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Paying our respects

a travel blog by rickandsuejohnson


Sue and I have always thought of ourselves as fortunate that in the death and destruction of WW1, our 4 Grandfathers emerged if not unscathed, at least alive. Recent family research has revealed a Great Uncle of Rick's who did not come home. We have long felt that we should pay our respects to the memory of what our Grandfathers did for us and our recent discovery has given it added poignancy.
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Farewell Angleterre

Bailleul, France


Why is it that the UK manages to screw up its road maintenance so badly? We have travelled 24 years in France without significant problems due to roadworks. The only times we have been held up significantly are because of a bad accident. The French appear to prefer rolling roadworks which mean a lot of work going on in a small space and minimum inconvenience. In Canada last year we travelled huge distances and yet we only had one incident of significant delay, when a bridge was being replaced. And they have an excuse – they can only do their work in the 5 months of Summer. Canada may have 4 seasons but two of them only last about 1 month and Winters are savage! But in the UK we want to cordon off an area of about a mile either side of a set of roadworks and leave one man and his dog to do the work – when, that is, they are not having a tea break. We have a climate that by-and-large will allow work 12 months of the year and have probably the most congested roads in Europe if not the world. Yet we wait until July and August when most people are on holiday and clogging up the roads to do the work. You would have thought that some minister or perhaps a civil servant would have considered that these months should be avoided if at all possible? Surely someone, somewhere should have worked out that there are endless possibilities for additional bureaucracy and self-interest by Banning roadworks in this period without special dispensation? Thereby ensuring as an additional and unintentional by-product the holiday motorist is able to plan a trip without having to build in an extra 25% journey time for time-critical trips? If I ruled the world......................................

permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on August 4, 2011 from Bailleul, France
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The view from here

Bailleul, France


Leisurely start to the day, then put up the awning and had a bite of lunch before setting out out explore the local town, Bailleul. We found a medium sized Intermarche for our shopping and then parked in the main square to have a look around. It was striking how many of the local buildings had been built post 1920. The town was badly damaged during WW1 so pretty well all the buildings post-date it. An extraordinary feat when you think that it was not just this town but many others that had the same problem and finding the workforce to rebuild in a short time cannot have been easy. We went back to the site and were mildly surprised to find that we were not just close to the Belgian border; we were practically on it! Mont Noir is one of several large hills in the area known as Les Monts du Flandres and unsurprisingly is strategically important. It was much contested in WW1 for the views it affords and just below the campsite is a military cemetery. We left the site at the top of the hill and decided we'd walk to Belgium. 150 metres later we passed the sign announcing we were in Belgium; we were astonished to see how busy the village was – absolutely packed to the gunwales with cars and people. We decided that French people nearby cross the border for cheaper goods (well we assume so as you would be unlikely to cross it for more expensive ones!) On the one hand it was undoubtedly a proud and unpretentious working community while on the other there were shades of Cockshutt meets Southend! The village itself is about the same size as Cockshutt but there are some strange anomalies such as the huge boulangerie – much larger than a small village requires and the exquisite chocolaterie, again much larger and well stocked than a small village requires. Against this is the huge games arcade and casino that you wouldn't normally find in a village like Cockshutt. While I wouldn't be altogether against the first two, I'm sure I wouldn't be happy with the third, especially with the unwashed masses the place seemed to attract! At the end of the village was a chair lift which runs from there to the next small hill about 1Km away across a small valley over the main road and some beautifully arranged vineyards. We decided it might be interesting to take the trip. The bar that would normally keep you safe in such circumstances had been replaced by a self-assembly steel strap; the whole affair looked rather basic and we wondered if we may have some explaining to do to our children if an accident befell us. Fortunately we managed the round trip with only the odd need to lift legs to avoid bits of tree.

permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on August 5, 2011 from Bailleul, France
from the travel blog: Paying our respects
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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
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'Wipers'

Ieper, Belgium


Wipers is the version of the town name used by many thousands of the Tommies who made their way through it to this sector of the front. We set Tom Tom for the centre of Ypres. When we got to the Grote Markt the square was largely taken up by a fun fair but being Sunday morning it was all shut up and a small parking area remained at the far end where other cars were parked and not a paying machine in sight. There were signs chalked up in Flemish with the word Markt and various times written alongside but surely a market wouldn’t start up after mid-day on a Sunday. So we decided to stop and headed for the ‘In Flanders Field Museum’ on the first floor of the Cloth Hall. An amazing and thought provoking experience – audio visual presentations, interactive screens, detailed explanations of the 3 battles for Ypres and descriptions of the day to day existence of the population and soldiers in and around Ypres between 1914-1918. Prior to 1914, Germany was one of the co-signatories of the guarantee of Belgian neutrality. Despite several wars with Germany, it does not appear to have occurred to the French that fortifying their border with Germany on the Maginot Line would lead the German high command to contemplate circumventing it by ignoring their promises of respecting Belgian neutrality. The Ludendorf Plan did just that. It wasn’t to be the last time that Germany conveniently ignored a promise made in good faith. The exhibition really brought home the horrors that had taken place and the utter devastation of the areas we had visited the day before. We had spent at least 2 hours there but could have spent at least double that – we both agreed that the subject had been sensitively and imaginatively presented without bias. Amazing too that the ‘Cloth Hall’ housing the museum and Ypres itself had been lovingly raised from literally a flattened landscape back to its pre 1914 state. The Cloth Hall only finished reconstruction in the late 60's.

Emerging into the daylight we decided to look for somewhere for a snack. I suggested we pop back to the car to drop off our guide books. What car, where was it? No cars now, just a market!! A rather panicky enquiry on my part to a stall holder revealed that the car had been towed away – probably by the police. She spoke to other people who all agreed that must be what had happened but no-one was quite sure where the police station was or how we would get in contact with them. Rick and the lady came to the same conclusion – go to the tourist information centre and ask them to look up the number. Bless her, she took us there with a friend and made sure we were seen by a sweet young lady who rang the police and established who had the car. So it had been stolen by the local authorities and held to ransom! The police would arrive soon and take us to it. About 45 mins later we were re-united with the car as the towing company were about 15 kms outside Ypres. The policemen were very kind and there was no charge to take us there but we had to pay 120 Euros to the towing man who looked really apologetic and said he was sorry. Our fault entirely for not understanding the sign. Stupidly we hadn’t fully realised that we would be spending a lot of time in Flemish Belgium where there are linguistic tensions and it is a mistake to speak French to a local; we hadn’t brought our European dictionary!

Once bitten – before we left the car in another area of Ypres we checked with Flemish speakers that there was no need for pay and display in this area on a Sunday and headed off in the direction of the Menin Gate via the Grote Markt. It was 4.30pm and we were a bit hungry by this time so we stopped at a bar just off the main square and had Croques Monsieur followed by Gauffres with chocolate sauce for me or Crepes with strawberry jam for Rick washed down with a Cherry Kreik for me and a Jupiter beer for Rick. A brief stop in St Martin's Cathedral to see the stained glass rose window given as a present from the British Army and RAF to King Albert when the church was rebuilt after WW1 and then through the main square. Turning a corner at the far end the monument suddenly becomes visible and is only about 50 yards away.
Rick and I were both struck by its size. Somehow it had never looked that large on the television. The white stone glows in the sunlight and the centre of the arched ceiling is pierced by three large circular openings to the sky. The walls outside and in, and on the stairways to the side wings, are covered with the names of those with no known grave missing in battle up to 15 August 1915 (over 54,000). Those who were lost and whose bodies were never found after this date are commemorated at Tyne Cot. Climbing the stairs on the south side of the gate to the ramparts we walked along in the direction of the Lille Gate and to the Ramparts Cemetery, one of the smallest on the whole of the western front. The walk that approaches it is named after Rose Coombs the author of the book which has given us much of the information on the sites, who was a great friend of Ieper and whose ashes were sprinkled in the Ramparts Cemetery. The headstones in the cemetery all face out to overlook the rivers that converge here at its base. From here we made our way back to the car (yes it was still where we parked it!) and a route back to Mont Noir via the Monts des Cats. Mental note made to re-visit the latter at a later stage!


permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on August 7, 2011 from Ieper, Belgium
from the travel blog: Paying our respects
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Keeping local

Bailleul, France


After the excitement of yesterday, we decided to have a day local so that we were really fresh for what could be a long day tomorrow. First stop was at the top of the campsite, just outside which and laid back 10 metres or so is a monument to the 34th Division with its winged angel of victory. On then into the park donated to the village by Marguerite Yourcenar. Born in Brussels she spent much of her childhood here in the family chateau before WW1 when it was reduced to a shell. An apparently celebrated writer in her later life, she travelled with her father until his death in 1929 then lived a bohemian existence in Paris until the money ran out in 1939 when she went to the US following a girlfriend. She lived the rest of her life in Maine with occasional trips back here and is significant for being the first woman nominated as a member of the Academie Francaise. She built a house on the site of the old chateau and this is still used by writers for periods of contemplation and writing. Given the noise made by a happy band of children playing in the park when we were there, the contemplation will not be quiet! One of the walks through the park was to the military cemetery at the foot of the campsite, so we followed the path through the woods and duly arrived at a beautiful and quiet little corner. Not for the first – or I doubt the last time we were struck by the fact that so many small communities housed a small cemetery of WW1 graves; yet another indicator of the human cost of the conflict. Small wonder that so many people (especially former participants) on all sides were determined that this should never be allowed to happen again.

A quiet walk back up half the hill and a right turn to cross the border into Belgium to buy some bread at the huge boulangerie. Once inside we noticed a huge counter about a metre deep and about 4 metres long covered in a bread for which locals seemed to go mad, buying several loaves and getting them sliced at the counter. The loaves concerned looked similar to brioche, a golden colour but an elongated, flat shape and apparently glazed with sugar. We didn't fancy one at the time but I feel we should try the local delicacy before we leave.

permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on August 8, 2011 from Bailleul, France
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The Somme

Albert, France


Up earlyish and off to do a tour of the more southerly parts of the British sector in the Somme. I have known for a couple of years that my Great Uncle Oswald Booth was killed in WW1 on the Somme but there was no family information on where, even though my Dad was a soldier himself. I suspect that we all thought he was one of the many who have no known resting place. Following a tip on Chris Baker's website I had recently visited the CWGC's website and it showed two Oswald Booths; one of these had the right mother's address, so is our man. We were determined to visit his grave.in Daours and built this into the day.

Despite a lot of internet based research before the day, we hadn't really managed to work out where each of our grandparents were involved; the service records that would have shown this must have been part of the 60% destroyed by bombing in WW2. Knowing his regiment and where he died we thought may give us a clue as to where Oswald saw service. Daours was a casualty clearing station so he was unlikely to have been killed outright as most of these either were buried locally where they fell or collected later into nearby cemeteries. Cemeteries by clearing stations were usually for those who died of wounds.

13th Bn Royal Fusiliers were, according to the order of battle for the Somme, part of 111th Brigade. This was part of 37th Division on 1st July when the battle started and would have been attacking Gommecourt with the rest of III Corps under Allenby. However, 34th Division was particularly badly mauled on 1st July, and 111th Brigade was loaned to 34th Division in between 6th July 1916 and 22nd August 1916. As Oswald died on 19th July 1916, he would have been fighting with the 34th as part of II Corps under Jacobs. This time window gave us a fairly precise time frame as it seems that on the 13th July the British advance was facing the second German defensive complex. A night attack on the 14th took this line but ran into stiffening resistance. The 111th fought in the battle of Bazentin Ridge which took place between 15th and 20th July 1916 and it is our guess that this is where he was wounded. It must have been sufficiently serious to move him back for hospitalisation along the clearing stations of which Daours was one. As no antiseptics had been developed at this time, it is quite likely that gas gangrene developed quickly (nothing to do with gas). We have to acknowledge this is all postulation and we are unlikely to know.

Suffice to say it was with mixed feelings that we saw his grave; sadness that Great Uncle Oswald had been lost to us for such a long time; left without a visit from the family and happiness that we are sort of re-united. We obviously never knew him but he was a big brother of my paternal Grandmother whom we did know and crazily, we were fighting the tears. The connection with this particular cemetery was suddenly palpable and personal. Looking round the cemetery reinforced once more the hardships endured by the boys doing the fighting, most of whom were younger than our youngest and by the families who had to contend with the results both of those who stayed in France and those who came back; nothing could ever be the same again.

The day had started with an hour or so's drive to our first call, Caterpillar Valley Cemetery, near Combles; the site of the New Zealand Memorial to the missing listing 1,205 New Zealanders with no known grave. The site gives a great view of the 'Battle for the woods' battlefield of July -Sept 1916 including Bazentin Woods where we believe Oswald may have been wounded. We wanted to look at a few cemeteries in the area as if 13th RF had been involved, it is likely that there would be some concentration of their dead. There were none that I spotted in a quick tour of the cemetery, although I did spot a Mustoe in the Gloucesters who could easily be a relation from the branch in Evesham. Outside we met a lovely couple from Perth, Australia who have decided to visit, over time, all of the Aussie cemeteries. We knew that they are frighteningly common in Northern France but they had a map from CWGC which superimposes all the cemeteries on a map; frighteningly common doesn't begin to cover it! The lady herself was actually born in Reading and lived in Caversham – its a small world!

From here we went to the tiny cemetery at Bazentin Woods itself. Like all CWGC cemeteries, a lovely location and exquisitely maintained. A tiny cemetery it had no 13th RF either which was surprising and rather dents our theory. However, we have none better so will stick with it. There was a single headstone apart from the others to a soldier 'known to be buried in this cemetery'. Being a front line cemetery, it is probable that it would have been hit by shellfire after burials and all that would be left would be any record that the unit may have kept. Making our way towards Albert, we stopped briefly in La Boisselle to see the memorial to the 34th Div,; identical to the one at Mont Noir. On to the D929, leaving the village, there was a sign noting the position of the Front in 1916.

Next stop was Daours, a pretty little town and one which was more significant than either of us had expected. Back to Corbie and south to the magnificent if slightly chauvinistic Australian memorial with its depiction of a perfectly planned and executed battle plan by an Australian General with Australian troops to capture the high ground in a lesson to others as to how to do it. daresay it was exceptionally well done but as Alexander the Great once said – 'The most important quality in a General is being lucky'. Luck must have played its part no matter how meticulous the planning and experience of what had gone before must have informed the plan.

Back to La Boisselle to find the Lochnagar Crater, the largest on the Western Front, one of a group of 17 blown on 1st July 1916.

It is huge, today being some 300ft across and 70 ft deep. The explosion was apparently heard for 100s of miles. I suspect only an aerial photo could give a sense of scale. These mines were under German positions, so huge numbers must have been killed.

On to Thiepval and Lutyens memorial to the Missing of the Somme battlefields. On the panels of stone are listed the names of 72,104 soldiers who were killed in 1916-1917 and have no known grave. Behind the memorial are 300 French and 300 British graves of unknown soldiers. The memorial is dedicated to both British and French. It stands on a labyrinth of trenches forming part of the impregnable fortress attacking which so many of the names were killed.

We visited in early evening and it seemed an appropriate end to the day to be visiting this huge, brooding monument as seen set against the sun which was streaming through its arch. Then going through the arch with all the names around, finally seeing the brightness beyond with the stone glowing in the early evening sunshine. It seemed a suitable metaphor somehow.


permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on August 9, 2011 from Albert, France
from the travel blog: Paying our respects
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Its windy - lets go and see a windmill!

Cassel, France


Off to Steenmeulen windmill at nearby Terdeghem, We arrived just in time for a guided tour of the museum and windmill by the miller's wife. It is the only working brick windmill in the area and it was an experience to see it in action.

The tour of the museum revealed some fascinating facts about life on the border before the 20th Century (Terdeghem is only a few hundred yards from the Belgian border). The women of the house would cross the border from France with a specially constructed apron like garment with two very large pockets concealed beneath their skirts and would return laden with tobacco, meat, chocolate and basically anything else that would fit. As our guide explained, even in those days things were cheaper in Belgium! They apparently got away with the smuggling as the Customs Officers weren't allowed to touch women.

This area is famous for its beer and we were shown how in days gone by in September the wires supporting the plants were cut and the hop flowers would be picked by hand by workers sitting on chairs in between the rows beneath the wires. The school year did not start until mid September as the children were expected to take part. The hops would then be taken to the mill and placed between the stones to release the flavours before fermentation. Mills in this area served a dual purpose for the Brasseries and to produce flour for the Boulangeries and coarser grain for use as animal fodder. Different stones would be used according to the task in hand.

The museum was full of old farm machinery including those to extract fibres from flax to make into rope.

The wind was strong and having adjusted the angle of the sails to his satisfaction the miller climbed down one of the sails and set them in motion. No canvas on these sails and yet they turned with such force. We were taken inside and on each floor Mrs Miller gave us a detailed commentary on the functions of the mechanisms, how they were constructed etc.

On to Cassel, its hill the highest point of the region in the Flemish range. The town dates back to Roman times. It has seen many sieges in its time. During the 1793-94 campaign in Flanders against the French revolutionary army the Duke of York was soundly beaten here and the old British nursery rhyme – The Grand Old Duke of York – recalls the march up and down the hill at Cassel. Our guide book said that the town has a huge cobbled square. It is also approached from Steenvorde by a long cobbled road! We drove, well rattled, through the main square, very pretty – lots of parking but a large notice to the effect that it was a blue parking zone – I'd read somewhere that if you visited the Musee de Flandre they would give you a parking permit. We weren't visiting the museum and so headed on to find a large free parking area only about 200 yards further on and right below the Public gardens . There is a fantastic view over the plain from here and apparently on a really clear day you can see as far as the belfry in Bruges! Not surprisingly for its location, the gardens surround an 18C wooden windmill (the hill used to be dotted with numerous mills but this is the only one remaining). Again, being open for tourists, the sails were in motion – this one's canvases were unfurled. You'll also find an impressive statue of General Foch on horseback in the gardens. He had his headquarters at Cassel between October 1914 to June 1915 to follow the progress of the battle of Flanders on the banks of the Yser.


permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on August 10, 2011 from Cassel, France
from the travel blog: Paying our respects
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Craters and trenches

Zillebeke, Belgium


In to the tourist office in Bailleul to find out about the Carillon concert in the evening, book our tour of the Brasserie Beck and meal for Saturday evening and to find out about the train to Lille. We also asked about the Blue Zone Parking – apparently its a type of season ticket you can purchase. Worth it if you are local and nipping into town quickly to do some shopping. Best to use the free car park behind the town hall when we go to the concert, we were told. We quickly hopped back to the car (we'd parked in the blue zone!) to navigate to the free parking and take a look at the town's war memorial which was built attached to the ruins of St Amand church.

Back into Belgium to take a proper look at the memorial gardens and Canadian monument outside Sint Juliaan this time in bright blustery weather. On to Tyne Cot with its 11,953 graves (over 8,000) unidentified. As you approach the small museum outside the cemetery walls, the voice of a young British woman reads out the names and ages of those known to lie here. Inside as the names are read their photos are displayed on a screen. There are maps explaining the battles here and cases displaying personal artefacts – letters, photos, telegrams etc. On walking down to the cemetery entrance we were passed by a group of young teenagers each wheeling an OAP. The cemetery has over 200,000 visitors a year and this is the first one where we have seen gardeners busy mowing the lawns and plants in a holding area ready to put out. Some areas were cordoned off where new grass had been laid over matting to try and protect it from the heavy wear. The car park here was full and not just with British cars – teenagers, couples with young families , middle aged and old. These boys and men are not forgotten.

We had a drink and sandwich at the cafe attached to the Hooge Crater Museum where there are life size displays of soldiers of many nationalities, old photos and maps of what Hooge looked like before and after 1914. When you drive through the countryside now surrounded by trees, green fields, cows, sheep and people going about their everyday lives it is impossible to appreciate what it was like there from 1914. It's only when you see pictures of the landscape – mud, stumps of trees, piles of rubble and dead bodies that the true horror is brought into perspective. About 100 yards back from the museum you can visit the Hooge craters now forming a pretty lake and a small section of trenches now in the grounds of a hotel.

A little further west and Hill 60 where the Australians tunnelled under the German lines and detonated mines as part of the battle of Messines. Over 600 Germans were killed here when the mine exploded and the hill has been left as it was after the battle. Now sheep graze amongst the hillocks, old bunkers and craters..

Back slightly later to Bailleul than planned to listen in the comfort of the car to the final 10 minutes of the bell concert - a mix of modern and classic tunes (oh Champs Elysees and Strangers in the Night!).

permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on August 11, 2011 from Zillebeke, Belgium
from the travel blog: Paying our respects
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Hommelpap Microbrewery

Bailleul, France


Spent most of the day alternately irritating and amusing Sue with passages from Stephen Clark's '1000 years of annoying the French'.

Went a little early to Bailleul for the Brasserie Tour & meal that we had booked for 7pm and took the opportunity to visit the quite large cemetery in Bailleul itself. The military cemetery is an extension of the old town cemetery and contains the graves of German, French and BEF soldiers along with several Chinese Labour Corps. As Bailleul Hospital was a major casualty clearing station and hospital, I would guess that many of those interred here died of wounds. Our way to the brasserie from here was probably across an RFC aerodrome, as there was one near the town.

The brasserie was a fairly typical microbrewery and we were taken to a field about 50 metres up the road to be shown hops growing, with an explanation of how much was under cultivation and tonnage produced which was converted into the amount of beer produced. As the animateur spoke softly and rapidly, I didn't catch any of the details and we had the same story as we had heard at the windmill about children starting school late in September so that they could help with the harvest. Back 50 metres down the road to the brewery for an explanation of the constituents of beer and how the hops were dried and why they were used in beer; again I didn't catch most of the detail and I probably only gathered what I did by being reasonably familiar with the process. The explanation took place in a small hallway about 5 metres by 4 with the brewery itself in a room about the same size next door through a glass partition. High tech it was not. To be honest it was a bit of an anti-climax.
Once the tour was done, we went upstairs into a galleried area with tables and shown to our reserved table (pour deux Anglais). It was a lovely bucolic environment with open space above our heads provided by the roof timbers and with agricultural impedimenta supended from the beams and on the walls. The family all took part in the business; we suspect Grandpa and Grandma providing beer and direction respectively, grandchildren waiting on tables and Mum & Dad in the kitchen. We ate boeuf carbonnade au biere du maison avec des frites and it was truly magnificent. The beef was tender and tasty and the fries were really good. I had a barley wine aperitif with a distinct and very pleasant base of honey and Sue had one based on a rhubarb cordial with sparkling wine. The meal was washed down in my case with the brewery's own Hommelpap, while Sue had a pear juice She was driving back! We finished with coffee and had an altogether delightful evening. All for a very reasonable amount that should shame many more prestigious establishments; I have had many 'better' meals that have been exorbitant and I have not enjoyed as much.

On our way back we had a couple of surprised stares at our right hand drive and I felt the urge at the next car to throw my hands in the air in a 'look no hands gesture' as we approached, which caused some consternation to the oncoming car and amusement on mine; juvenile I know, but being looked at by people as though you have two heads can sometimes affect one that way.

permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on August 13, 2011 from Bailleul, France
from the travel blog: Paying our respects
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Messines area and street fairs

Messines, Belgium


The day started with a visit to Boescheppe to see a show of draught horses doing their thing pulling logs, carts and ploughing etc. We decided to be clever and use the back roads to get there, which was a mistake as all the approaches from our direction were 'deviation'! We managed to find somewhere on the far side of the small town to park and walked in. There we discovered the problem. They were having a combined street market and car boot sale and the whole of Flanders was invited; most of them accepting the invitation. The masses of stalls had everything catered for and there were some tempting articles. There was no sign of the promised horses so we went back to the car and decided to go on to the Messines ridge that was our next objective. Reasoning that if the horses were somewhere in the vicinity, they were likely to be on the outskirts, we motored around the remainder of the place just in case. Sure enough at the furthest point, there they were, large as life – well actually roughly twice life sized. We were directed to a large and rather muddy field whose corn had been cut very recently indeed and I was duly grateful for traction control which gave me the confidence to have our underside thoroughly scrubbed by the stubble while clogging up the wheel arches with mud. Walking from the car to the show itself across same field was another experience; every time you trod on a bit of stubble, it released the rainwater it had stored from the heavy rain of the previous night straight up your leg as soon as you lifted your foot. It was a joy, however to see the draught horses in action, although less so to see one trainer with his beautiful greys making them walk over a stairway made of hay bales just to show that he could. It seemed rather pointless to me and unnatural. In the field, there were horse doing what they should, pulling carts, logs and ploughs demonstrating great skills from both horse and driver.
Off then to Messines ridge and our first stop at the Island of Ireland Memorial commemorating protestant and roman catholic soldiers who fought as one against a common enemy.
On to Ploegsteert where we saw the memorial to Winston Churchill's service near there in WW1 and thence to Hyde Park Corner and H Charlton-Bradshaw's Ploegsteert Memorial to the Missing on opposite sides of the road. The Missing in this case are from the battles of Armentieres, Aubers Ridge, Loos, Fromelles, Estaires, Hazebrouck, Scherpenberg and Outtersteene Ridge; some 11,367 men. Near here is the simple wooden cross erected in 1999 to mark one of the spots where the unofficial Christmas 1914 truce took place. In to Messines (Mesen) and the New Zealand Memorial to the Missing and British Cemetery on the ridge itself with a commanding view of the countryside beyond. From here we made our way to Mount Kemmel, a steep hill with an understandably desirable outlook. On the slopes of this is the French Ossuary – a mass grave of 5,294 soldiers, only 57 of whom are known by name. At the top is the French monument to those who died in Belgium.
Our next stop was at the site of the Lone Tree Crater, one of the craters left by the mines of 1917; now transformed into the Pool of Peace. I can't help feeling that it is wishful thinking that dedicating something that was so hugely destructive into a sentiment such as this will make anyone think twice about war. Quite apart from anything else, we are still quite primal and once threatened will strike to try to remove that threat rather than rationalise it. Once struck the other party will retaliate to show that it cannot be dominated in that way and before long a war has started. Plenty of people understand this and work on it to achieve their own ends. What we as human beings would do well to master is the art of communication without agenda.
Our way back to the campsite was through Roteberg and Mont Noir villages. We came to a grinding halt at the edge of Mont Noir Village as the party had relocated itself from Boescheppe to Mont Noir. Swollen with the mass of the great unwashed that gatecrashed the party from the whole area between Paris and Brussels, the street was running with people – certainly not cars. Pedestrians did their best impression of invulnerability with gallic insouciance and cars somehow managed to avoid them but it took 12 minutes to cover ground that normally takes about 90 seconds.


permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on August 14, 2011 from Messines, Belgium
from the travel blog: Paying our respects
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