Apr 23, 2010

Battlefield Trip to Ypres – 16-18 April

I spent last weekend (16-18 April) taking a family from Bristol on a battlefield tour to Ypres. It had been a while since I have been there after so much recent research effort on Arras for the forthcoming book and the Somme for next month’s TV documentary (of which more details to be released later).  The family wanted to follow in the footsteps of their grandfather and great-grandfather who both served during Third Ypres as well as see the usual sites. This meant a fair bit of in-depth research on two actions that I hadn’t studied before – I’ve passed over the ground en route to somewhere else but never actually looked into what happened at each spot. I was in the extreme north of the advance, up at Faidherbe Crossroads – les 5 Chemins area (at a place called Madonna) in front of Houthulst Forest to cover the 35th Division attack on 22 October 1917.  I then moved down to more familiar territory and focussed on the 9 October 1917 attack of the 2nd Royal Warwicks against Judge Copse. Lunch was taken at my good mate Johan Vandewalle’s café, De Dreve at Polygon Wood (www.polygonwood.com). I also took them to Harry Patch’s memorial to the 7th DCLI in front of Langemark, Vancouver Corner for the Canadian Gas Memorial, Tyne Cot Cemetery (where I bumped into my brother as he was guiding for a trip!), Black Watch Corner down to Clement Robertson VC’s bridge as well as a good cup of tea at the Hill 60 café and then a good stroll around the hill and a stop at the Caterpillar crater. Sunday morning was spent with a quick stop at Brandhoek New Military Cemetery to visit the grave of Captain Noel Godfrey Chavasse VC & Bar, MC.

Grave of Captain Noel Godfrey Chavasse VC & Bar, MC - Brandhoek New Military Cemetery

Captain Noel Godfrey Chavasse VC & Bar, MC

We then drove down to the Messines battlefield to view the mine craters of the Messines attack. The group were mightily impressed by the sheer size of Peckham Crater and Spanbroekmolen.

Explaining the work of the tunneller at the enormous Peckham Mine Crater on the Messines Ridge

We then headed south to Ploegsteert (Plugstreet) for the Memorial to the Missing where I told them all about Sapper William Hackett VC, 254 Tunnelling Company, Royal Engineers (see www.tunnellersmemorial.com) and then turned about-face and arrived at our final stop – Talbot House, Poperinghe. The tunnel back was much busier than usual owing to the closure of airports but, despite missing our chosen train, I arrived back in Bristol at about 8.30pm. A tiring but brilliant trip all carried out in most un-Flanders like glorious sunshine! My thanks to Robert, Helen, David, Robin, Nicky and of course Thomas for being such charming travel companions.

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