On the 5th of November 2017 we headed back to England. I felt I had honoured my father's memory by learning something about his experiences fighting in WWI.
As the ferry came into Dover I could see the white cliffs. This symbolised to me what my father had fought for.
Saturday, November 18, 2017
Our second day of visiting WWI battlefields started in Flanders around the Belgian city of Ypres. Here, one in three of Britain’s Western Front dead fell by 1918 and it has been a place of pilgrimage ever since. The Ypres Salient is the area around Ypres in Belgium which was the scene of some of the biggest battles in WWI including the First Battle of Ypres in which my father fought.
The first stop was at the preserved trenches at Sanctuary Wood Trench Museum, some of the last original WW1 trenches still surviving in Flanders. Seeing these trenches was very moving. I wouldn't have liked to have spent an hour in them let alone years under fire.
We then went to see the battlefield around Hill 60, one of the most fought over corners of the Ypres area, and viewed the war underground, seeing craters that still scar the hill today. The pictured crater belowis called the Caterpillar crater. This crater was formed by a mine exploding under the German position on high ground south of the Ypres-Comines railway. Unfortunately the rain started coming down heavily so we didn't stay here as long as intended.
Our next stop was Tyne Cot Cemetery which is the resting place of 11,954 soldiers of the Commonwealth Forces. This is the largest number of burials contained in any Commonwealth cemetery of either the First or Second World War. It is the largest Commonwealth military cemetery in the world. It also includes a memorial to the missing.
I was very much moved by the fact that many of the soldiers buried at Tyne Cot Cemetery were around 19 years old.
At Vancouver Corner our guide explained the use of gas in the trenches. My father had been gassed when he returned to the WWI battlefields after having recovered from being wounded on the Somme.
We also saw the ‘Brooding Soldier’ memorial to the Canadians who defended Ypres in 1915.
At the Langemarck cemetery we saw how Germany commemorated her dead. The German cemetery was very sombre in comparison with the British and Commonwealth cemeteries I had visited.
Our day ended in Ypres where we attended the Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate Memorial. This ceremony is held at 8pm each evening. The Last Post was played followed by some people laying poppy wreaths then the Last Post was played again. This ceremony was very moving and made a fitting end to our tour of the WWI battlefields.
It had been another 12 hour day but some of us went to the hotel bar after getting back. I didn't stay long.
The Battle of the Somme began on a summer’s day in July 1916 and ended in a snowstorm four and a half months later.
We started our day in the Somme at Peronne where we visited the Historial de la Grande Guerre museum which set the tone for our two days touring the WWI battlefields.
I had made some notes from my father's war record which I showed to our guide Tim Thurlow. As a result Tim very kindly made a small detour through Ginchy which is where my father was wounded on the 15th September 1916. I was told that Edward Tennant, the nephew of Prime Minister Arthur Balfour, also in the Grenadier Guards, was killed in the same battle on the day my father was wounded. This day was also when the British introduced tanks into the war. The following map shows the location of Ginchy.
We then visited Delville Wood, known as Devil’s Wood, where the South Africans fought their deadliest ever battle in WWI. Delville Wood is now the resting place of the South Africans who gave their lives in order to preserve freedom. This cemetery was special to me as I was born in South Africa. Delville Wood is also the grave of thousands of British and German soldiers.
Newfoundland Memorial Park was our next stop. The site was purchased by the Dominion of Newfoundland after the First World War. It was named after the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, which had provided one battalion of 800 men to serve with the British and Commonwealth Armies. It's tragic part in the action of 1 July 1916 is remembered through this memorial park. The site is also a memorial to all the Newfoundlanders who fought in the First World War, most particularly those who have no known grave. It also preserves the memory of the men of the many other regiments from the French, British and German Armies who fought and died on this part of the Somme battleground from September 1914 into 1918.
Newfoundland Memorial Park became a province of Canada in 1949. Here there were grassy mounds which were the remains of trenches. Seeing the Newfoundland Memorial Park was also special to me because of my links with Canada.
We then went to La Boisselle where we saw Lochnagar which is the largest British mine crater surviving on the battlefields. My picture does not do the size of this crater justice.
The last stop of the day was at the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing which commemorates more than 72,000 missing soldiers on the Somme in WWI.
After this we left France and went back to our hotel in Belgium. The day had been very fulfilling but also tiring because we had spent twelve hours touring round. I kept thinking about my father and all he had been through.