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Published: November 11th 2014
11a.m 11th November 2014
A Journey in Memory of those who gave their lives so gallantly in WWI 1914-1918 There’s a poignant peace amongst the quiet towns of Flanders and The Somme as the sun goes down. As if remembering. Bright the light on furrows deep beyond the plough reveal a past of sacrifice, as lambs now graze this placid scene bequeathed to those who live today. We can but reflect. This thrill of combat, this sense of duty shared, called to arms for King and Empire, few were spared. And so they came, the strong the weak, fearless and brave. Such is patriotism. With glory, gun and horse they came to battle, this war of wire and gas, machine-gun rattle, to give their lives to the mighty roar of tank and mortar. We will remember them. The cries of wounded, the pain of the dying, and now the silence of the dead belying the tears of those they have loved and those who have loved them. Sacrificed for our freedom. Across these fertile plains and tranquil water now rest the vivid scenes of war and slaughter, as tears we share with the circling buzzards’ plaintive cry. What price war? In those fields the poppies grow amidst the mud, gallant men where soil and trench once ran with blood. We shall not forget. David 2014
September 2014 Flanders and The Somme
It is now one hundred years since the outbreak of WWI and rather late in life for us to take this journey to the battlefields, cemeteries and memorials so precious in the history of The British Empire; to pass our respects and thanks for the debt we owe to so many.
Ten million military personnel died in that war. Ten million. Count them all on your fingers if you will without a tear, and remember each and every one as a living soul with hope and spirit, prepared to fight for a better future.
There’s a heavy police presence around the port at Calais as we arrive by ferry from Dover. French
police patrol the approaching motorway as gathering groups of asylum-seekers traipse the verges and sit out the day at the roadside awaiting their chance to escape – to England. Most are from North Africa. They all seek that which we are so fortunate to share today – and who are we to deny them a better life?
Such was the slaughter in those few long years there’s a Memorial or Cemetery every few kilometres along the Western Front through Flanders and Picardy: Commonwealth, British, French, Belgian, Polish, Czech, German, Moroccan, Canadian, Irish, Indian, Australian, New Zealand, South African……… They all came here to die. The sheer scale of wasted life in this tragic battle for freedom on the Belgian and French borders is hard to comprehend. There are more than 1,200 cemeteries and memorials along this Western Front. We visited many but will mention but a few here. We left them all, each and every one, with heavy heart. Flanders Ypres
, now known as Ieper, a small Flemish town to rival Bruges, with a large cobbled market square, a vast Lakenhalle, The Old Cloth Hall, reminding us of Poland’s delightful Krakov,
and many wonderful, gabled buildings. Ypres, a proud, magnificent city lovingly resurrected from the ashes of devastation from German shelling during 1915.
The Last Post is played each evening at the Menin Gate, a tradition begun in the 1920s. We joined a group on many hundreds in respectful silence as darkness fell. At 45m high, The Menin Gate
commemorates Commonwealth casualties from forces of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India, South Africa and the UK who died in the salient.
This Ypres Memorial now bears the names of nearly 55,000 Allied troops with no known grave. Tyne Cot
Commonwealth War Grave Cemetery.
At nearby Zonnebeke, the Tyne Cot
visitor centre provides an atmospheric introduction to the Ypres Salient Battlefields and this vast Commonwealth War Grave Cemetery. Here, stark white crosses meticulously line the hillside; 11,954 graves, 70%!o(MISSING)f which bear no names but simply the words, ‘Known unto God’. This is indeed most beautiful, quiet and humbling. VC Corner Australian Cemetery and Memorial Park
Set beside a narrow winding country road overlooking a vast, featureless plain once strewn with barbed
wire, shell holes, knee-deep mud and the broken bodies of the many.
A short way along the road a poignant statue bearing the title, 'Cobbers', depicts an Australian soldier under fire carrying a wounded comrade from the battlefield; a fitting tribute to those gallant Australians who gave their lives for the freedom of Europe at The Battle of Fromelles. Canadian National Memorial - Vimy Ridge
The strategic value of Vimy Ridge is evident as one stands at the foot of the colossal twin columns of the Vimy Memorial, gleaming white in an autumn sun, looking out over the plains where11,285 Canadian soldiers were killed in action.
Innocent sheep now graze on the fresh green grass of shell-pocked hillocks, behind electric fences and warning signs of unexploded shells. This is surely the most impressive of all the memorials visited.
We have a close association with Canada as many of you will know. Notre-Dame de Lorette French National War Cemetery
The French paid a heavy price here on the Western Front. The Notre-Dame de Lorette War Cemetery is the largest French memorial to
The Canadian National Memorial
the fallen of WWI, so very moving by its sheer scale.
How difficult it is not to picture each face; helmeted, smiling, smoking, joking........ and their broken bodies tangled in barbed wire.
Langemark German Military Cemetery
is a sad and somber spectacle in comparison. We should not forget there were two sides to this conflict. Here a mass grave of 24,000 unknown German soldiers lies beneath a host of oak trees, windswept leaves, wilting wreaths and dark granite crosses, whilst a stone statue of four mourning soldiers looks on. They too were the sacrificial lambs of a tyrannical state. But there is little glory expressed here at Langemark. Lochnagar Crater
at La Boiselle
A mighty explosion erupted here at 07.28 on the 1st
July 1916 forming a crater 300ft (91m) wide and 80ft (24m) deep, behind German lines. Mines were detonated in tunnels forged from British trenches across no-man’s-land, sending debris three-quarters of a mile into the air. Many of the sixteen craters created that day have now been filled leaving no trace on the rolling hills and hedge-less fields spread before
Notre-Dame de Lorette
French National War Cemetery
Two minutes later the first Somme offensive began.
In total the Somme Offensive left a million men
wounded or killed. Included amongst them was Janice’s great uncle, James Barsham Burgess. Beaumont-Hammel
A bronze caribou stands proudly on high ground overlooking the Allied and German trenches and shell holes and the narrow strip of no-mans-land here at Beaumont-Hammel. It’s a few years since we were in Newfoundland, marveling at the fortitude of the fishermen from tiny villages around the island’s rugged coastline who risked their lives and died at sea in the days before the cod ran out. The Newfoundland Memorial
remembers those who came to war in Europe; 110 of 780 men were left standing after the first 30 minutes of the Beaumont-Hammel offensive, the rest mown down by German machine-guns as they advanced from the trenches.
How cruel is war? Thiepval British War Memorial
Thiepval was strategically significant in the Battle of the Somme and this Anglo-French Memorial now bears the names of 72,194 officers and men of the United Kingdom and South African forces missing on
Langemark German Cemetery
...there is little glory expressed here at Langemark.
the Somme battlefields. James Barsham Burgess’s name is engraved here. He enlisted on the 2nd
September 1914 and was 20 years old when his Norfolk Regiment left for France in July 1915. He died in action on that first terrible day of the Battle of the Somme, July 1st
1916, one of nearly 20,000 British soldiers killed in action that day.
Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, the arched Anglo-French memorial marks the alliance of Britain and France in the offensive against the German Front on the Somme and each nation’s sacrifice.
In all, the British Army suffered more than 420,000 killed, injured, taken prisoner or missing on the Somme.
Is it any wonder this war has become known as the Great War? Amiens
A unique opportunity opened to us on this journey back in time. Many thousands of aircraft flew on reconnaissance, strafing and bombing missions, as aircraft on both sides became more sophisticated and the war progressed. An Air Show at Amiens Glisy Airfield had been organized to celebrate the Centenary of the beginning of Great War, Aerien du Centenaire, and the part played by both forces in the air.
What clearly started off to be a big fete resounded with the roar of thousands of spectators, planes from WWI and WWII, complete with dog-fights, a most impressive display from La Patrouille de France (the equivalent of the UK Red Arrows), huge kites and hot-air balloons over the three days of our stay.
This was grand stuff for all us boys with a love of toys – and an enthusiastic Janice! Armistice Glade Memorial
Hidden away in a forest clearing a little way out of the delightful town of Compiegne (twinned with bury St Edmunds in the UK), the Armistice Glade Memorial
is a serene and fitting place to ponder the tragic consequences of war. A symbolic sculpture shows a sword cutting down the Imperial Eagle of Germany, and a somewhat tired museum housing a replica of railway carriage number 2419D retraces the moment the Armistice was signed here on the 11th November 1918 and this tragic war finally came to an end.
But we did forget
A mere 21 years later the mighty Germany rose again under the Nazi Flag and this same
railway carriage was to be used by Hitler to sign the Armistice when France capitulated in June1940 during WWII 1939 -1945.
We took the time to drive west to the Normandy Beaches; Sword, Gold, Omaha, Utah and Juno, the D–Day landing beaches of June 1944 where history was to repeat itself with the slaughter of innocent men.
The rusting hulks of Mulberry Harbour are still visible off the shallow beaches at Gold Beach, Arromanches.
For those who might question the need to remember and indeed our desire to set upon this pilgimage, I must surely say, our lives are now that much richer.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
From Laurence Binyon's "For the Fallen"
David and Janice
The Grey Haired Nomands
* You might also recall our visit to some of the battlefields of Verdun Motorhome News from Switzerland Part II
further south, in September 2013.
* * Scroll down for more pictures
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