Saturday 29 June 2024

Euro 2024 ~ Today in the Somme and Flanders ….

…. the air is soft, but over one hundred years ago the air was dense with smoke, filled with the cries of men, the crack of rifle fire and the roar of cannon. In the trenches death was a constant companion, a partner in life.

 

This afternoon having left Ypres in Flanders, Belgium, I am now in London for one night before my flight to Halifax tomorrow afternoon. It is the end of a fantastic four weeks doing many things I have always wanted to do in Scotland, Belgium, The Netherlands and France. I have fulfilled my obligated duty as their son and took my parent’s home, to a stunning location in the Scottish Highlands, a place they both loved so much.

I can say in this final blog of "Euro 2024", that over the last 28 days, I did everything I had planned to do, all the boxes were ticked. During my time away, I explored remote little corners of Scotland I had never seen before, while renewing my acquaintances with others. I was welcomed again into the beautiful home of my high-school buddy Shuna and her husband Ken, I spent three great nights in Blairmore, Argyllshire visiting my dad’s cousin May, I visited the WWI war grave of my grand-uncle in Glasgow, and had the joy of reconnecting with friends from my past and along the way made new ones. On my travels in Belgium, The Netherlands and France, I met some really interesting people, stayed in great accommodations and stopped at locations that deserve to remain in my memory forever ~ I can honestly say, although it was tiring at times, I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this past month.

Within the recent blogs written during my time in mainland Europe, I tell of my travels to Leopoldsburg and Wuustwezel in Northern Belgium, Steenbergen in The Netherlands, of the peaceful rolling landscapes of The Somme in France and then onto Ypres in Flanders, Belgium. I have spent precious time combined with moments of deep thought and reflection at the war graves of three from my family, two killed during WWI and one from WWII. I have had the privilege while on the road of visiting many CWGC memorials and perfectly manicured cemeteries. Each one of those stops had a powerful affect upon me, triggering deep emotions, in the same way as they did on a similar pilgrimage with my parents 24 years ago. It is a special and unparallel experience to see the rows of gravestones perfectly in line with a deliberate military precision, as if the fallen were still on parade. Then there are the vast and dominating memorials, which frequently and without warning break the rolling landscapes, built in honour the “lost”. Great structures inscribed with the tens of thousands of names, that a ruinous industrialized war denied the civility of a known grave.

There were many more cemeteries and memorials I did not stop at. It would be impossible in the time I had to pull over at them all, to walk between the endless rows of white gravestones and pause at each grave, or stop at the dozens or perhaps hundreds of memorials I passed on the road, many to commemorate the sites of WWI battles. I felt a sense of enormous guilt at driving past them, and not taking just a moment to offer my thanks and acknowledgment for their missed years and absent life experiences that we all take for granted, or to consider their grieving families and loved ones they left behind.

In the haste of my three-night visit to Belgium and France back in April 2000, I wrote brief notes to myself as a reminder of my feelings and thoughts about what I had seen and experienced. Upon my return to Canada, I expanded on those notes and kept them safe until years later, when I included them in a couple of blogs I wrote during February and October 2017. Below are some of those expanded notes from 24 years ago, which describe perfectly all I could possibly say about my journey over the last few days.

 

8th April, 2000 ~ Visiting Hugh Wright at Leopoldsburg War Cemetery, Limburg, Belgium ....

"In my life I have walked around more than a few gravesites, many of those times when I was much younger with my dad. We would wander in churchyards always curious to find the oldest gravestone and randomly with much interest read inscriptions. Later I would do the same on my own, but this time it was the task of finding relatives during my family tree research. Those graveyards, whether they were community or church, could most of the time be best described as random with no sign of thought, lacking order or deliberate plan. They seemed loud, mostly disturbed, never at peace, always affected by the bustle and flurry of the surrounding daily activities.

Until that day in April 2000, I had never before experienced a Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery. I had seen photographs showing the typical impressive display of neat rows of regimented uniformity, the gravestones assembled like soldiers on the parade ground. But what I was not prepared for was the instant and overwhelming emotion, the complete tranquility, the awesome sense of stillness and the enormous feeling of being someplace extremely special. I will never be able to fully or accurately describe to anyone who has not had the privilege and honour to visit such a site, how profoundly moving the experience was. I remember clearly the moment I walked through the entrance gate, sensing that I had entered an environment of total peace, disturbed only by the sounds of spring, birds chirping and leaves gently moving in the soft warm wind. I had never before experienced such a feeling of complete serenity. Then for reasons which remain unclear, as if by hand I was led to Grave 12, in Row A of Plot V, to the resting place of my first cousin once removed Hugh Wright. To see the name “Wright” engraved on that white stone was a unique and strange combination of sheer pride that was quickly tempered by enormous sadness.

On that day, the 8th April 2000, I did not leave the warm comforting stillness of the cemetery until I paid my own personal gratitude to all of the 767 souls who lie in perpetuity within its grounds. It took me over four hours to spend a moment at every one of those gravestones. I read all the personal inscriptions and paused a little longer at those who are only ~ “Known Unto God”. I did this because I had too; I owed each and every one a moment of thanks and reflection.

I remember one poignant message engraved onto the gravestone of Private David Sprott of The Kings Own Scottish Borderers who died on the 25th December 1944 aged 28 ~ “A LITTLE CORNER OF A FOREIGN LAND THAT IS FOREVER SCOTLAND”, quite possibly the chosen words of his proud parents David and Christina Hynd Sprott of Crosshouse, Ayrshire.

I was struck by the ages of those in the cemetery, every one of them much younger than I was. I thought of myself at their tender age, I was moved and impressed by the depth of responsibility, the call to duty and the sacrifice they each had made, I then questioned if I could have done the same. No longer were those guys merely images in a grainy black and white newsreel film from a long time ago, they were here and this was real. As I looked across this wondrous place, I reflected upon the backyard chat I had with my dad years prior. I thought about the tears he shed that afternoon for his cousin Hugh, who had died many decades before and now within the surrounding quietness the very same was happening to me. My tears were not only for Hugh, but for all those who lay before me in Leopoldsburg, many of whom were vast oceans away from home. As I looked around at the tremendous loss, I felt incredible emotion, the impact was enormous. I will never allow myself to forget what each of those souls had given up, the missed years, the daily life experiences that we take for granted, the loved ones left behind and the biggest tragedy of all, the many young children who never got to know their father.

I remember in late 1999 while the planning the trip to Belgium I often thought in complete ignorance, it was a great shame that Hugh had never been brought home to Glasgow. I felt that it would have been correct and right for him to have been buried close to his father, a place where his mother and sister could have visited and cared for. Those thoughts all changed in an instant with my unforgettable visit to Leopoldsburg. Being thoroughly struck by the beauty and tranquility of the cemetery, reading the inscriptions on each gravestone, which evoked images of mothers and fathers lamenting lost sons, wives mourning their husbands combined with the thoughts of young children growing up without fathers, I left Leopoldsburg with the comforting fact that out of the bitterness of war, Hugh had found perfect peace buried among his comrades, who all endured an equally tragic loss. I felt secure in the knowledge that their graves would always be respected and cared for, therefore this is the rightful place he should be."

 

9th April 2000 ~ The journey to John Kerr at Hamel Military Cemetery, The Somme, France ...

"The journey to Hamel Village took us on many narrow remote winding roads that were often interrupted by what can be best described as casual small intersections. At those stops on the road there are basic signposts with arrows pointing in all directions indicating Commonwealth War Grave Commission sites. Often those signposts were supplemented with words Canadian, British, South African, Australian or New Zealand indicating the dominant nationality at each site. When taking directions from those signposts one can clearly see in the distance the rolling landscape gently broken with the presence of walled cemeteries. Each with their perfectly lined white gravestones, all places of peace, beauty and serene contrast with the events which brought them into being. Some of the sites could be described as small and intimate having a dozen or so casualties while others are large and awesome with many thousands, a truly incredible and unforgettable site.

During our journey through Belgium and France we stopped at many CWGC cemeteries and memorial sites. Each is an extraordinarily special place, always like walking into a beautiful church where you have to be silent, but unlike a church there is no music except bird songs. Each site offers a time for reflection about the state of mankind, where we are, and what those people died for ~ leading to the question ~ "What was the point of it all ..?" When in their presence, whether walking between the rows of graves, or reading the names on a memorial you cannot talk, you are reduced to silence. Although you do not know any of them, from a grave you can pick up clues, you see their name, their regiment and their age. You then turn to walk away, but strangely you do not want to leave; you want to stay. Finally, as you do depart you are struck by the lessons which can be learned from the experience, they are our silent witnesses that's what those graves and memorials are ~ silent witnesses."


That journey to Belgium and France two and half decades ago, had a compelling and lasting impact upon me. Initially, I was driven to find out more about my two relatives Hugh Wright and John Kerr who lie in the soil of Belgium and France. I wanted to know about their military activities and experiences, what they did in civilian life prior to war. I had a desire or perhaps more accurately a need to know everything that could be researched, I felt that I had an obligation and duty to give them back a voice and identity.

Over the years while doing my research, I have been fortunate to have connected with many people throughout the world, from Tasmania to Iceland and all over Europe, but strangely not many if at all any from North America. I have been continually amazed and filled with much gratitude at the depth of knowledge in all aspects of both WWI and WWII that is available. Many of my contacts are what I would call general experts, those who know something about everything, while others focus solely on particular fields of interest, such as German U-boat Captains of WWII, the WWI Royal Naval Division, Royal Engineers of WWI and WWII, WWII Burma Campaign and so on. These guys are out there, and whether it is by pure luck or being led by some greater force, it is fortunate that I always seem to stumble across them.

 

More of my notes from 24 years ago ~

"When I think back to my visit of April 2000 to Leopoldsburg in Belgium and consider the 767 who rest there in that beautiful cemetery, I begin to appreciate that each and every one of those who gave their life also have stories, experiences and encounters to tell. Unfortunately, many will never be told, which is an enormous loss to us all. The many who have untold stories are destined to become mostly forgotten ~ a distant relative, who went off to war and died in a foreign land. Over time those unscripted heroes who are fortunate to have their names written onto a gravestone will also be only ~ “Known Unto God” ~ in a similar way to their unidentified companions ~ that is enormously sad."


Indeed ~ “Enormously sad” ~ as the years move on and the decades pass by, I find it heartbreaking that the living memories of those who bore witness too and fought in the great conflicts of the 20th century are fading into the past, and soon their voices will be lost forever. I am hopeful by means of my published blogs together with a collection of personal items, my relatives killed in war will be remembered and perhaps spoken about for many years into the future ~ as it should be for all who lie in a CWGC cemetery or have their name inscribed upon a memorial panel.

Over the past two decades, I have taken upon myself to do volunteer research work for veteran associations such as The Royal British Legion & Canadian Legion, The Australian and New Zealand Virtual War Memorials, Veterans Affairs Canada, various WWI & WWII related web-sites, The Commonwealth War Graves Commission, The Canadian War Museum and many individuals who contact me with a wish to reclaim part of their war related family history.

My focus has been to bring the “Lost Voices” of WWI and WWII into the present, to bridge the ever-widening gap between them and their relatives and communities of today. I have to say, over the years with my ever-increasing toolbox of resources and expert contacts, many tasks that find their way to me have been completed with impressive results. The research can be difficult and time consuming, some “projects” can take a few hours, while others may go on for months or even years. There is one particular project about a British Merchant Navy Ship, that was torpedoed and sunk in the North Atlantic in December 1940, that I have been working on since 1993, an amazing story that continues to broaden with an incredible global reach.

As a result of my effectiveness to source relevant facts and information, I have in recent years been invited to contribute to and co-author war related books. The books have a particular bias towards bringing “Lost Voices” from WWI and WWII into the present. Those projects were both time consuming and challenging, but always offered a huge amount of joy and fulfilment. It is avocation I truly love, it brings me much satisfaction when through meticulous research, I successfully bridge the decades with previously unknown details about a casualty of war, it is my personal way of saying thank you.

 

During the WWI, a Canadian doctor was inspired to write a poem that has come to symbolize our remembrance of the war dead. John McCrae's "In Flanders Fields" is a challenge to us all, given by those who served and fell in the Great War and all other wars since ~

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

 

We are the dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved, and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

 

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

 

More than a century on, that challenge remains wherever the war dead are commemorated. It is for us to take up that torch of remembrance, passed to us by those who have gone before, so that we may in turn pass it on.

When I look around the world today, there is no peace. I see far too many wars of aggression inspired by land or sea grabs, religious or cultural differences, political doctrines and more. There are suppressive dictators who are highly charged by fear, insecurity and egotism, who at the expense of their population, continue to develop armaments and weapons that can reach across the continents and oceans. At the same time as witnessing all that, I continue to look through the long lens of history to the two great wars of the 20th century, the beginnings and similarities of how those conflicts evolved, gives a strong sense that history may be about to repeat itself.

During my recent travels, I have passed many thousands of acres of consecrated ground, containing tens of thousands of graves, it leads me to ask ~ have we learned nothing from the past and why do we always want to do this all over again …?

 

Below are three CWGC videos, which offers a further insight into this thoroughly amazing organization, click on the images or links below ~


“We are the CWGC” ~

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EDS3x_nsBFw&t=45s

 

Places of Pilgrimage ~ History of the CWGC ~

https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=qK9k8dlt2SI

 

A 16-minute video about the on-going work of the CWGC ~

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rn1dak5IedU


A Canadian Broadcasting Corporation news segment title “Identifying the Missing”. 

A process that is done by all Commonwealth countries ~

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HNOAf38XKwU



Below are my blogs from 2017, which relate to some of what I have written above .....

Hugh Wright ~

https://southshoretidewatch.blogspot.com/2017/10/hugh-wright.html

 

Remembered 100 years on ~

https://southshoretidewatch.blogspot.com/2017/02/rememdered-after-100-years.html

 

The Lost Voices of WWII RAF/RCAF Greenwood ~

https://southshoretidewatch.blogspot.com/2019/06/the-lost-voices-of-rafrcaf-greenwood_29.html

 

The Lost Voices of WWI Middleton and District ~

https://southshoretidewatch.blogspot.com/2020/07/the-lost-voices-of-wwi-middleton-and.html


Euro 2024 ~ Time to kill …

I read somewhere, the best way to kill time is to work it to death  ~ Well I found a better way ...

I had a few hours spare before my evening flight to London, so with a recommendation from "Cindy", I went to visit Ghent or is it Gent or perhaps it's both.

A beautiful but very busy city which appears to have been built around countless interconnecting canal systems. It was very nice to walk around, but care had to be taken not to collide with the dozens or more realistically the hundreds of people on bikes. The other constant danger for me as I wandered aimlessly in any direction with my camera, were the electric-powered streetcars, they seemed to be everywhere.

After my time there, it was time to drive out of the downtown and head for the highway and onto Brussels Airport. This was met with the additional challenge to the previously mentioned bikes and streetcars, this was the hundreds of pedestrians wandering aimlessly in any direction with cameras ....!!!!

 

Ghent or Gent ……























Friday 28 June 2024

Euro 2024 ~ Ypres, Passchendaele and Tyne Cot ...


My final stop on mainland Europe was a two-night stay with Hilde and Dirk in Ypres located in the Province of West Flanders, Belgium. The actual official spelling of the town is Ieper, the Dutch version, but Ypres the French version is most commonly used by English speakers. During WWI, English-speaking soldiers and Winston Churchill often referred to Ieper/Ypres by the deliberate mispronunciation "Wipers". During WWI, British soldiers even published a wartime newspaper called The Wipers Times.

No town in the world has a stronger connection with WWI and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC). It is not too much of an exaggeration to say, within a short walking distance in any direction from the Ypres town centre, you will find a CWGC WWI cemetery or memorial that is waiting to be discovered. No matter where you turn and or walk, you will find somewhere to pause, reflect and remember the horrific events of The Great War.

A google map of Ypres and the surrounding area, showing the WWI CWGC Cemeteries

WWI historical information about Ypres ~

The town lay at the heart of one of the most notorious battlefields of the Western Front. The Battles of Ypres were a series of engagements during WWI between the German and the allied armies ~ Belgian, French, British, the Canadian Expeditionary Forces, Australians and New Zealanders. Ypres occupied a strategic position during the war because it stood in the path of Germany's planned sweep across the rest of Belgium and into France from the north, known as the Schlieffen Plan.

Belgium’s neutrality established by the 1839 First Treaty of London, was guaranteed by Britain and therefore with Germany's invasion, it brought the British Empire into the conflict. At the beginning of the war, the German army surrounded the town on three sides, bombarding it throughout much of the next four years. In order to counter attack, British and allied forces made costly advances from the Ypres Salient into the German lines on the surrounding hills.

The Salient was formed during the First Battle of Ypres in October and November 1914, when a small British Expeditionary Force succeeded in securing the town before the onset of winter, pushing the German forces back to the Passchendaele Ridge. The Second Battle of Ypres began in April 1915 when the Germans released poison gas into the allied lines north of Ypres. This was the first time gas had been used by either side, the violence of the attack forced an allied withdrawal and a shortening of the line of defence.

There was little more significant activity on this front until 1917 during the Third Battle of Ypres, when an offensive mounted by Commonwealth forces to divert German attention from a weakened French front further south. The initial attempt in June to dislodge the Germans from the Messines Ridge was a complete success, but the main assault north-eastward, which began at the end of July, quickly became a dogged struggle against determined opposition and the rapidly deteriorating weather. The campaign finally came to a close in November with the capture of Passchendaele.

A German offensive of March 1918 met with some initial success, but was eventually checked and repulsed in a combined effort by the allies in September. During the all engagements, Commonwealth casualties are estimated to have surpassed one million. 

During the course of the war the town was all but obliterated by the artillery fire. From the pictures below you can see the devastation left by the brutality of the war on the town.

 







 

During the four years of the war, the entire town centre was totally destroyed. Yet just ten years after the Armistice of November 1918, Ypres looked like the town had never experienced any war related devastation, almost all the destroyed buildings had been rebuilt.

Today Ypres is generally considered one of the best examples of post-conflict reconstruction. In a similar way to my first visit during April 2000, I found the town to be a joy to walk around, with its magnificent Cloth Hall to its historic Grote Markt marketplace and outdoor caf├ęs. The town is packed with historical buildings and curios that tell its millennia-long history, but for me the most impressive and encouraging feature of Ypres which seems to be embedded deep within the towns deep culture, is the need to remember and forever retain the memory of those who fought and died there during WWI.


Ypres now ....








This is where I stayed on my last visit to Ypres in April 2000





 

Within Ypres is the very impressive Menin Gate. It is one of four memorials to the missing in Belgian Flanders, which covers the area known as the Ypres Salient. The battles of the Salient claimed many lives on both sides and after the war, it quickly became clear that a means of commemoration to the Commonwealth forces with no known grave would have to be divided between several different sites.

The site of the Menin Gate was chosen because of the hundreds of thousands of men who passed through it on their way to the battlefields. It commemorates casualties from the forces of Australia, Canada, India, South Africa and United Kingdom (in the case of the UK only those killed prior to 16 August 1917) who died in the Salient. United Kingdom casualties who died after 16 August 1916 and all New Zealanders with have no known grave, are named on the memorial at Tyne Cot, a site which marks the furthest point reached by Commonwealth forces in Belgium until nearly the end of the war. New Zealand casualties who died prior to 16 August 1917 are commemorated on memorials at Buttes New British Cemetery and Messines Ridge British Cemetery.

The Menin Gate memorial now bears the names of 54583 officers and men whose graves are not known. The memorial, designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield with sculptures by Sir William Reid-Dick, was unveiled by former Field Marshall Lord Plumer on 24 July 1927. The following is part of his speech during the unveiling ceremony, which attempted to give comfort to the parents and relatives of the missing soldiers of the Ypres battle fields ~

“... One of the most tragic features of the Great War was the number of casualties reported as 'Missing, believed killed'. To their relatives there must have been added to their grief a tinge of bitterness and a feeling that everything possible had not been done to recover their loved ones' bodies and give them reverent burial. That feeling no longer exists; it ceased to exist when the conditions under which the fighting was being carried out were realized.

But when peace came and the last ray of hope had been extinguished the void seemed deeper and the outlook more forlorn for those who had no grave to visit, no place where they could lay tokens of loving remembrance. ... It was resolved that here at Ypres, where so many of the 'Missing' are known to have fallen, there should be erected a memorial worthy of them which should give expression to the nation's gratitude for their sacrifice and its sympathy with those who mourned them. A memorial has been erected which, in its simple grandeur, fulfils this object, and now it can be said of each one in whose honour we are assembled here today:

‘He is not missing; he is here’.”

 





The Menin Gate under construction and the unveiling ceremony from 24 July 1927 ~














The Menin Gate Last Post ceremony ~

Following the opening of the Menin Gate Memorial in 1927, the citizens of Ypres wanted to express their gratitude towards those who had given their lives for Belgium's freedom. To achieve this, every evening at 8.00pm, buglers from the Last Post Association close the road which passes under the memorial and sound the "Last Post". Except for the occupation by the Germans during WWII, when the daily ceremony was conducted at Brookwood Military Cemetery in Surrey, England, this ceremony has been carried on uninterrupted since 2 July 1928. On the evening of 6 September 1944 when Polish forces liberated Ypres during WWII, the ceremony was resumed at the Menin Gate despite the fact that heavy fighting was still taking place in other parts of the town.

I would like to share my experience of the Menin Gate Last Post ceremony during my last visit to Ypres on 9 April, 2000. I was with my parents and Ypres was the last stop on our four-day war grave visit to Belgium and The Somme in France. I remember it was a cold, damp and overcast evening, which for me did not dull my enthusiasm for the wonderful culture and history of Ypres.

We were at the Menin Gate well before the 8.00pm Last Post, which gave us the opportunity to walk around the memorial, to view closeup the magnificence of the structure with its hundreds of internal and external panels, filled with the 54583 names of WWI military officers and men from the Commonwealth, who paid the ultimate price at the Ypres Salient and have no known grave. Shortly before 8.00pm, the local police closed off the road at both ends which passes under the gate. I would say at this point there were about a dozen or so in attendance, like us they looked like tourists visiting the town.

Before the ceremony started, I raised my mid-1990’s era over-sized video camera to my eye and began recording. I recorded the smartly uniformed buglers marching out in step, before standing to attention in the middle of the roadway. After a pause they played the Last Post, which was then followed by a two-minute silence. I continued to record as the buglers left and the police reopened the road. At this point after what was probably six or seven minutes of recording, I lowered the camera and could not believe the sight before me, there were perhaps a couple of hundred people who had arrived during the short time I had been recording. But what was truly amazing, I would say a large number of them were locals who had come out from their nearby homes ~ I will never forget that. As I looked around at the faces, many in the crowd were wiping away tears. My immediate thought was ~ “and this happens every night” ~ that is dedication, that is remembrance, that is Ypres.

Always at the end of the nightly Last Post ceremony the crowds will melt away in muted contemplation, while the names of the missing remain. The buglers will be back tomorrow and the day after, and the day after that. It is a remarkable tribute by the people of Ypres to those who died fighting for their freedom ~ truly an unforgettable experience.


This evenings Last Post Ceremony ...





Unfortunately, during this visit, the Menin Gate was partly closed for restoration work which began in April 2023. Built in the 1920’s, the gate has been exposed to the weather and pollution throughout its life and has required constant maintenance and care. To guarantee its long-term preservation, funding from the CWGC along with premiums from Flemish Government and the Town of Ypres, a two-year full-scale restoration of the memorial is being undertaken. As you seen from my photos, the Last Post ceremony continues nightly at the gate.


The Menin Gate under restoration ...













 

A short drive from Ypres is Passchendaele, the location of the Third Battle of Ypres which began on 31 July 1917. Over the following 103 days of fighting in this part of Belgian Flanders, hundreds of thousands of soldiers on both sides would die. I cannot begin to imagine what these men went through, but photographs easily available on the internet may begin provide a unique window into their harsh world of mud, shell holes, barbed wire and death or the words written in January 1918 by R. A Colwell may help ~

“There was not a sign of life of any sort. Not a tree, save for a few dead stumps which looked strange in the moonlight. Not a bird, not even a rat or a blade of grass. Nature was as dead as those Canadians whose bodies remained where they had fallen the previous autumn. Death was written large everywhere.”






 In complete contrast, Passchendaele  today with the surrounding agricultural land memorial park and museum ...











 

In addition to the many memorials within the surrounding area to those with no known grave, there is also more than two dozen cemeteries with the graves of those who died in and around Ypres. Of those Tyne Cot is the biggest, in fact it is the largest CWGC cemetery in the world and no visit to this area would be complete without experiencing this location. Within the perimeter wall there are 11961 Commonwealth servicemen buried or commemorated, 8373 (70%) of the burials are unidentified ~ “Known Unto God”. There are special memorials to more than 80 casualties known or believed to be buried among them. Other special memorials commemorate 20 casualties whose graves were destroyed by shell fire, there are also 4 German burials, of which 3 remain unidentified.

The Tyne Cot Memorial which forms the north-eastern boundary of the cemetery, commemorates nearly 35000 servicemen from the United Kingdom and New Zealand who died in the Ypres Salient after 16 August 1917 and whose graves are not known. At the front of the cemetery are the graves of South African soldiers whose remains were discovered only a few years ago. The distinctive rising sun of the Australian Imperial Force’s badge is inscribed on many gravestones. At the heart of the cemetery is one of three German concrete pillboxes or blockhouse whose capture cost the lives of so many. The Cross of Sacrifice was built on top of one, reportedly at the suggestion of King George V.

German concrete pillbox then ...

German concrete pillbox now ...


Tyne Cot Cemetery ~






















































Before I left Tyne Cot, I took one last look across the nearly 12000 graves, of which 8373 are identified as ~ Known Unto God. I wondered if visitors to the cemetery ever stop and pause at those graves. The fortunate ones who are identified, will have their names, nationalities, regiments, age, date of death and possibly a personal inscription for visitors to read and dwell upon, but the unknowns have nothing. It breaks my heart to think of this, they too had loved ones who missed them and who loved them. The following poem written by Cyril W. Crain, a British soldier who landed in Normandy on 6 June 1944, is the perfect reminder to those who plan visit a CWGC cemetery.

 

The Forgotten One

Why does no one pause at my grave?

After all, I too was brave.

They pass me by and kneel and pray

At a nearby grave or across the way.

I also fought for what was right,

And here I lie by day and night.

Is there a reason they pass me by?

If there is, please tell me why.

I turned away with puzzled mind,

The answer to his words to find.

Then I looked upon the stone,

A gallant soldier, name unknown.

So, remember, if you pass his way,

Pause awhile to chat and pray

 

While in Ypres, I took a short walk from the town centre to Ramparts (Lille Gate) Cemetery, which is one of many within the same walking distance.

The cemetery grounds were assigned to the United Kingdom in perpetuity by King Albert I of Belgium in recognition of the sacrifices made by the British Empire in the defence and liberation of Belgium during the war.

The cemetery is located by the towns Lille Gate, on top of the old rampart, over what had been dug-outs. It was begun by French troops in November 1914 and used by Commonwealth units at intervals from February 1915 to April 1918. The cemetery designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield, who was also responsible for the nearby Menin Gate memorial, contains 198 Commonwealth burials of the First World War, the French graves have been removed.

 










The poem "Ypres" written by Robert Laurence Binyon, who served with the Red Cross during WWI and witnessed for himself the devastation and death, depicts the devastation of Ypres during WWI. It begins with a sense of pride and remembrance of Ypres' former glory, with its towers and trees. However, the following stanzas starkly contrast this idyllic image with the shattered ruins and bones that now lie beneath.

The poem's tone is somber and evocative, capturing the horror and tragedy of war. It personifies the dead soldiers as an army "that is biding," awaiting a call to fight once more. This creates a sense of eerie anticipation and the supernatural, as if the dead themselves are ready to rise up and seek vengeance.

The poem ends with a resounding call to action, urging the living to listen for the bugle's call and to join the dead in fighting for the cause. It emphasizes the indomitable spirit and sacrifice of those who have fallen, and serves as a poignant reminder of the cost of war.


Ypres

On the road to Ypres, on the long road,

Marching strong,

We'll sing a song of Ypres, of her glory

And her wrong.

 

Proud rose her towers in the old time,

Long ago.

Trees stood on her ramparts, and the water

Lay below.

 

Shattered are the towers into potsherds--

Jumbled stones.

Underneath the ashes that were rafters

Whiten bones.

 

Blood is in the cellar where the wine was,

On the floor.

Rats run on the pavement where the wives met

At the door.

 

But in Ypres there's an army that is biding,

Seen of none.

You'd never hear their tramp nor see their shadow

In the sun.

 

Thousands of the dead men there are waiting

Through the night,

Waiting for a bugle in the cold dawn

Blown for fight.

 

Listen when the bugle's calling Forward!

They'll be found,

Dead men, risen in battalions

From underground,

 

Charging with us home, and through the foemen

Driving fear

Swifter than the madness in a madman,

As they hear

 

Dead men ring the bells of Ypres

For a sign,

Hear the bells and fear them in the Hunland

Over Rhine!


Below are related CWGC to the places I have visited during my two days in Ypres, click on the images or links below ~

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RTdLBFoFJyw&t=115s

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5BJbNTvclU4

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ftcdQuXRSjs