Visit to Ypres for the Armistice.
November 10th to November 14th 2005.
Our Armistice visit was somewhat rushed. We managed to get a last minute cancellation at the Ariane Hotel. The list of cemeteries to visit was made and I managed to get a wreath and crosses from the Royal British Legion. Despite their work load at this time, they sent my order within a couple of days. A brilliant job in such a short time.
Thursday November 10th –
Barbara and I decided that we would travel through the night on this occasion. On the plus side – the roads would be quiet, the ferry cheaper and we could visit cemeteries on our way. The minus side was not getting any sleep prior to leaving at 12-30 am. We did though have a good journey and I managed to get an hour at Dover before catching the 6 am ferry. After a good breakfast I was ready for anything !.
The sun was out but the day cold – perfect for visiting the cemeteries.
Our first stop was at Poperinghe and Nine Elms Military Cemetery. I took a photo of R RUSSELL’s grave. He was in the 51st Aussie infantry. I signed the visitors book and as we sat drinking our coffee in a warm car, reflected on the conditions the men must have endured in the Flemish winters. Even wearing modern gear and having good walking boots we still feel the chill wind blowing across the flat countryside.
An interesting point is the drive itself – The road from the Belgian border to Remi Cemetery near Poperinghe was the old railway on which the wounded were taken out and the men going to the front arrived. Remi cemetery is named Lijssenthoek by the CWGC but the locals always call it Remi. In the war Remi Sidings stood nearby and it turned to Remy when the French were there. At some time after the war Remy was changed to Lijssenthoek. Either way, it is a beautiful cemetery to visit. for us though not today.
We drive on to Poperinghe Old Military Cemetery. The first part of the cemetery is grassed and it was here that French and Belgian soldiers were buried. being moved to be with their comrades after the war. Around 500 Belgian civilians were also buried here once. They died in the Typhoid epidemic in late 1914. The grave I want is in a tiny area to the back left of the cemetery and it is surrounded on three sides by high walls. There is a class of local children with their teacher in the cemetery. They all say hello and then leave me to visit my grave. They show respect for me and the lads buried here. If only many of the British school trips were as considerate. I wonder why half even bother bringing the school trips to this area. No doubt Disneyland would stretch their tiny minds enough.
I visit the grave of J FLINT, of the Welch Regiment – an Old Contemptible who died on 5th November 1914. The men were buried shoulder to shoulder and one headstone has two names on it. The other name is 10929 private R L KELLOW, Welch Regiment, killed on 8th November 1914. The graves have red roses all around them and as usual the area is immaculate. I take a few more photos of the cemetery, sign the book and move on.
On our way back to the Ypres road we stop at Poperinghe New Military Cemetery. This has some French graves as well. I take some photos and sign the book.
We then get on the Pop – Ypres Road – again this straight road with its railway line adjacent carried men in and out of the Salient.
We turn off and visit Vlamertinghe New Military Cemetery – I take a photo of three Royal Artillery men side by side. I have taken a number of photos for Dennis Corbett’s website including these three men separately. FANNON, TRANTER and HAUGHTON.
We then set off for Voormezeele Enclosure No 3 but not by a direct route. As is usual a road is closed for some reason and we follow a pleasant diversion! We make it in the end though despite the numerous tractors. The winter veg is being gathered in. I take my photos – H W H COX – and from his grave I can see the spires of Ypres.
On again and to Bedford House Military Cemetery. This is a most unusual cemetery, surrounded by moats and split into enclosures. It is a beautifully situated cemetery with views of the spires of Ypres. It is not far from the Lille gate.
I take my photos of A W McGEE, 20th Bn Canadian Infantry who was killed on 3 June 1916 during the German attack on Mountsorrel. From his grave I can again see the spires of Ypres. I realize that on all maps and other publications it is Mount Sorrel and also the Canadian memorial there states ‘Here at Mount Sorrel’.
Two points I need to mention on the above – Firstly it was named Mountsorrel by the Leicestershire Regiment after their Commanding Officers home village in the county.
Secondly the Canadian Memorial is actually at Tor Top and the inscription should say something to the effect of ‘Here and at Mountsorrel’ The three high points going from Sanctuary Wood are Tor Top (also Hill 62), Mountsorrel and Hill 60.
Whatever the real names, Private McGee was killed in that area and as his headstone inscription says ‘ He did his duty’.
Anyone who visits Ypres should make time to visit this cemetery.
We then drive via Hellfire corner (or roundabout as it is now) up the Menin Road and turn along Maple Avenue. On our left as we drive is the Hooge Crater Cemetery and it was in this area that our next man died. The 1/5th Sherwood Foresters as part of the 46th Division held the trenches there in June 1915. We arrive at Sanctuary Wood Cemetery. This is shaped like a fan and contains graves from a number of cemeteries which stood in the woods near the front line. All were devastated during the later fighting. There are many graves with ‘Buried near this spot’ on them. The concentration of graves took five years from 1927 to 1932.
I take the photo of the C DURO grave and also of the cemetery. There are a number of 46th Division men buried here – Territorials from Lincolnshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Staffordshire.
We then drive to Sanctuary Wood Cafe and preserved trenches which is near the Canadian Memorial. The trenches are from the 1916 fighting and were made by the Canadians. We visited last year and it was cold and muddy. One can only imagine how the men existed there. If you visit, take good boots and a torch. We stop at the cafe for a coffee and it is full of French and Canadian Children having their lunch. Suitably refreshed and having made good time, we decided to visit more cemeteries which were scheduled for Saturday. We returned to the Menin Road, crossed it and went via the RE Grave and Railway Wood, across the ridge to Oxford Road with its 50th Division memorial and to St Julien Dressing Station cemetery. An odd corner cemetery in the village which was a dressing station, although graves were concentrated here after the war. I take my photo – H. TIPPEN.
After a lovely sunny morning the rain began to fall, though only slightly. The forecast though was not good. We decided that we would leave the cemeteries for my website for another day. Instead we would take the last couple of photos for other people and also visit La Belle Alliance Cemetery to lay our wreath. By the time we reached La Belle Alliance, the rain was heavier and the wind grew.
Barbara took some photos as I laid the wreath by the Cross of Sacrifice –
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. We hold our silent tribute.
It becomes obvious that the wreath will not stay by the cross, so we lay it by a group of graves next to a rose bush. The CWGC men are all hard at work in the other cemeteries.
We then visit Essex Farm Cemetery and I retake a photo. L/Cpl H RODGERS, 9th Bn Sherwood Foresters lies with his comrades in this cemetery. Many of his comrades also lie at La Belle Alliance. All killed whilst the Battalion was holding the trenches prior to 3rd Ypres.
We then drive on towards Ferme-Olivier and on the way see Solferino Farm Cemetery. I stop and take some photos before proceeding to Ferme. Here I take the photo of our last man of the day Arthur FLINT 16th RWF. he was related to J FLINT at Poperinghe Old Military Cemetery.
By this time the rain is heavy and I am tired and cold. As I get back to the car, a large tractor passes and the white car turns to mud ! Luckily it misses me.
We drive into Ypres and the Ariane Hotel, luckily the room is ready. It is good to be at our second home. A hot bath, warm up, an hours sleep and we were ready for the off again. It was time for a pleasant evening meal. The Ariane Chef is one of the best we have come across.
We then walk to the Menin Gate, fighting our way through the thousands of children. Today is St Martin’s day which seems to be the equivalent of St Nicholas Day everywhere else. St Martin and his helpers are in the town square giving out sweets and gifts. Ypres town square always seems to be a vibrant place and always enjoyable. There is a ceremony at the Indian Memorial near the Menin Gate on the ramparts. Many Indian troops fought and died on the Salient and it is good to see that they also get recognition. The 10th is also the anniversary of the last day of 3rd Ypres (Passchendaele). There are commemorations at Passchendaele (Passendale) for the Canadians who finally took the village. Many Canadian wreaths also lay at the Menin Gate. Tonight at the Menin Gate there is a Pipe band who play all the popular tunes as they march up. The Last Post is played, a lament on the pipes, the exhortation, laying of many wreaths – I look at the thousands of names, so many who were willing to lay their lives down for their friends and country. Anyone who can should make the time to visit Ypres and experience the Last Post ceremony. Barbara and I prefer the evenings when there are a couple of buglers and a few people. This is the true meaning of the ceremony. I mentioned earlier the polite Belgian Children but at the Menin Gate we see the ignorant English yobs. Their teachers have to remove them before the last post begins. Why these idiots are allowed to visit the area is beyond me. It is hardly likely to improve their chances of passing any exams, they have no interest in what the area means and they give a bad impression of British Youth. Many students visit and show respect and many lay wreaths. One thing is obvious from reading the wreaths – the vast majority of respectful students are from fee paying schools. This says more to me than any Government proclamation on how wonderful our education system is. Later in our visit we will go to the German Military Cemetery and as the yobs run riot, their teachers chat and ignore them.
Anyway back to the main reason for our visit.
We return to the hotel for a drink and an early night. I am also struggling with my arthritis and having to use a stick to walk. Whilst the cobblestones in Ypres look lovely, they cause havoc with me.
Tomorrow the 11th, will be a busy day. In Ypres the 11th of the 11th is the day observed and a public holiday – why not in the UK we ask ourselves.
Friday 11th November –
We are up early and have a hearty breakfast before setting off for the Menin Gate. As we had already laid our wreath at La Belle Alliance, we decided not to join the Poppy Parade to the Menin Gate. We watch the Ypern Band parade to the cathedral and they make an excellent sight. There is also a British service at St George’s church. We make our way to the Menin Gate stopping to chat to friends on the way. Although we arrive at 10 am, the area around the Menin Gate is already packed. With all such events, pre-planning is the key. The area on the ramparts next to the Gate is empty. Barbara and I go there and get a place with excellent views of the parade and also where we can hear the ceremony. The area under the gate is of course reserved. Thankfully the weather is dry and about 10 deg C. The wait is not uncomfortable really but a couple of hours discomfort is the least we can do for all these men who paid the supreme sacrifice. I also take the opportunity to take a photo of a name on one of the panels. This means removing the barrier and sneaking down the steps. I take the photo of A BARRON’s name, a Canadian killed in the German attack on Mountsorrel on 6th June 1916.
Two ladies are searching for a name and cannot find it. One is from Wales and one from Canada. There Great Uncle is on panel 22 and they are only in Ypres for one day. I remove the barrier again and take them to the panel. I leave them with there thoughts as they look at his name. The following day I check the visitors book and am pleased to see that they managed to sign it before leaving Ypres.
Firstly the Pipe band marches past playing Tipperary and other wartime tunes. They are followed by dignitaries, Armed forces groups of the UK and other countries and Standards. Just before 11 am the Belgian contingent march up from their memorial to join everyone at the Menin Gate. There follows the act of remembrance, a lament and music. This is followed by a short service. In the minutes silence poppies fall from the roundels above the gate. The ceremony ends at 12.30 and had been a most moving experience. In today’s terminology, ‘Ypres is the place to be’ on remembrance day. You are standing on the same ground were hundreds of thousands of men passed going to the front. Many of them never to return. We remember what General Plumer said when the Menin Gate was inaugurated on 24 July 1927, ‘He is not missing: he is here!’ Barbara and I have never felt so moved at any previous act of remembrance. Somehow you can feel the men’s presence all around. In the silence , I thought of all the men’s graves I had visited and photographed. Over 150 in the past year alone. I hope that in some small way Barbara and my efforts have kept the men’s memories alive.
We return to the hotel to warm up with a good bowl of soup.
It is time to change ready for the remembrance concert at the cathedral. We have splashed out on VIP tickets in order to get good views. Taking part is the Belgian Naval Band, British Pipes and drums, choirs and a violinist. We sing all the wartime favorites and try to stick to the ‘clean’ versions. Although this is not always easy. The music, reading of soldiers letters again move us. The violinist played Danny Boy and many were moved to tears. In the background the choirs were humming and it sounded like a breeze wafting over the battlefield. A short service followed and finally , Land of Hope and Glory. On the march out, the Pipes and drums played Black Bear and Scotland the Brave. A wonderful two hours and a fitting tribute to the men. We return to the hotel and relax.
My ankle and leg are particularly painful after two busy days. Having to use my stick is a pain and I look worse than some of the veterans. It has though been a memorable two days. We decide not to visit the Menin Gate in the evening, although people tell us afterwards that the violinist played again and it was wonderful.
Saturday 12th –
Today is given over to R&R which includes visiting Chocolate shops of course. Also to buying a selection of beer which includes St Sixtus – the best in the world.
We stroll around Ypres for a couple of hours before returning to the hotel. I then check that all my photos are in order and put them on the laptop and a CD. I do not want to lose any of my precious photos. I have photos of the men’s graves, some new cemeteries for the website, Barbara also took some excellent ones when I laid the wreath. Finally photos of the Poppy parade on 11th.
We attend the last post ceremony in the evening at 8pm. The torch of remembrance is paraded. Again the Menin Gate echoes to the sound of the bugles. I thank the Buglers for keeping the men’s memories alive. We then look at the hundreds of wreaths that have been laid in the past few days. So many and from so many countries – British, Belgian, New Zealand, Aussie, Canada, German and many many more. They include many personal wreaths – relatives of the men paying their respects. I realize that our decision to lay the wreath in a small battlefield cemetery was the correct one. It is impossible to read all of the dedications on the wreaths.
We stroll back to the hotel and have a trappist beer before watching the service of remembrance from the Albert Hall on TV.
And so to bed.
Sunday 13th –
We decided to make this a trail of remembrance and we would just drive, stopping at any cemetery or memorial we found. We left Ypres and headed towards Pilckem Ridge, the scene of heavy fighting in 3rd Ypres. The local ‘diggers’ were hard at work. It is this local Belgian group that find most of the men’s remains. We stop at Colne Valley Cemetery which is a small Battlefield one. Some 40 graves of men killed holding the trench line. It is now surrounded by the industrial area of Ypres but looks out on Pilckem Ridge. We pay our respects and move on. There are other cemeteries in this area such as the Welsh Cemetery (Caesars Nose) but we will leave these for a cycling day next year. We drive towards Langemarck. We purchased a CD of Great War songs and play this a s we drive along. We can imagine the men marching to the front line singing their own versions. Although in later years, they probably only sang on their way out of the line. We are on the road to Langemarck and the German Cemetery when we see a sign for Ruisseau Farm and turn off. The cemetery is actually an extension of the farmyard and the caged farm dog does not like us! A small rarely visited cemetery but as always beautifully kept. We find a couple of Sherwood Forester officers of the 10th Battalion and take photos. We drive on and visit the German Cemetery at Langemarck. A mass grave surrounded by large stones listing thousands of names. Some of the German blockhouses are incorporated in the cemetery. The cemetery is small in size but contains thousands of men. Obviously the Belgians were loath to give land over to the enemy’s dead.
On 9th October 1917, Private Dancox of the 4th Worcesters won a Victoria Cross when taking one of the blockhouses.
We drive on towards Poelcapelle and see a memorial and bunker just of the main road. The memorial is to the Royal Engineers and Royal Artillery of 34th Division. The Bunker was captured in September 1918 and used as an Advanced Dressing Station. The bunker despite 90 years of wear shows little sign of deterioration.
We drive through Polecapelle and visit the Brooding Solider memorial. This is to the Canadian Troops who died in the first gas attack of 1915 (2nd Ypres). After visiting the memorial we have a well earned coffee break. We then drive towards the Broodseinde Ridge and stop at Dochy Farm cemetery. Many men here died in the Battle of Broodseinde, 4 th October 1917. There are a number of Sherwood Foresters buried here. From the cemetery we can see Tyne Cot in the distance and also the New Zealand Memorial at s-Graventafel. Both very close but it would take a further month for the troops to take Tyne Cot at the cost of thousands of lives.
We drive in to Zonnebeke intending to return to Ypres but the road is closed! We decide to drive towards Polygon Wood and the Polygon Wood Cemetery, Buttes New Military Cemetery, the New Zealand memorial and the 5th Australian Division Memorial. Polygon Wood cemetery is indeed in the shape of a Polygon and this is in tribute to the Wood itself. The wood itself was totally destroyed in the war but a new one was planted nearby. As you walk into the Buttes cemetery, you see the impressive memorial to the 5th Australian Division which stands atop the old Rifle Butte. We climb the steps to the memorial and from here look down on the Buttes Cemetery with the New Zealand Memorial beyond. The Buttes cemetery was made after the war and over 80% of the graves are ‘unknown’. Prior to the war the area was used for drill and the headstones stand like a battalion on parade.
Again many local people are out in the cemeteries.
We drive back through the country lanes enjoying the late autumn sunshine.
Monday 14th –
Time for home. We had wanted to attend one of the re-burials but my ferry ticket would not allow this. We drove via Lindenhoek Chalet Cem and then Lindenhoek Road , Wulverghem. One of the reburials taking place at Lindenhoek Road that afternoon.
We drove to Bailleul and out last photo of the trip. Private J W TIPPEN, 8th Lincolns is buried in the Communal Cemetery Extension.
On to the motorway and back to Calais and the ferry. Traveling through England was yet again a nightmare. The M25 was blocked by an accident and we had to drive via the A13 and North Circular to the M1. A journey that should take 3 hours eventually took 5. I think the time has come to try a different route next time – possibly from Hull to Zeebrugge.
We made this journey in memory of all the men who fought and died in the Great War. In the hope that their sacrifice will never be forgotten.
May they all rest in peace.
We will Remember them.
Steve and Barbara Morse, November 2005.