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Battlefield Cemetery tour

Ieper, Belgium

Off to investigate Boescheppe near to the campsite before heading off towards Ypres (Ieper - pronounced Ee-per in Flemish) and the Essex Farm Cemetery. It was here that Canadian Lieutenant-Colonel Surgeon John McCrae from Guelph (well known to some of our family!) composed his famous poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ in 1915 as a dressing station doctor. His poem is written in full on a plaque adjacent to the bunkers that housed the wounded before their journey away from the front line which was about 100 yards from the Ypres canal. The cemetery with its neat rows of white headstones surrounds a memorial to the 49th West Riding Division. What was especially poignant were little gifts in memoriam; a tiny Canadian flag, a cross with a note to a distant relative who had died – even a tiny Canadian lapel pin. There are a number of companies who operate tours of the battlefields and we were joined by a small group whilst we were there. They were getting a very detailed commentary - luckily Rick had printed off a tour from Chris Baker’s excellent and informative website www.1914-1918.net which we followed, with more detail provided from Rose Coombs’ book ‘Before Endeavours Fade’.

On to Langemark military cemetery, one of the few German ones in the area. Just next to the car park is a tunnel with an audio visual presentation of the battles that were fought near here. By April 1915 when the war had reached a stalemate and despite the fact that it was against agreed convention not to use it, the Germans resorted to releasing chlorine gas along the lines running from the coast to south of Ypres. The casualties on both sides were tremendous. The presentation ends with scenes of burials and the words ‘Enemies in Life, Comrades in Death’. The layout of the cemetery is very different from the British and includes bunkers and linking memorial stones; part of the fortifications of the Langemark line. There are around 35,000 buried here, huge numbers of them are students who were poorly trained before being thrown against battle hardened veterans of the British Army. They never stood a chance.

Heading in the direction of Zonnebeke the skies were getting darker and darker. We parked up at Vancouver corner, near the village of Sint-Juliaan, and as it was nearing 3pm and had started to drizzle, we decided to eat our picnic. It was here that Canadian troops bravely defended the village against those first gas attacks in 1915 and a beautiful statue of a soldier resting on his rifle commemorates their bravery in this and the subsequent battle of Passchendale.

The heavens opened and as we sat waiting for it to lighten enough to walk up to the monument we contemplated the terrible conditions that the soldiers endured in the trenches here – according to the guide book sometimes the mud was 2ft deep and the only way to move from one trench to another was with duck boards or risk drowning! Another tour bus arrived as the rain lightened and we joined them briefly before scooting back to the car.

A slight let up in the rain as we drove into Passchendale looking for the turn off to the cemetery. A sign pointing to the left in between modern houses on the outskirts of the village – surely the largest cemetery couldn’t be here. You turn a bend in the road and there it is, a huge high walled perimeter with cupola topped towers here and there. As we drove into the car park the heavens opened again and we just found a parking space amongst loads of other visiting Brits. We decided after 5 mins or so and no let up in the rain that we would come back another day and so headed back to the campsite.

permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on August 6, 2011 from Ieper, Belgium
from the travel blog: Paying our respects
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Managed to get on! Enjoying your posts very much, lovely to catch up earlier xx

permalink written by  Zoe Manley on August 8, 2011

very nice post.

permalink written by  Priboj on August 9, 2011

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