a relative of my daughters friend. I placed a cross, paid my respects and took a photo.
J NICHOL, Royal Garrison Artillery, 12 November 1917, V.E.12
Then via Zonnebeke to Tyne Cot Cemetery and Memorial which is usually busy with coaches and cars. This time it is just me, the birds and the men. The sun is shining and the daffodils are out. Tyne Cot can be a nightmare to visit when the hordes descend but I feel privileged to be the only person walking amongst the graves. I look down on the old battlefield below the cemetery and think of the cost to gain this ground. So many brave men from all lands who fought the elements as much as the enemy to take this hallowed place. Just me and 11,871 men beneath the Portland Stone. Truly a special moment in time.
I visit a grave and a name on the memorial. This was a late request for photos but I am pleased I found the time for the visit. If anyone visits Tyne Cot try and make it after 6 pm and you should find it a beautifully peaceful place.
Private Charles Joseph Byro NAIRN, 6551, 11th Infantry Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, A.I.F. aged 28 years, 8th October 1917. Next to his grave three red tulips grow and on his headstone are the words ' To die is Gain'.
Lance Sergeant Herbert Martin BERRY, R/11674, 10th KRRC (King's Royal Rifle Corps), The panel is situated in one of the Apse's. A poppy wreath lies on the seat next to the panel.
With reluctance I leave the cemetery and continue on to the next which is the Buttes New Military Cemetery, Polygon Wood. Again the cemetery is quiet, the men on parade in the setting sun. The imposing 5th Australian Division Memorial looks out over the cemetery and opposite is the New Zealand Memorial. The cemetery is surrounded by woods and again the flowers are in bloom. This is my wife's favorite place. The Buttes cemetery was made after the war and over 80% are unknown soldiers. As an ex-soldier I think the headstones look like a battalion of men on parade - all smart and erect awaiting inspection.
I am visiting one of the few 'known' men in this cemetery.
Private John Richard Samuel BIRBECK, 59305, 28 years, Wellington Regiment, N.Z.E.F. (New Zealand Expeditionary Force), 28 December 1917, I.B.12
His headstone has no inscription as this was the way with all New Zealand burials.
The sun is quickly setting but I have time for one last visit on my way back to the hotel.
Hooge Crater Cemetery, so imposing as it falls down the hill from the Menin Road towards the Sanctuary Wood area. The men never quite cresting the ridge but again standing like a regiment on parade. This was a battlefield cemetery during the war but greatly expanded after it. Nearly 6,000 men are now buried in this cemetery.
Private Ernest Edward HARRIDGE, 3851, 5th Battalion, Australian Infantry A.I.F. (Australian Imperial Force), 20 September 1917, IXA. G. 15
Private Edward Henry PATRICK, 70018 'A' Coy, 17th Sherwood Foresters, 22 years, 27 September 1917, XII. E. 12. This is another man who is not mentioned in Soldiers Died in the Great War. He is not forgotten though as a cross is by his grave - 'Ted from Family'.
I return to the hotel via Hellfire corner and the Menin Gate. A bite to eat and a drop of good Belgium beer awaits me.
Ypres has a power cut for nearly an hour. Everything except the Cloth Hall is in darkness. It gives an eerie feeling and as the only lights are candles, it is easy to imagine how the men felt in this darkened city. I prepare for our visit to Vimy and Arras the following morning. Then to bed after a good day.
After a good Ariane breakfast, we packed and headed for Vimy Ridge. It was just over an hours drive away but once there a number of diversions faced us. We decided to park in a car park more akin to a number of shell holes than anything else. from there we walked along the road through the woods to Vimy Ridge. The reason for the closed roads soon became clear. An amount of old munitions had been found next to the road! We explored the trench system and various craters before going to the visitor centre. The memorial itself is still under renovation and will not be open until December. So many men died taking the ridge and in the period before. The lower slopes having been held by the French and the British before the Canadians were tasked with the assault. We then walked back to the car meeting three Aussies on the way. They were touring the European battlefields after already visiting Gallipoli. On returning to the car we had a coffee break before moving on. Once the memorial has been finished we will no doubt return.
Next it was Arras and the Memorial attached to the Faubourg D'Amiens Cemetery. As usual with French towns, signs are non-existent and we spent a happy hour driving around the place. We see signs for every cemetery except the one we want and in the end drive to the Station and ask at an hotel. On arriving at the cemetery I have a number of photographs to take and also a grave to visit in the cemetery. Whilst I sort my papers out, Aimee finds the grave, leaves a cross and takes a photo for me. She also takes photos of the cemetery. The grave is another relative of my Daughters friend
Private G NICOL, 2231, Seaforth Highlanders, 13 March 1916.
Private William Arthur DAKIN, 241621, 2/6th Bn Sherwood Foresters, 25 years, 21 March 1918, Bay 7.
William would have been killed on the first day of the German offensive in 1918.
I attempted to photograph all of the Sherwood Foresters panel but some names were in need of re-etching.
Private Thomas SWAIN, 4040m 1/5th Bn Sherwood Foresters, 43 years, Saturday 25th March 1916.
Private Arthur FOSTER, 269768, 2/7th Bn Sherwood Foresters, 31 years, 21 March 1918.
The 2/6th and 2/7th were both part of 176th Brigade, 59th Division.
Men of the 9th (service) Battalion Sherwood Foresters Commemorated on the Arras Memorial.
Private Thomas MANDERFIELD, 22845, 6 August 1916.
Private William Richard WHEATLEY, 19132, 8 August 1916.
Private Charles CHAPMAN, 40741, 8 August 1916.
Private Herbert COULAM, 40776, 8 August 1916.
Private V CLARKE, 19800, 9 August 1916. He was formerly 11528, Leicestershire Regiment.
Private George DAVENPORT, 19418, 9 August 1916.
Private Colen HAYES, 19677, 9 August 1916.
Private Samuel LANGSTON, 13542, 9 August 1916.
Private George FINCH, 18956, 9 August 1916.
Private William WRAGG, 5009, 9 August 1916.
Sergeant John Widdowson DENMAN, 12685, 3 May 1917.
Private George Arthur WIDDOWSON, 61531, 3 May 1917.
The Memorial commemorates almost 35,000 servicemen who have no known grave. The Arras Flying Services Memorial is also there as is the Faubourg D'Amiens Cemetery.
We left and returned via the Motorway to Ypres (Ieper). It was by this time rather cold and windy. I dropped the ladies off in Ypres town centre for as Aimee put it ' A girls shopping hour'! I returned to the hotel, unpacked the car and relaxed.
After a relaxing bath it was time for an excellent dinner. I then spent time sorting the photographs from the first two days.
Friday was given over to Aimee and a theme park. Bellewarde Park sits uneasily on the Menin Road, surrounded by Great War battlefields, Memorials and Cemeteries. On entering the park, I was surprised by how well they had 'hidden' the various rides amongst the trees. Amazingly the signs of the Great War were in evidence with concrete remains, metalwork and culverts. It also have good views of the ridge beyond the Menin Road. Needless to say Aimee had a wonderful time especially as they had a number of 'wet' rides. I should have worn my wet weather gear which was in the car but just spent the day getting soaked. It was a good day and if you do take youngsters with you, a pleasant way to spend some time in between Battlefield touring.
We returned to the hotel and prepared for our visit to the Menin Gate for the Last Post. I still find it difficult to reconcile what is essentially a Belgian ceremony in remembrance of our men with the hordes of tourist who descend. At least they seem to have got the message and do not applaud the buglers at the end!
Despite the number of people it is still possible to stand in silence and think of all those who paid the ultimate price in the Great War. I think of all the men who's names I will photograph in the coming days.
We return to the hotel after stopping off at our favorite chocolate shop. We have become firm friends and always pop in for a chat. His wife was not working owing to the birth of their second son but she only had two days away from the shop!
Saturday was given over to cycling around the area. This is an excellent way to really get a feel for the ridges that surround Ypres. We cycled via Zillebeke Lake and up towards Hill 60 and in the distance can see the Woods Cemetery and the First D.C.L.I Cemetery, The Bluff. We turned off and made our way past Chester Farm Cemetery to Spoilbank Cemetery. Here we had a pleasant picnic and a walk around the cemetery. We then cycled through the country lanes and stopped at Oak Dump Cemetery. A lovely little cemetery that now backs on to the golf course. A typical battlefield cemetery made by fighting units during 3rd Ypres. There is also one grave from 1914, which was brought into the cemetery and 7 men from 180th Siege Battery killed in March 1918. The cemetery has 111 graves of which all but 5 are identified. There are a number of dogs on this stretch of road but they do not pass the threshold of their property (thank goodness). We cycle a bit further before turning left and crossing the golf course (carefully). Then down into the wooden valley and the old canal. We found a crossing and climbed up to the Palingbeek Cafe for a well earned lunch stop. This is a pleasant little stop off and rarely found by the 'tourists'. After a plate of Flemish Fries and an Oxo I was ready for anything. For some reason the ladies preferred warm apple pie with cream and ice cream.
We cycled on to Hill 60 and the Caterpillar Mine crater. Unlike last year the frogs were not swarming around the bottom of the crater near the water. I showed Aimee around Hill 60 and the various monuments. I also took a photo of the 1st Aussie Tunneling Coy Memorial. The old museum that has been there for ever - had gone - and a new building was taking shape. We have noticed on our travels that much more of the old Battlefield area is being reopened. Possibly the locals realise that there is money to be made out of the new tourists. It does mean that many of these sites will be kept as they are for the future which is I believe a good thing. We then cycled back to the Ypres road and a lovely downhill ride. Well it would have been lovely had it not been for the moronic coach driver who parked on the bike lane and was shepherding his 'flock' across the road. As this irate cyclist flew past shouting good old Anglo Saxon words, he must have marveled at the Belgians grasp of the English language!!!! :). We stopped at Railway Dugouts Burial Ground (Transport Farm) and paid our respects. Finally in to Ypres and around the outside of the ramparts. We stopped at the Menin Gate and I took all of my photos.
Menin Gate -
Lieut Howard Bevan CARR, 50th Bn A.I.F. aged 21 years, 21 September 1917.
Sgt Norman Victor HARVEY, 16th Bn Rifle Brigade aged 21 years, 31 July 1917.
Private John Henry CARLISLE, 2nd Bn Sherwood Foresters, aged 19 years, 09 August 1915.
Private W N THOMPSON, 3rd Regt. South African Infantry, 21 September 1917.
Private Leonard RAINBOW, 2nd Bn Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, 21 October 1914. Leonard was an 'Old Contemptible'
The 31st July 1917 was the Battle of Pilckem, which was the first battle of 3rd Ypres.
The 21st September 1917 was The Battle of the Menin Road.
Whilst all the battles in this period are often referred to as The Battle of Passchendaele, the correct title is 3rd Ypres. The Passchendaele battles being the final phases of 3rd Ypres.
19 October to 22 November 1914 was officially the Battles of Ypres 1914, usually called 1st Ypres.
Private CARLISLE was killed during 'Actions at Hooge' on 9th August 1915.
We returned to the hotel for coffee and cake before exchanging the cycles for the car and a trip to Dozinghem.
2nd/ Lieut Herbert Edward LEYLAND, 179th Tunneling Coy, Royal Engineers.
On his headstone is written ' There's some corner of a foreign field that is forever England'
Dozinghem is another pleasant cemetery which is surrounded on three sides by woods and the fourth by fields. It is a peaceful cemetery and well looked after by the gardener who takes great pride in keeping it in good condition.
Back to the hotel for a bath and evening meal. After which I retired to the bar and chatted with various people.
Sunday saw us all getting an Easter Egg at Breakfast time. Aimee was pleased as Grampy rarely eats chocolate so she got two. After another good Ariane breakfast we set off along the canal, stopping at Essex Farm Cemetery. Aimee was fascinated by the 'Hospital' (Dressing Station) cut in to the bank. She visited the grave of 15 year old Private STRUDWICK who was killed on 14 January 1916. I also paid my respects at the graves of my 9th Bn Men. After having a coffee break some way down the canal, we retraced our 'tracks' towards Ypres. On a Sunday this is not easy as the serious cyclists are out and woe betide anyone who gets in their way.
We lunched in the town square before returning Aimee's bike and going back to the hotel. After lunch Barbara, Debbie and Aimee took advantage of the Sauna, Jacuzzi and relaxation room.
We then drove to R.E. Farm Cemetery near Wytschaete and I took photos of the fields towards France from the cemetery. I also visited the Cemetery and took photos. There are 168 identified burials and 11 unidentified. There had been only a couple of visitors since the start of the year but on this day another couple turned up!. I then drove to the other side of the fields to take a photo looking back. The mist had dropped and I could not even see R.E. Farm let alone photograph it. We would try again on our way home. We drove to the Spanbroekmolen mine (Pool of Peace) which is under refurbishment at present. We continued through the countryside and past many cemeteries already visited. We made our way to Langemarck and the German cemetery. Both Debbie and Aimee were close to tears as they entered this imposing place. I find it such a sad place with the mass graves of young German men. Many poppy crosses lie in the cemetery but few items from their own German relatives. Two British Soldiers are also commemorated here. They were mistakenly brought to this cemetery with the German men. Whilst this to me is a depressing place, it must be visited and possibly shows the true horror of war.
We sign the book and leave. We drive back past the Brooding Soldier memorial and enter Ypres. Evening meal and relaxed after a busy day. Tomorrow would be rest day as everything was done.
Monday - We drove to Sanctuary Wood and Hill 62. We took Aimee through the trench system with its concrete tunnels and mud. It was very muddy and we could imagine how bad it must have been to live here, suffering the cold and wet, the lack of food and sleep, the ever constant German snipers and shells.
We walked around the Canadian Memorial at Hill 62 and then got ,mixed up in another cycle race! This time mountain bikers who could not find the turning to go around Hill 62. We returned via Zillebeke and the country lanes were full of cyclists of various types!. After parking the car at the hotel we walked the Ramparts which was very pleasant. I bit of shopping and a relaxed afternoon in readiness for our homeward journey the next day.
Tuesday - After another hearty (but healthy!) breakfast, we packed the car and said our goodbyes. Aimee wanted to buy our friends baby a present and off we went to the shops. I met a number of people who over the years have become friends. I also saw a sign in a shop for a Battlefield guide and was tempted. We popped in to see our friends and give them a present for the new baby before returning to the car.
We drove via the R.E. Farm area and this time I could take my photo. Despite my doubts I had managed once again to take all of the photos. We drove to Bailleul and on to the motorway system. Back to the Chunnel and Home. The Motorways were not to bad this time. The builders seemed to have done little in our absence but that is another story !
We made this trip in memory of all the men who's graves we visited and of all the men who's names we saw on the Memorials.
We Will Remember Them.
Steve, Barbara, Debbie and Aimee Morse, April 2006.