Britain 2011 - Day 5


Wednesday. We were now in Ypres and ready for Day 3 of the tour. After a hearty breakfast at the Ariane Hotel, we were met outside by our new guide ready to take us around the Belgium sites known as Passchendale. It was another lovely morning, clear, sunny - and rather cool. Our first stop, in the early sunshine was Essex Farm, where John McCrae, a Canadian medic, penned and then discarded the poem that has come to symbolise WWI - "In Flanders Fields". From there we visited a large German cemetery, hidden away close by. Then it was on to the large New Zealand cemetery at Tyne Cot, then Polygon Wood, Hill 60, Messines and finally La Basseville. We then headed for the train station at Lille and boarded the Eurostar back to London.

Essex Farm, Ypres

Just outside Ypres we stopped at Essex Farm, where John McCrae penned and discarded his poem - "In Flanders Fields". There is a memorial to McCrae and his poem here.

John McCrae remembered in Flanders Fields
Essex Farm cemetery
The cemetery was notable for the profusion of flowers
The memorial to John McCrae and his poem
In Flanders Fields, as John McCrae penned it.
And as it has been transcribed.

Langemark German Cemetery

Many people who visit Flanders and Passchendale wonder where the German cemeteries are - and that is the way the French wanted it. The German Army had the luxury of being able to return their dead back home to their familes, but the family was asked to pay and many did not. So, according to the Treaty of Versailles, the German cemeteries were to be hidden away and were to be marked by black crosses. Beside the main road out of Ypres lies Langemark Cemetery, hiddenby a hedge and canopy of trees. The dark surroundings and black stones are a marked contract to the brightness and light of the Commonwealth versions.

Looking across the German Cemetery of Langemark
Large numbers of black stones recording thousands of names
Each stone records many names of those buried here
One of the flat stones
Many more names are recorded for those with no known grave
Another view of the standing stones
Inside the main entrance are two rooms with wood panelling, There are no lights,
But there are wreaths
Only when you look closely canyou see the wooden panels are engraved with names.
The cemetery was built around a German bunker and command post
Art and sculpture are rare. Apart from the low black crosses, this was the only decoration - four men touched by the sun as it filtered through the trees.
They look across the cemeteryin silent vigil.

The first Canadian cemetery

Our next stop was the striking Canadian Memorial. This was the site of the Canadian's first action, and one of the first times that Mustard Gas was used in the war. Fortunately for the Canadians, and the nearly Australians, one of the Candians recognised the smell and knew that the gas broke down in water. The word went out to use wet clothes over the face and nose, thus saving many men from a horrible fate. The memorial is striking. It first appears as a conventional cenotaph, but when you look to the top, it is surmounted by a soldier resting on his reversed rifle.

The Canadian Memorialsilhouetted against the early morning sun..
The soldier on top of the memorial.
The soldier resting on reversed arms
Base of the memorial with directions to Ypres
Fixing a poppy on the plaque
Plaque at the base

New Zealand Memorial at Broodseinde

Close to Passchendale is the New Zealand memorial of the Battle of Broodseinde, 4 October 1917. This is a traditional cenotaph memorial, as are many of the early New Zealand sites here. Across the road from the memorial was a large strawberry farm. This farmer, like many in the region regularly uncovers lumps of iron.

The New Zealand Memorial at Broodseinde.
The memorial close up
The base with the New Zealand design
Plaque with the details
The iron collection from the strawberry farm, complete with Griffith (Australia) teatowel.
The remains of grenade and rifle with bayonet still attached.

Tyne Cot

Tyne Cot is one of the largest British and New Zealand cemeteries in the region. It is also one of the most visited with a large bus park at the rear. The cemetery lies on a gentle slope, with the main entrance at the lowest point, although most people arrive by bus and enter from the top.

The directions to get from the bus park to the main entrance at Tyne Cott
The main entrance lookingup to the Cross of Sacrifice
Broader view of the main entrance to Tyne Cot
Rows of headstones.
The rear wall is inscribed with the names of those with no grave.
Tyne Cot is noted for its roses.
The New Zealand section with names on the walls.
An example of the names
Looking downhill across the headstones
The Cross of Sacrifice in the centre
Straight rows.
Examples of unusual headstones - Jefferies VC.
Born in Japan, served in the Irish Fusiliers, died in Passchendale, sacrified to the fallacy that war can end war.
Headstones in rows
To prove I was there.

Buttes New British Cemetery and Polygon Wood

Buttes is a combined British, Australian and New Zealand Cemetery, with the Australian memorial sited on a high hill overlooking the cemetery. Adjacent to Buttes is the New Zealand addition of Polygon Wood.

The entrance to Buttes
Overlooking the cemetery to the New Zealand wall at the rear
Looking up to the Australian memorial on the hill
The memorial on the hill
The Australian memorial from the cemetery
The Cross of Sacrifice through the trees
One of the sign boards with an early photo of the Australian memorial
Looking across the headstones
More headstones
Names inscribed on the New Zealand wall - one end
Other end.
Mostly NZ graves
Examples of NZ graves
Behind the cemetery is now a forest
including a German bunker.
Across the road from Buttes is Polygon Wood.
It has a small number of NZ graves
One of many CWGC vehicles in the area.
Polygon Wood.

Hill 60

Hill 60 was one of many mining operations, this one undertaken by Australian tunnellers. It was the subject of a recent Australian television drama based on the diary of one of the miners.

Hill 60 memorial
Pathway aross the depressions on Hill 60
Collapsed tunnels in the trees
Remains of a bunker - used by the Germans and then turned to face the other way by the British..

New Zealand Street and the NZ memorial

On Messines Ridge lies the New Zealand memorial. Below it running across ploughed fields is Nieuw-Zeelanderstraat - New Zealand Street.

Looking across towards Messines Ridge
Messines Ridge with the white line of the NZ Memorial
The white NZ Memorial
Panorama from the NZ memorial looking across the ground that the NZ troops advanced over.

Messines Church, the Frickleton Memorial and the New Zealand Memorial at Messines

Our last stop on the tour was the village of Messines. First was the church, where the New Zealander Frickleton won his Victoria Cross. The church is also noted for its defence by one young Adolf Hitler. Just down the road is the New Zealand memorial, including a section to those with no known grave.

The church at Messines
The footpath with the Frickleton VC memorial
Map of NZ with Featherson, the home of Frickleton, marked
The Frickelton memorial
Cross at Messines
Memorial to New Zealanders
General view of the cemetery
New Zealand headstones

From Messines, we drove south to Lille and into the rather large and grand Railway Station. Afer a short break, we joined the queue for the Eurostar, only to be confronted by the Immigration people asking why we had not filled in departure cards. In typical Gallic fashion these cards were only available AFTER you had passed the immigration counter, so you filled them in then had to go back, against the flow of people to hand them in. It was not worth the trouble to ask why they thought it important to do it the wrong way round. I suspect they could not see any problem with it at all. So onto the Eurostar and a quick, uneventful trip back to London (it wasn't 9/11 after all). We walked back to the same hotel and concluded that the three days in France were well worth the cost and effort.

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Last updated: 16/06/2017