War Diaries

 

 

 

Diary for visit to Ypres 28th March to 3rd April 2005

 

When night fall dark, we creep

In silence to our dead,

We dig a few feet deep,

And leave them there to sleep

 

Barbara and I left very early on the Sunday morning.  The journey was a good one with no problems.  Except for the clocks going forward on Saturday night and again for us on Sunday night. 

We had to zigzag towards Ypres from the French border to fit all the cemeteries in for the day.   The weather was dull but fair.

Our first stop was at Abeele Aerodrome Cemetery.  This is just of the main France – Poperinghe road. A lovely little cemetery in a field, which in the summer is surrounded by crops.  The spring flowers in the cemetery are beautiful, as they are in all of the cemeteries we will visit.

I took a photo of A E WHITMAN’s grave and signed the visitor’s book.

We then drove southeast back into France and visited Baileull Communal Cemetery Extension.   Again we took photos of graves for people. I also took photos of Indian, German, Jewish graves.  More than one man in a grave etc for my website.

We then drove back into Belgium and drove via Locre to La Clytte Cemetery. Photos of the men I am looking for and also one of a vicar. The most unusual in this cemetery is – either or buried in this grave.  There are many ‘unusual’ graves in the cemeteries.

We drive on to Ridge Wood cemetery.  This is beautifully placed with woods screening it from the road and the entrance on a farm track.

I take my photos and we decided that this would be a good place for coffee.  Unfortunately the local farmer decides that nearby is a good place for ‘muck-spreading’.   It is though a lovely place with views of the farmland and the woods.  So quiet and peaceful.

Our next cemetery is my favorite, if one can have a favorite cemetery.

Lijssenthoek is one of the largest and it contains men of every rank.  It was attached to the Remy Sidings CCS.  Men being sent from here to the base hospitals in France.  There are some US graves, Chinese, French, German and men from every Commonwealth country.   I always find this cemetery very peaceful and calming. I have visited it on every trip so far and taken many photos.  It is in this cemetery that I took one photo and in a tree was a perfect circle in the colours of the rainbow.  My Granddaughter then aged 6 told me it was the men saying thank you for visiting.  I am sure she was right.   It may be strange but this is a perfect place for a picnic!  The Spring Flowers, neatly mown grass, old trees, peace and tranquility.

We as usual, sign the visitor’s book and mention the men’s names.

Our next cemetery is Vlamertinghe New Military Cemetery and we take our photos.  This cemetery is behind some houses and a farm.  A lovely little cemetery. In here is a VC, DCM winner.  He was wounded many times and in competition with a friend as to who would be wounded the most times. Sadly for him, he won his bet.  After winning his VC, he should have stayed in Scotland but made his way to the front.  Unusually for the Great War he had a ‘grand’ funeral.  Six VC winners from the 29th Division were brought in as pallbearers. His body was brought to Vlamertinghe on a gun carriage drawn by a magnificent team of horses.

He was a Boer War veteran and somewhat of a character.  The cemetery was started on 1 June 1917 when the Vlamertinghe cemetery was full.   3rd Ypres was on the horizon and many men would soon occupy this land.

From here we visit Vlamertinghe Military Cemetery, now across the main Poperinghe – Ypres main road.   I take my photo and sign the book.  This cemetery is in the middle of the town.  Four men from WW2 are also buried here and I take a photo of them next to their WW1 comrades.

There are some 250 Lancashire Fusiliers here and some notable names.

One young soldier ‘shot at dawn’ had fought at Gallipoli, seen his Battalion decimated on the Somme, 1 July 1916, and deserted the next day.

A soldier who had served on the Lusitania. 

Nearby in the parkland, used to stand the Vlamertinghe Chateau and it was here that the poet Edmund Blunden camped with his unit the 11th Royal Sussex Regt before 3rd Ypres.

We had finished the visits for today but had made good time.  We decided to visit two cemeteries on the list for Tuesday. The first Essex Farm of ‘In Flanders Field’ fame. Here lie men of 9th Bn Sherwood Foresters who died whilst holding the line prior to 3rd Ypres.   It sits on the Canal and was a hive of activity in the Great War. It was also a very dangerous place to be.  Only a couple of kilometres from the front line.

The 9th Battalion held the line for a few days and 20 of them never left.

Then on to Bard Cottage, which is again on the main road but once in the cemetery, you hardly notice the traffic.   We take our photos and sign the book.

Time to return to the 21st Century and our hotel.   We always use the Ariane hotel – the food is excellent and the breakfast keeps you going all day.  The staff are now friends.  We booked an executive room – our anniversary being the day before.  Our own Jacuzzi to ease the aches and pains.

 

Tuesday –

The weather is fair but misty and after a good breakfast we set off to visit today’s cemeteries.  Firstly to White House Cemetery on the edge of Ypres.  We take photos of the men’s graves and cemetery, and sign the book.   Again there is a mixture of graves – A Victoria Cross winner and a man shot at dawn.  Men ‘shot at dawn’ receive the same respect in death as do all the other men.  There is nothing on the grave or in the book to show how they died. 

We then drive to La Belle Alliance cemetery, which contains 60 graves.  Many from 33rd Brigade and 9th Battalion Sherwood Foresters.   Many of the graves have more than one man. This area was in ‘dead’ ground between the canal and the German front line.   Many men killed by shelling in July 1917.  The 9th Sherwood’s would lose more men in the battles of August and October 1917.   A tiny cemetery in the middle of a field with a neatly mown path leading to it.  The shrubs and flowers look lovely.  Then across the road to the Divisional Collecting Post Cemetery.  I have a chat with the CWGC gardener who is working hard in the cemetery. They all speak good English and appreciate people who stop and say hello.  Again the photos are taken and the book signed.   Just up the road and at a crossroads is the New Irish Farm Cemetery – yet another huge cemetery.  It is though kept beautifully and another I always seem to visit.

From here to another small Battlefield cemetery, Minty Farm via the British reserve trenches and front line facing the German line near Pilckem Ridge.  This fortified farm was taken on 31st July 1917 by the 6th Gordons.  Pte Macintosh won a Victoria Cross for his actions on that day. The battle moved on and the cemetery was begun in October 1917.  There are 193 graves of which 4 are unknown and one German.  Many Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers are buried here including Sapper T Archibald.

Only 15 people have visited this cemetery since September last year. Two of those visits have been by Barbara and myself.

On the way to Minty Farm we drove through the fields and had to avoid two suicidal Pheasant chicks. You usually see stoats and many types of birds. Not to mention the deer kept by the locals.

Then we travel to Cement House cemetery.  More men of the 9th Sherwood Foresters are buried here. There is also an unusual one.  Capt J E Knowles was one of the first men killed on 23 August 1914. He was buried near Mons but all the men were reinterred at Cement House.   Considering that Mons is some distance away, it seems a strange decision.

On our way out we pass the Hedd Wyn Memorial. Just after his death his poem Yr Arwr (The Hero) was called as the winner of the Bardic Chair at the Eisteddfod.  

We then drive along the Pilckem Ridge on our way to Poelkapelle and we stop in the fields just before the village, were many men of the 9th Bn Sherwood Foresters fought and died on 4th October 1917.  I leave a small cross in their memory.  Almost all having no known grave.

Through the village to Poelkapelle Military cemetery which is some 9 kilometres from Ypres. It lies in open fields and as we enter the cemetery the aroma of freshly picked leeks is everywhere.  Normally it is cold on this windswept hill but today the sun shines.  The CWGC gardeners are at work – mowing, weeding and generally tidying.

I find and photograph the graves.   This cemetery was made in 1919 and 1920 and contains battlefield clearances.  Men who usually did not get a proper burial at the time of death. Some 83% are unknown out of the 7,469 war graves.   A massive total even by Great War standards.

Many of the men were killed during Third Ypres in 1917, although men from all over the Salient are buried here.    The alleged youngest soldier to be killed, Pte Condon aged 14 years is also buried here.

We spend a fair amount of time here, just strolling around the cemetery with its views of the fields beyond the walls. 

We have made good time so decide to do a country drive to our next stop.  We drive over the 3rd Ypres Battlefields towards Ypres, passing the Windmill used for spotting snipers ‘The Totemuhle’ and the Canadian Memorial to the men killed in the gas attack of 1915 – The Brooding Soldier.    Eventually we arrive at Tyne Cot Cemetery and Memorial.  As usual a coach load of ‘students’ are also there.   Coffee break before we start and a time to sit and look over the battlefield and reflect.

Tyne Cot – The largest British War Cemetery in the World.  It sits on a slope and climbs to the memorial wall at the top.  It looks like an open-air cathedral and the headstones glint in the sun.  German pillboxes stood (and still stand) here and the Northumberland men thought they looked like Tyne Cottages, so hence Tyne Cot.  Two of the bunkers are still visible each side of the cemetery, another sits under the Cross of Sacrifice.   The pillbox under the Cross-was an Advanced Dressing Station after the ground had been won. Some 350 graves made during the war stand behind the cross.  This includes four German’s brought in after the war.  The other 11,000 odd graves were concentrated after the War. Some 70% are unknown and testify to the horrors of 3rd Ypres and Passchendaele.   Victoria Cross winners lie with their comrades, each grave having a story to tell. 

At the top is the Memorial to the missing and here are 35,000 names of men who died from August 1917. Prior to that they were named on the Menin Gate (55,000).   You will only find the British and New Zealand names here though. The Canadians, Australians, Indians and South Africans only used the Menin Gate.

The New Zealanders have their own Apse.   

I took my photo of a name on a panel but before taking one of a grave, the heavens opened. Luckily I was under cover and had the chance to chat to a local Belgian gent who knew everything about the cemetery.  After 30 minutes the rained stopped and I could take my photo.

We then returned to Ypres via the Aeroplane Cemetery.  It got its name from the wreck of a plane, which once sat in front of the cross.

There are over 1000 graves in the cemetery.  Before 3rd Ypres this area was in no-mans-land.   Just down the road is the French National Cemetery and between the two the front lines.  It is another beautifully laid out cemetery. 

We eventually arrived back at the hotel by 4-30pm but the majority of the photos had been taken.  After my disaster of last year when I lost 50 photos, I made sure all where now transferred to the laptop.

From midnight to 3am I worked on my files.  I sleep little and it gave me the opportunity to check all my photos and make sure nothing had been missed.

Wednesday

Today was one of rain.  Barbara who is in training for the ‘Walk for Life’ (26 miles), in June went on a walk around the Ramparts.  I decided to take the Menin Gate photos. The Menin Gate has over 55,000 names on it, so together with Tyne Cot there are some 90,000 men with ‘no known grave’ in the end it took me over an hour.  Some of the names being high up on the panels whilst others being in an area under renovation.  Luckily the workmen had stopped because of the rain and I could sneak through the barriers to get my photos. Above and beyond the call of duty comes to mind as I scramble over barriers and under scaffolding.  I did though get all the photos that I wanted.  A quick stop at a book shop nearby, although I think I have more books than they do.  They are though doing a project on the Canadians

http://www.mapleleaflegacy.ca/

After coffee at the hotel, the rain cleared. We strolled to the Ypres Reservoir Cemetery to take some photos.   This again is a beautiful cemetery with views of the spires of Ypres.   After the war it doubled in size as concentrations were made.  Brigadier General Maxwell, VC, CSI, DSO & Bar is buried here, flanked by two private soldiers.   Here also Wainwright Merrill who was a 19 year old American. He went to Canada and enlisted and served as Gunner A.A. Stanley. There are many men who for varied reasons enlisted under an Alias.   Two brothers – one killed on the Somme and one at Ypres lie together.  Their father paid for the tower in St George’s Church Ypres as a memorial to his sons.  Despite all being equal in death, it would seem some were more equal than others.  I doubt if any other brothers killed so far apart lie together. 

Thursday

This was our day off and we decided to visit the coast.  It is only about 25 miles away.  We will be there in July and could do a recce.   We arrived to thick fog and could not even see the beach, let alone go on it.  We had a stroll along the Prom and checked the area out.  Then we set off back to Ypres.  There are some Military Cemeteries in this area, which I will look at in July.   We had decided to visit St. Sixtus Abbey and Dozinghem Cemetery on the Friday but decided to do it on the way back instead. A good move as the Abbey would have been shut on the Friday.  We stopped for a coffee and purchased some of their excellent dark Trappist beer.  Then to Dozinghem were many of the wounded came during 3rd Ypres.  It was the home of 4th, 47th, 61st, 62nd and 63rd Casualty Clearing Stations and the Cemetery was next to them.  There are 3,021 graves and also some WW2 graves.   The cemetery is surrounded on three sides by woods and on the fourth by fields.  I arrived when the gardener was chatting to the grandfather of a contact of mine Luc Inion.  Luc has studied Dozinghem cemetery and its graves for a number of years.   I had a long chat with the gardener and as usual he was very knowledgeable.   I started by working in on section of the cemetery looking for Sherwood Forester graves.  I had about nine to do but decided to check them all as it would save time later.  I managed to find a few extra but still have three quarters of the cemetery to check.  Some of the inscriptions bring you close to tears and in Dozinghem, one did.  ‘……..Also to his baby son, safe in the arms of Daddy’.  One can only imagine the heartbreak of losing a husband and baby son so close together. 

Back to Ypres and the hotel.  After dinner we strolled around the town.

Friday-

The day started very foggy and when we reached the Hooge Crater Cemetery, we could only see a few yards.  It made the cemetery seem an eerie place.   I did though manage to take my photos.  We then drove to Sanctuary wood and Hill 62 where the Canadian Memorial stands.  Again the CWGC men are hard at work.

We drove past Stirling Castle and the front line areas to Zillebeke Churchyard.  The graves are few from the early days of the war with many officers. Some of them have their own headstones instead of the standard CWGC stones.   The locals call it ‘The Aristocrats’ Cemetery.  Prior to the existence of the War Graves Commission men could be given any headstone and even the bodies brought home.  This changed in 1915.

We then went for a drive around the battlefield between Zillebeke and Messines. Then on to Hill 60 and a well earned coffee break.  Unfortunately 3 coach loads of 100 ‘students’ arrived.  Luckily they only spent 20 noisy minutes on Hill 60 and it was obvious that they did not know it was a war grave (or did not care).

We walked around what is left of this hill (actually a 60 M spoilbank), with its bunkers and shell holes. A somber feeling knowing that hundreds lie beneath our feet.  The Hill saw much bitter fighting and many VC’s won.  From the Hill you can see Ypres, so it was vital for both sides to have it.    We then cross over the railway bridge and into the field on the other side. This is the ‘Caterpillar Crater’.   It was made up of 53,500lbs of ammonal and 7,800lbs of gun cotton.  The Crater is some 80 feet deep and 300 feet wide.   Barbara decided that having a photo of her at the bottom would give an idea of its size.  This seemed to upset the resident frogs who made the presence known.   It is truly amazing to stand at the top of the crater and imagine the force needed to move all of this earth.  Two weeping willows now grow near the water.  

The sun was by now out and very warm.  It was time to visit the Palingbeek nature reserve and its excellent café.

Coffee and Apple Pie in the sun.  Such bliss.   The front line was close to here and in the nature reserve. That walk is though for another day.

Then on to our final two cemeteries.  The Tuileres, which is most unusual and with its great expanse of lawn feels more like a garden.

It was begun in 1915 and then totally destroyed by shellfire.  After the war it was reconstructed but the majority of the graves were lost during the shellfire.  Of the 106 UK and 3 French graves only 26 could be identified and 27 unidentified.  These are at the top of the cemetery. Around the walls are the special memorial headstones to the other 69 men – they have ‘known to be buried’ in this cemetery on them.  It is a quiet cemetery behind some houses and overlooking fields.  The amount of special memorials in this cemetery shows that even after death, there was no peace.

Our final cemetery was the Perth (China Wall) Cemetery. Here lie some men ‘shot at dawn’ Also VC winners and one Capt W H Johnson VC of 59th Field Company RE won his on 14 September 1914.  He was killed in Ypres on 8 June 1915.   From the cemetery you can look across the Menin Road to the RE Grave – a memorial to the tunnellers who lie beneath the cross.

The cemetery got its name from a communication trench that went to the Menin Road and which was shielded by sandbags. It then became know as ‘The Great Wall of China’. It was initially a French cemetery but these graves were moved. The British took it over in June 1917 and it was a front line cemetery until October 1917.  

We then drive back via Hellfire Corner (now a roundabout) back to Ypres.

Saturday-

Today is given over to R & R. We stroll into Ypres and get the shopping done. Many of the shopkeepers now recognize us and we have a chat. Enjoy the sun outside on the hotel terrace.  After lunch we stroll to the Ypres Town Cemetery and Extension.   Here lie men of the Great War and WW2. Corps HQ staff killed at Hooge in 1914 and Prince Maurice of Battenburg (Mountbatten).    In 1922 King George V visited his cousins grave and Queen Elizabeth II in 1966.  His mother was given the choice of having him returned home for burial but she refused.  She knew he would want to be buried with his friends.   There are also graves of CWGC men and their families.   After the Great War a number of veterans stayed on to tend the graves of their comrades, working for the CWGC.    What did strike us was how ‘enormous’ Belgian headstones are.  Very strange when compared to our own.  

We had an early dinner and went to the Last Post ceremony, which always takes place at 8pm.  On Saturday evenings the names of men are read out to represent all those killed during that week.  Also there laying wreaths were Army Cadets.   These days it is more crowded as on some occasions Barbara and I plus a few others have stood there.  This time hundreds attended but I feel sometimes that it is becoming a tourist attraction.  Coaches seem to stop in Ypres on the way home now, instead of Bruges.

Even so, after the ceremony many people leave in tears.   I have said before that anyone not affected by the ceremony is as hard and cold as the stone that surrounds us. 

To finish off the evening we attend the Ypres (Ieper) street entertainers weekend.  Some rather strange but others good. 

Sunday –

Time for home.  Another enjoyable week with lots of Photos taken and research done.   The sun shines again, so we decide to go via the coast.  Once there we make the most of the sunshine. We also find a WW2 cemetery to visit.  Men who died as the rearguard whilst their comrades escaped at Dunkirk. Dunkirk is only some 10 miles down the road.  In fact all around our holiday village there are bunkers from previous wars.

We drive along the coast to Adinkerke where more British soldiers lie (these I will visit in July). Then on to the motorway and off to Calais. We are booked on the 15-30 ferry but arrive to find problems. Luckily I always book ‘priority and the special lounge’. Whilst others are shunted into a queue of several hours, we are sent to the 15-30 ferry.  We even get ‘refreshment vouchers’ for having to wait so long!  Well we did sit for 40 minutes.

The journey home was good and without incident.

 

 

Steve and Barbara Morse  March/April 2005

 

 

 

This visit was made in memory of -;

 

Men of the 9th Battalion Sherwood Foresters killed during 3rd Ypres 1917 -  MINTY FARM, ESSEX FARM, DOZINGHEM, CEMENT HOUSE, POELKAPELLE, TYNE COT MEMORIAL and MENIN GATE.

 

A.E. WHITMAN      C. WARD               E. ARMSTRONG       H.G. ANDREW.

L.G. GORDON         T. CHALONER.       W.T. DOWDELL        E.A. BALDRY

O.C.A. ANGOVE.     M. BRADY.             W.R. BRUCE.             J.L. CUMMINS

F. CLARK.                F.KENDAL             F.W.ADAMS             J.E.CODD

A.A.W. SERMAN    F. HAWKINS         A.F.QUICKFALL       C.G.KENT

E. JEWELL            A.W. JEWELL          W. PATERSON          J.WATTS

T. ARCHIBALD      L.V.FREWIN             A.V.RODBER             J.M. PLUMB

H.P. FANNON       E. PUGH                   J.B. ARROWSMITH   P. ANDERS         

J.HAGUE             W. BARDNEY           U. LOUISEAU             L.G. CAMPBELL                                                           F.J. DROWN       J.W. CLAYTON        J.R.BIRLEY                 E. FROST             C.G. MILLOTT             

                  

To all those men who’s graves we have stopped at during our visit.

 

RIP

 

 

 

 

 

 

War Diaries   Home