Just back from a three day trip. never long enough but poverty and other considerations I go when I can and for as long as possible. A little bit of planing and a few “Must See”, and a “Oh no not again” places to visit. Going at this time of year is a joy, no 40 hommes et 8 chevaux tours, although there was a glimpse of tomorrow nights nightmare, a hundred seat bus at Tyne Cot. I’m just thankful a bus that size can not go to the smaller places. Tyne Cot is a must see, but only the once . Go see the largest British commonwealth cemetery in the world next time visit the smaller cemeteries few visit, but there was a “Newbie” so we really had to go there. Did not play spot the buried bunker this time, everyone walks over it, it is down at “G” on the cemetery plan, if memory serves me correctly. The other “And you really must go and visit.” is Langemark German cemetery. Everyone who ever visits war cemeteries in the salient around Ypres needs to go here. It is the only German War Cemetery in the salient and it is very important in the understanding of the Great War to at least acknowledge they died too. Langemark could only be a war cemetery, it is a dark somber place. Two British Soldiers are also buried here. Most visitors are British there are English poppies placed here all the time. Of note is the number of Germans who died on Christmas day 1914. The truce was not as widespread as recent papers would like us to believe.
In no particular order other places visited were Essex Farm where McCrae was a doctor. McCrae wrote his pro-war poem In Flanders Field at the graveside of Lex Helmer. Helmer’s grave is now last and he is commemorated on the Menin Gate. Normally Essex farm is a bit of a nightmare it is on the tourist trail, but it it is a good place for a “This is how you read a Commonwealth War Cemetery” guide. Very briefly, look for the poppies, they are VC winners, Shot at Dawn, or Young, stones on top of the gravestones tend to mark soldiers who were Jews.
The last post at the Menin Gate is also a must and Newbie in tow we did go. The Menin Gate is an impressive memorial to the forces of the British Empire in the Great war. Again if memory serves me right, this is the site of the Napoleon Gate, if you are going to build a memorial to British Forces in Belgium it seems apt to build it on a site that used to be named after that jumped up little corporal. Newbie is a New Zealander and New Zealand does not contribute to the upkeep of the Menin Gate. However there is at least one New Zealander commemorated on the memorial, Captain William Bell MP. Also commemorated on the memorial are four soldiers who were shot at dawn, eight Victoria Cross winners, eight fifteen year olds, three father and sons, Lex Helmer, the nephew of Chard VC, and thousands of others all worthy of note. That night a student from Florida State University (FSU) laid a wreath. The student and all the other young people from FSU are a credit to Florida.
A trip down to the Somme and Mametz Wood where Sassoon was awarded his MC, and to find a Welsh Memorial. Also a brief visit to Fricourt German Cemetery, the Red Baron was interned here before his body was moved to Berlin.
All to short visits to Beaumont Hamel, and a quick look around Newfoundland Park plus a trip to the 51st Highland Division Memorial below Hawthorne Ridge. Obsessed with defeats, and military disasters is part of the British psyche, this area is part of the 1st July 1916 story. So I talked about the very successful attack that took place here on the 13th November 1916 at the very end of the Battle of the Somme. The first British Soldier to enter Beaumont Hamel came from Grantown on Spey. Also included was an hour or two at Thiepval. Thiepval was adopted by the town of Tonbridge after the Great War but was never rebuilt. The Modern Hamlet is South West of the old village and nothing remains of it or the chateau. It is one of the places I can re visit time and time again. The Memorial dominates the surrounding countryside, if you only ever visit one place on the Western Front make it here.
There is still a considerable amount of unexploded ordinance on the Somme. None of these shells know the war is over. They are designed to kill. If you find any lying about leave them alone. Mine you, if you want to see all the wonders of no-mans land do pick them up and play with them, just make sure no one else is nearby.
Missed out Hill 60, the memorial to two victims of WW2, and the nearby crater, plus the Trench of Death at Diksmuide, but there are always other blogs.