Monday, 24 June 2013

Those green, and once bloody fields of Flanders.

Earlier this month I visited Belgium and took time to go to those green fields of Flanders upon which millions of young men from many corners of the globe lost their lives in World War One.            
 We started our journey in Ieper/Ypres and ably guided by Phillip Charlesworth a former officer in the Australian army who knows this area and it's history remarkably well. We started at Menin gate.
      The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing is a war memorial in YpresBelgium dedicated to the British and Commonwealth soldiers who were killed in the Ypres Salient of World War I and whose graves are unknown. The memorial is located at the eastern exit of the town and marks the starting point for one of the main roads out of the town that led Allied soldiers to the front line. Designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield and built by the British government, the Menin Gate Memorial was unveiled on 24 July 1927

                                  Buglers’ Last Post Ceremony at 2000 hours every evening

An excellent relief map showing the key battle sites.

From the ramparts of Menin gate looking over the river. We visited the  Australian Plaque on the Northern Rampart

The following day we visited Wytschaete (‘Whitesheet)  where many young soldiers from the British colonies died in battle. 

                          Wytschaete Military Cemetery (CWGC) with the 16th Irish Div memorial

Next we visited Mesen/Messines Ridge

Wytschaete Military Cemetery
Messines Ridge British Cemetery (CWGC) with memorial to the NZ missing
The Battle of Messines (7–14 June 1917) was an offensive conducted by the British Second Army, under the command of General Herbert Plumer, on the Western Front near the village of Messines in Belgian West Flanders during the First World War. The Nivelle offensive in April and May had failed to achieve its more ambitious aims and this had resulted in the demoralisation of French troops and the dislocation of the Anglo-French strategy for 1917. The offensive at Messines forced the German Army to move reserves to Flanders from the Arras and Aisne fronts, which relieved pressure on the French Army. 

I never knew about the Maori Battalion fighting in World War One so this came as a surprise.


Messines Ridge British Cemetery

The grave of New Zealand Rifleman J.P. Roberts is one of many at the Messines Ridge British Cemetery

One of the most moving memorials is the Island of Ireland Peace Tower Park.
Inscribed on stone tablets are the words written by various soldiers.

These three towers record that 69,947 Irishmen died fighting close by. I was overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people who died or were missing. Staggering.

                                         Who was this New Zealand soldier known only until God?

New Zealand Division Memorial Park, incorporating two German bunkers that overlook the valley and what were the NZ positions before the battle 2000 metres away. See two photo below


We visited the New and Old Cemeteries (CWGC)
The New Cemetery contained the graves of two Belgians, one a woman

The grave of Martha Declercq a Begian nurse who was killed on a battle field.

                             The grave of Lt. S.E. Donne from New Zealand 

No visit to Flanders is complete without a visit to Langemark, where more than 44,000 German soldiers lay buried.

-          The German war cemetery of Langemark (formerly spelt 'Langemarck') is near the village of Langemark, part of the municipality of Langemark-Poelkapelle, in the Belgian province of West Flanders. More than 44,000 soldiers are buried here. The village was the scene of the first gas attacks by the German army, marking the beginning of the Second Battle of Ypres in April 1915.

  Tyne Cot Cemetery (CWGC) and Visitor’s Centre

Here I met a Second World war veteran visiting Tyne Cot looking for the grave of relatives.

Below, some history.

On the computerised database I found the names of my Grandfather's two brothers, Walter Ernest   McNatty who died in Rouen France, and Henry John McNatty who died at Chunuk Bar, Gallipoli, Turkey.

We stopped to have lunch in the village of Passchendaele and later passed 
 through  Zonnebeke  on the way back to Brussels.

For me it was two days of understanding first hand the horrific nature of World War One. And, unfathomably, how this horror was repeated in World war Two. It also brought new meaning to a poem I knew as a boy called In Flanders Field written by Lt. Col. John McCrae of the Canadian Army. 1872-1918.
In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.


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