Ypres Salient and France

 

 

17th to 24th October 2006.

After our various medical problems, particularly for Barbara, we were pleased to be off to Ypres (Ieper) once again. One final kick before leaving was to find that the voucher company that I had paid into for Christmas had gone bust. Cannot do anything about it and will get nothing back, so why worry.  Tomorrow will still come and life goes on.  Although next years Gallipoli trip seems to be  a non starter.

On to brighter and better things.

We decided to stop overnight at Dover as Barbara has alternate good and bad days. Tuesday was a bad day but luckily the journey was fairly uneventful and smooth.  After checking in to the hotel we strolled along the promenade and got some good sea air!  We then relaxed as the morrow would be a hectic day.  A number of cemeteries to visit.

Wednesday the 18th saw us up at 6 am and off for the 8 am Dover - Dunkirk Ferry. The ferry is cheaper than others, It does not take coach loads or foot passengers and is a much more civilized crossing. After a hearty breakfast containing all the foods that are bad for us !, we relaxed. The rain was heavy at Dover and throughout the crossing. We arrived at Dunkirk at 11 am local time and it was still raining. Not good for taking photographs in cemeteries. We set the GPS and set off for the first cemetery which was located at Aire.  Despite the rain the journey through the French countryside was a pleasant one, although on arrival at the cemetery a storm broke. I donned the wet weather gear and boots before setting off.  Although the phrase ' Above and beyond the call of duty' sprung to mind. The CWGC cemetery is attached to the Communal Cemetery and by the time I found the grave I wanted, the rain had eased.  There are also French, Indian, German and Portuguese buried here. There are also a small number of World War 2 graves dating from the withdrawal to Dunkirk in May 1940. 

I take my photo and pay my respects - Private Arthur Thomas LARVIN, 2/7th Royal Warwicks, who died on Thursday 22nd August 1918, aged 25 years. His inscription reads - Always remembered by his loving wife.

I signed the visitors book and few people had been here in 2006.

We then set course for Belgium and Nieuwkereke (Neuve Eglise) and once again arrived with no problem. In fact as we crossed into Belgium, the rain ceased and the sun came out. A combination of GPS and Barbara's excellent map reading skills makes finding cemeteries a straightforward exercise (Except for French cities that is).

Kandahar Farm cemetery is on the outskirts of the village with views to the Ulster Tower and Messines Ridge. Barbara and I had not visited this cemetery previously but as always it is kept in immaculate condition with lots of red 'remembrance' roses in full bloom. 

Corporal Harald St.Stephen WHITE, 41st Aussie has the inscription, 'Back to God who gave him, duty done, He gave all for Honour & Home'. 

By now the sun was out and it was quite warm. I signed the book and took some general photos before leaving and setting off the next cemetery.  Barbara would stay in the car for the majority of the visits as her recent operation leaves her with little energy.  She still enjoys the countryside though and  a gentle stroll in the smaller cemeteries. 

On to Lijssenthoek which looks beautiful in the Autumn sunshine. The CWGC men are busy cleaning the headstones and once again a sea of red roses can be seen. I visit three men's graves on this occasion

Private Alfred Ernest VIVIAN, 55th Aussie.

Rifleman Percy Frederick RILEY, 8th KRRC, aged 20 years who died 4th July 1915 who's inscription reads 'He passed through death, triumphant home'

Private E. A. WOODS, 12th East Surrey Regiment.

I signed the visitors book as I do at every cemetery, in memory of the men I visit.

Lijssenthoek is often our coffee and cake stop but a swarm of flies changed our plans. They seem to everywhere at this time of year and a white car seems very attractive to them.  Although after visiting a number of cemeteries the white is more a dirty grey.

We then drove through Pop and towards Ypres, turning off for Dickebusch and the Huts cemetery.  A lovely cemetery surrounded by fields. Part of the wall has been accidentally demolished taking some eight headstones with it. It looks as though the farmer misjudged his turn when entering the field. The headstones will soon be replaced though and luckily for me, the one I want is not one of them. I take several photos as this is another cemetery not visited before.

Captain Samuel Ernest Goold MILLS MC, 32nd Aussie. A brave man who lies  along way from home and his inscription says ' In memory of our dear one who nobly did his duty'.

We have our coffee break and watch the farmers busily gathering the crops. As they pass they always wave and say hello. We then drive to our last cemetery of the day.  It is close to 3pm and after a 5-30 am start, Barbara is beginning to feel the strain.

We drive via Voormezeele with its three cemeteries, Spoilbank Cemetery and Chester Farm to the Palingbeek Nature reserve. By now it is a lovely warm day and we can see Ypres in the distance.

I park and leave Barbara sitting on a bench before my trek through the woods to Hedge Row Trench Cemetery. This is a battlefield cemetery and perhaps one of the most beautiful and least visited. The cemetery was under constant shell fire and the graves were lost. It now uniquely has  the Great Cross at its centre and the headstones are symmetrically placed around it in two circles. All the men are 'Known to be buried' in the cemetery and it is a wonderfully peaceful place to sit and think. The local farmer stands with his sheep nearby and his two sheepdogs watch over the flock.  I take photos and also try out my digital camcorder, taking shots of every grave - I hope it works!  I sign the book -

Joseph E ARMSTRONG 1st Royal Scots Fusiliers, 30 March 1915, Special memorial 11 - Their glory shall nor be blotted out.

I decide to walk back in a slightly different direction and as I clear the trees I view the spires of Ypres, the sun glinting off them making then seem even closer than they are. Men such as Joseph made sure the enemy got no closer than this.  The farmer is by now moving his sheep and asks me if I work for the CWGC, at least I think that is what he asked - I speak no Flemish - He though speaks English. As we slowly stroll down the paths we chat and put the world to rights. He and I , followed by the flock and his two dogs at the back. A gently stroll through the twisting paths of the woodland back to the car park. His two dogs ever watchful. A perfect end to a perfect autumn afternoon. He pens his sheep near the car park and we go our separate ways. Chance meetings such as this are priceless.  Barbara is still on the bench as I return from the opposite direction from that which I set off from. She thought she had heard 'English' voices in the woods but thought little of it.  Why are there no Flemish classes in England!  Although my friends always tell me that ' To learn Flemish, you have to be born here' ! 

As Barbara is tiring we decide to call it a day as we have plenty of time to visit the cemeteries on the list. We drive the short distance to Ypres and the Ariane Hotel. As ever a warm welcome awaits us as over the years it has become our second home.  We settle in to our room and then pop down for a well earned drink.  I then check my photos and save them on to the laptop and a CD-ROM.

Thursday 19th

After a hearty Ariane breakfast we set off for Dadizeele Cemetery which is some 16 clicks from Ypres and just off the motorway.  The weather being fine but rather windy. The CWGC cemetery sits between two halves of the local Communal cemetery. The men buried here were killed  in October 1918, less than a month before the wars end. A German blockhouse is incorporated within the cemetery. Once again the CWGC men are busy re-etching the headstones and in the wind it is not an easy task. I take photos of the cemetery as it is the first time we have visited and also of the man I have come to see.

Private William WARBURTON of 1/2nd Monmouthshire Regiment was only 19 when he died on 14/10/1918.

I sign the book and  Barbara notices two isolated graves in the Communal cemetery just over the hedge. They also died in October 1918 so the reason for their burial is unclear.  Although many men in the CWGC plot would have been buried after the war, being brought in from isolated graves on the battlefield. It is therefore possible that these two men were at one time the only ones buried at Dadizeele.

We then set off for Tyne Cot and drive through parts of the 1917/18 battlefield with its dips and hollows but surrounded by the low ridges from which the German's could see every movement.  A number of changes have been made since our last visit and in my opinion they enhance the area. The area at the rear of the cemetery/memorial now has a coach and car park with toilets and a visitor centre. The visitor centre is a low building which looks like a German blockhouse from which the cemetery got its name - They looked liked Tyne Cottages to the men of the Northumberland Division. On the down side we find six coaches parked up - 2 Dutch, 1 Belgian and 3 British. It seems that recently the Great War battlefields have become ' the place to visit'.

After our coffee break, sitting looking over the Passchendaele battlefield, we walk to the visitor centre which will be officially opened next July on the 90th Anniversary of the 3rd battle of Ypres. As we walk to the centre we here a voice ' Private ...... aged 25 years, killed 29/9/1917, Sgt ...... aged 23 years killed 30/10/1917 etc There is a sound system next to the path which is linked to the centre and every few seconds the details of a man killed is read out. A really moving moment as we walk along the path.  The visitor centre has a panoramic window from which you can see the whole battlefield - Ypres with its spires, Gravenstafel were so many New Zealanders died, the slope which the Aussies and Canadians attacked up. A screen shows pictures of the men who's names are being read out. We stand transfixed as name after name is read out and the men's pictures comes up.  A truly moving moment in time. We find it difficult to turn away and move on. 

We walk along the path next to the cemetery , which leads to the front entrance which is probably the most imposing of any cemetery. The Great Cross framed by the entrance with the memorial behind it. We are moved by this imposing cemetery and memorial, so many men, so many names, so much sacrifice.

My visits this time are unusual as I will be taking photos at two graves. Normally the men are named on the memorial as some 70% of the headstones are of men 'Known unto God'. 

Private Ernest Charles STARSMORE of 2/7th Bn Sherwood Foresters, 26/09/1917. His Division attacked near Bridge House on 26th and many of his fellows are buried in Bridge House Cemetery which will be visited later in our trip.

Corporal Ernest Ronan Gotbed RENDELL of 44th Aussies. His headstone has the inscription ' Oh for the touch of a vanished hand and a sound of a voice that is still'

These two men from different sides of the world now lie close together in the corner of a foreign field.

Private Arthur Robert DAWSON has no known grave and is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial. The Leicestershire Regiment men are on panel 50 and 51.  His battalion were holding the line in the Sanctuary Wood area on 8th October 1917.

I stop at the Sherwood Foresters panels and leave a cross for my 9th Battalion men. We then stroll around the cemetery and memorial. So many graves, so many names. Several parties of students circulate the cemetery, each looking for a specific headstone of a man local to their own area. They leave a small cross and pay their respects.  One lad is looking at the names on the panels. Suddenly he stops and is for a moment transfixed.  He then tells all of his friends that he has seen his 'own' name on the panel. It makes the experience real for him and we can see that he is visibly moved. 

From Tyne Cot we drive the short distance (7 clicks) to New Irish Farm Cemetery.  I visit the grave of a young man from the RAMC (Royal Army Medical Corps).

Private Ernest Richard OLIVE aged 20 years - 26 September 1917 , grave V D 3. 

The cemetery was greatly increased after the war and Ernest would have been brought here after the war for burial.  Another young man cut down before his life had really begun. Never fulfilling the potential he may have had.

The area around Ieper is covered with autumn crops - potatoes, leeks, onions, corn, sugar beet and much more. Greenhouses burst with produce - fruits and salads for the local area. We are reminded of home as first we see an Eddie Stobart lorry and then a local coach company. At this time of year the CWGC staff are at their busiest - tending the plants, re-etching stones and cleaning them. Many of the summer flowers are still flourishing and the red 'Remembrance' roses stand out against the white of the headstones. How the young men who lie in these cemeteries would have loved this area today. The mud though is never far away and as the fields are ploughed my car turns from white to a mud splattered grey.  We return to the hotel for a snack, rest and freshen up before visiting the Menin Gate for the last post ceremony.  A piper plays, the area is packed but at least no one applauds the ceremony. We stop off at our friends shops for a chat and to get some local beer and chocs. A drink before bed - Barbara is once again very tired after the day but at least she is getting plenty of fresh air!

Photos safely on to the laptop and all is ready for the next day which will be along one.

Friday 20th -

Today will be set aside for visiting the graves of my 9th Battalion Sherwood Forester men. I have visited all in Belgium and some in France so far. Today it will be the men who died at the end of the war in the battalions last battle. 

After a good nights sleep and another 'Ariane' breakfast, we set off at 9 am. It would be a 60 mile trip via Lille to our first cemetery, then five cemeteries s few clicks apart before an 80 mile return trip.

We made good time on the motorway system to Valenciennes but as usual French towns rarely have road signs and we spent 30 minutes attempting to find the cemetery. Once found, we parked outside the CWGC entrance only to find it locked because of security issues - possibly because a mobile chip shop is parked next to it! Only in France have I ever found problems with CWGC cemeteries.  I use the Communal Cemetery entrance and take my photos. My four men all died on 4 November 1918 -

Private Lewis George ELLIS .

Private George William GRAINGER

Private William Henry KIRKHAM

Private Benjamin RUSHOLME

All men of 9th Battalion Sherwood Foresters who died in the battle for Sebourg.  I lay two crosses and sign the book.

I return to the car for a quick coffee break before moving off to Sebourg.

Sebourg is some 10 clicks from Valenciennes and we find it with ease. Sebourg British Cemetery is a typical battlefield cemetery - remote and small.  It sits atop a hill overlooking the village and is rarely visited.

I park on the farm track and walk the few hundred metres to the cemetery.  This cemetery has on 61 graves of which 56 are identified. There is also a German headstone with three men named.

35 of the 56 men are from my 9th Battalion Sherwood Foresters.  It is beautifully situated, surrounded by apple trees with two large trees within the cemetery. It is though a bit breezy to say the least!

I lay a wreath to all of the men buried here and a cross in front of the German grave. I photograph all of the graves and one man reminds me of home - He has the surname Coventry.

Unless stated all the men below are from 9th Battalion Sherwood Foresters and all died on 4 November 1918.

BARNES E.   BLUNT F J.   BOND A E.   BRADLEY L C.   BRADLEY R W.   BROWN W.  

 CALVERT J J.   CHESHAM H. CLARKE A.   CLOWES W D.   CORNELIUS W. DYSON W.

GARTON S.   GOODACRE H.   GREEN J.   HEALD A.   HENRY F.   HILL H A .

 MACKINTOSH, C H B J.   MOWBRAY A.   NOWELL J J.   PARKIN W.   ROADLEY H.

SHERATON W.  TAYLOR G.  TAYLOR J A. THOMPSON J.  UPTON W. VENABLES E.

WARDLE F.   WESTON W.   WILKES R N.   WILSON A.   WOOTTON L.   ZOLOWSKI E.

 

BROWN A E - Lincolnshire Regiment.

BURROWS Herbert Russell - London Regiment

CAPLE  Leonard Norman Akerman, RAF - 21/11/1918

CARTWRIGHT Samuel Francis York and Lancaster Regiment 5/11/1918

COLLINSON Joseph Willans West Yorkshire Regiment

COVENTRY Sidney James, RGA, 5/11/1918

DAYKIN J West Yorkshire Regiment.

DUTESON Herbert East Yorkshire Regiment.

EDWARDS Arthur and FAKE Edward - South Staffordshire Regiment - both of these men where Company Quartermaster Sergeants.

HEGINBOTHAM G East Yorkshire Regiment.

HIELD E J., R.A.M.C.

JONES A West Yorkshire Regiment.

LEWIS J M. King's Royal Rifle Corps.

McCORMACK R. Irish Guards.

MORRELL C. 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles.

OLIVER F A. RGA

ROBINSON A. East Yorkshire Regiment

SLOW J A . RGA

WARD J H, Middlesex Regiment

YOUNG George Lance Corporal 8204, Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) 24 August 1914.  He would have been one of the first to die and he is buried with some of the last.  The first battle fought being The Retreat from Mons 23 August to 5th September 1914. The 1st Cameronians landed on 15th August and formed up at Valenciennes on 22 August. Two days later George was dead. He would have been a regular soldier.

 

Two men in this cemetery were just 19 years old - Privates MOWBRAY and WARDLE, both 9th Bn Sherwood Foresters. The oldest being Private DYSON also of the 9th Bn aged 40 years.

Our next cemetery is in Denain and part of the Communal Cemetery. Only one 9th battalion man here. The CWGC part is in the middle of the Communal cemetery and as I walk there the rain begins ! I take a photo and sign the book. Despite it being a very windy day, not much rain falls.

Private T C FRIEND died 4 November 1918.

We decide that we have time to visit two more cemeteries, although I had forgotten that some of my 9th battalion men are on the Vis-en-Artois memorial which we would pass close to!  I will return at a later date to visit them.

We set off for Cambrai and its East Military Cemetery.  Barbara does yet another excellent map reading job and despite a tractor and trailer blocking our path near the cemetery, we make it.  Again a short sharp shower passes over but not heavy enough to deter us.  This is an unusual cemetery as it began as a German one and is beautifully laid out. Monuments within it are for German, Commonwealth and French dead.  Surrounded by German graves is a Commonwealth plot and this contains the graves of POWs, there are also Russian graves.

My 9th battalion men are all in Plot II which was made after Cambrai was taken in 1918. My men would have died of wounds at the casualty Clearing Stations based here. One, Private BELL was probably the last 9th Battalion man to die. 

FISHER W G - 5/11/1918.   OLDHAM B - 5/11/1918.   PEEL R - 5/11/1918.   TERRY H, DCM 5/11/18

BURGESS A - 6/11/1918.   BUTTERS J W - 6/11/1918.   BELL F - 15/11/1918.

I take a number of photos and some video footage before signing the visitors book.

We then head off for our last cemetery which is in the village of Moeuvres and an extension of the Communal.

We are in the area of the Battle of Cambrai November 1917 and we pass Bourlon Wood and cross the Canal du Nord.  The many cemeteries in the area are a testament to the fierce fighting that took place in 1917 and 1918. We turn off the main road and head towards the village and see a small cemetery on our right. This is not ours and we carry on through the village. The CWGC men are busy mowing the grass and tidying the cemetery. An unusual German plot also sits within the cemetery - a low three sided wall with the names of many German soldiers.  I take some photos and visit the grave of -

Sgt Frederick James WYATT, 'C' Coy. 12th Bn London Regiment (The Rangers) killed 27/11/1917.

He has a special memorial against the wall and is believed to be buried in the cemetery. The inscription 'Called afar but with us yet'.

The roses are still in full bloom and give a sea of red.  We decide to have our picnic lunch, although it is 3.30 pm! A small cemetery is just along the road - Triangle Cemetery - which sits by the roadside. We set of through the countryside of Artois to the motorway system and Ieper. We pass several other battlefield cemeteries on our way.  On to the motorway and back via Lille, which as ever is gridlocked!  We arrived back in Ieper at 5 pm after an eight hour day and 200 miles of driving. It had though been worthwhile. A quick coffee before checking my 100 or so photos.  The vast majority of my 'work' has been accomplished and only a visit to St George's Church and the Menin Gate left.  We can know have three days of R&R giving Barbara the opportunity to recover.

After a leisurely bath we went for a well earned dinner.

Saturday 21st -

As the majority of the photos had been taken, we could spend a leisurely day. After a substantial 'Ariane' breakfast we strolled into town, stopping at St George's Church for what I thought may be  a long search.

Our quest was to find a brass plaque in a church filled with thousands of them. Undaunted we set about our task and within two minutes Barbara had found it.  'In memory of 950951 Shoeing Smith H. Holland, 5th London Brigade Royal Field Artillery, Ypres 1915, Somme 1916, Etricourt 1917. Died 16th July 1978'  No doubt the recipient of the information would be more than pleased as the plaque contains a wealth detail.

We escaped the church just as a coach load of students arrived! and moved on to the Menin Gate, via the Tourist Info centre, were we purchased a couple of new maps for walking and cycling.

On through the Saturday Market with its fresh local produce to the Menin Gate. Luckily I know how to find a man's name as the Visitor Book and record books have been moved. The door to their cupboard has been taken for repair and a number of people are forlornly searching every panel. I manage to help a couple of them in their search for a loved one.

Harold  George THOMAS, 28th Aussies.

Pte Isaac Henry DOXEY, 'B' Coy 10th Bn Sherwood Foresters, 01/10/1915 aged 23 years.

Pte Victor Charles THURMER, 11th Bn Queen's Own (Royal West Kent Regiment), aged 19 years, 31/07/1917. This date being the first date of 3rd Ypres.

I take photos and pay my respects. We then look at all of the wreaths recently laid. On our walk back we chat to our local friends and 'taste' a few Chocolates. We return to the hotel for a well earned coffee break complete with cake!

I then sort my photos and video before saving them to CD-ROM.   An afternoon rest for Barbara before we set of to Bridge House cemetery near St Julien. Only 41 graves in this small cemetery and mostly men of the 59th Division who died between 25th and 28th September 1917. The men here are mostly from East Midland Regiments - Sherwood Foresters, Lincolns and Leicesters.  I video and also photograph every grave.

We then drive up the ridge to Tyne Cot. A few minutes drive  for us, took the troops weeks, through clinging mud and machine gun fire.  The view from Tyne Cot gave the Germans clear vision all the way to Ieper and little or no cover for the advancing Commonwealth troops.  Despite it being 6pm, there are two coaches and a number of cars. At one time I could arrive at this time and be alone.

We stroll around the cemetery, so many names, so many only 'Known unto God' - A Welsh Private, A Canadian Corporal, A British Sergeant, an Unknown Officer, an Unknown Aussie - all lie next to each other.  Men who died in 1st Ypres in October/November 1914 lie alongside men who died in 2nd Ypres - April/May 1915, 3rd Ypres - July/November 1917 and 4th Ypres - September 1918. Regular Soldiers, Territorials, Kitcheners Volunteers and Conscripts lie side by side - no distinction, no demarcation in death.

We leave and drive back down the ridge to Ieper and the hotel. A good meal awaits us and relaxation over a glass of Belgian Beer.  We never forget though that without the sacrifice of so many men our own lives would be so different and probably not so 'cushy'.  The days of service and sacrifice are long gone in our decadent world. We now have a 'something for nothing' society and even Ieper has become the 'Tourists place to be - another town to cross off the list of  the '100 things to do before I died' Brigade. Thankfully there are areas were the tourist coach fears to tread! - small battlefield cemeteries rarely visited.

 

Sunday 22nd -

Time to visit some of the more secluded spots in the area. We drive to the Palingbeek Nature reserve which is only several clicks from Ieper, but I have yet to see an English coach or car there.  We stroll through the woods and pass Hedge Row Trench Cemetery, on through the rows of saplings to the mature area of trees in the Palingbeek. Difficult to imagine the horrors of this area during the Great War.  The glorious autumn colours as the leaves change and fall.  We stop at the cafe for a well earned Oxo before strolling back to the car. Then on to Hill 60 but not to visit the area - the car park has excellent views over Ieper and it is a good place to sit and relax. A new museum is taking shape in readiness for the tourists - toilets, restaurant etc.

We return to the hotel for a quiet afternoon as Barbara is still in need of rest. She has good and bad days and the long day on Friday has taken more out of her than she cares to admit.  Another excellent dinner but Barbara is unwell and retires for the night.   I spend a pleasant evening chatting to staff and guests. Ricky who runs the bar until the last customer leaves, and I put the world to rights. And so to bed.

Monday 23rd -

Barbara is still not 100%  and we spend a quiet day pottering around Ieper. A gentle stroll around the ramparts, stopping at the Cemetery which is beautifully situated. Chatting with friends at the various shops. Nothing to taxing or strenuous. A time to reflect on all of the cemeteries visited, all of the men who's graves we have stopped at.  Young men who went willingly to the deaths and like now who society conveniently forgot about. Their comrades who survived were promised a land fit for heroes but as all soldiers throughout the ages have found, once the killing is over. an uncomfortable public dump them. 

Tuesday 24th -

A journey home without any problems.

Barbara and I made this journey in memory of all the men mentioned and all their comrades who either lie in cemeteries or are commemorated on memorials along the Western front.

When you go home, 

Tell them of us and say,

For our tomorrow,

We gave our today.

We Will Remember Them.

Steve and Barbara Morse October 2006.

 

 

 

 

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