Last week I visited the battlefields of the Somme and Ypres, with my daughter and daughter-in-law and our guide, Steve, who organises tours there. ( Discovery Battlefield Tours)
The four of us travelled in his Land Rover Discovery.
He picked us up from home, then we took the Eurotunnel over. That was a new experience for me! We reached France within half an hour.
Steve drove us down to our bed and breakfast, stopping off on the way to show us various cemeteries and places of interest.
I had studied the war at school and read about it on and off since, especially as regards my family’s part in it. When I started researching my family tree,over 30 years ago, I discovered a great uncle, Alfred Lee, was KiA on October 29th 1917. I later learnt, with the introduction of the internet and better access to records, that he was buried in Minty Cemetery in Belgium. I knew that one day I had to go there to pay my respects and place a poppy on his grave and to say thank you to him and all those who gave their lives in that horrendous war.
I later discovered my grandad Cook had two brothers killed fighting, their bodies were never found or identified and they are remembered on the Thiepval memorial ( Charles Albert Cook) and Menin Gate ( William Cook). I was able to visit those too.
Our bed and breakfast was in La Boiselle, in the Somme. From my room I could see the Ovilles Cemetery and on the horizon the top of the Thiepval memorial.
There are 3.440 soldiers buried in the Ovillers Cemetery. 2,480 of those are unknown.
Everywhere we went in the Somme there was a cemetery. I just had not realised just how many there are. We saw the graves of all nationalities.
We visited the Neuville Saint Vaast German Cemetery where there are 44,833 men buried.
We went to see the Lochnagar crater where on July 1st 1916 at 7.28am the largest of the mines exploded. It was packed with approx 27,000 kilos of ammonal. The explosion created a crater 91 metres across and 21 metres deep. It obliterated German dug outs.
Apparently the explosion was so loud it could be heard in London!
At the Newfoundland Memorial Park we could walk through and see preserved trenches.
Placing a wooden cross with poppy on the grave of Great Uncle Alfred Lee, a hundred years to the day he was killed in action.
According to the war diaries for Alfred Lee his company was working on a light railway not far from Minty Farm when he was killed.
We stopped at the dressing stations, near Essex Farm Cemetery, where Major John McCrae worked as a doctor and where he wrote the famous poem, ‘In Flanders Fields.’
Menin Gate. Great Uncle William Cook (Duke of Cambridge Middlesex regiment) KiA July 31st 1917 age 30.
Thiepval Memorial. Great Uncle Charles Cook ( 9th Battalion of Royal Sussex Regiment) KiA August 18th 1916 age 25.
We ended the tour at Ypres where we watched the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate.
As I walked past that gate I thought of all the men who walked past it to their death.
It does not seem right to say I ‘enjoyed’ the trip, how can one enjoy seeing so many graves of those who were killed? I would say that I found it an interesting, sobering trip. I learnt so much. May we never forget the sacrifice of so many. R.I.P
Haiku by Shirley Anne Cook
enshroud shell-pocked helmets:
legions of blossom.