'I died in hell, they called it Passchendaele'

Passendale Travel Blog

 › entry 7 of 20 › view all entries

I'm up early agin this morning for another tour with Andre. This time there's going to be a whole bunch of folks, including some people from Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. The sky was clear and blue, but it was very windy and cold.

The first stop of the day was Essex Farm Cemetery. This location is most famous for being where Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae wrote 'In Flanders FIelds'. The remains of concrete dressing station rooms remains on the site, although at the time MaCrae was stationned here, there were no permanent structures.

From there we went to the Langemark German Military Cemetery. This large space seems deceptively empty. Each grave holds 8 soldiers who share a single stone, dark and laid flush to the ground.

Near the entrance of the cemetery is the Comrades Grave. This deceptively small area contains the remians of approximately 24000 German soldiers. Although all unknown at the time that the cemetery was built, more than half have since been identified. It is dark but peaceful, with the entire area shadowed by the large oak trees planted throughout. A the far end of the cemetery stands a statue of 4 German soldiers, their heads bowed, watching over their fallen brothers. Among the graves lie some 3000 'student' soldiers. You German students under trained and thrown into to the battle against Britain's veteren professional army.

Our next stop was the Saint Julien. On the 22nd of April, 1915, the German Army released teh first gas attack on the Western Front. The initial attack blew directly into Alegerian and Morrocan troops to devasting effect, with more than 5000 dead in the first 15 minutes.

Their lines broke and a huge gap opened in the front. The effect was so sudden that the Germans were left unprepared and didn't immediately exploit their success. This gave the Canadian troops time to move into the trenches and fill the gaps. A few days later, at St. Julien, the Germans launched another gas attack directly at the Canadians. Although the line wavered and many dies, the line was held and Canadian's reputation was sealed. 

The memorial at Saint Julien is called 'The Brooding Soldier'. As breathtaking as the memorial at Vimy Ridge is, I find the Saint Julien Memorial to be much more moving. It is simple and elegent, and speaks volumes without saying a word.

We then went to a farm where Andre showed us their annual yield of war material recovered while plowing their fields.

The table held dozens of grenades, hundreds of bullets and several artillery shells and assorted bits thereof. This being nearly 90 since the battles have ended, and they are still pulling out this volume of refuse. Just down the road from the farm is a New Zealand Memorial.

From there we went to Tyne Cot Cemetery. This is the largest Commonwelath cemetery in the world, containing close to 12 000 graves. The majority of the graves are unknown. When you see all the graves lined upo like that, and think that this represents just the tiniest portion of the deaths, it's kind of staggering. I was a bit glad when we left.

The last stop of the tour was a the Hill 62 Museum. This tacky cafe cum museum claimed to have the most well preserved ternches from the front.  However, it seems that it is pretty common knowledge that trenches are not authentic.

This turns the museum into a random assortment of World War I related artifacts. Sadly left me with a bit of a sour taste.

On returning to Ieper, I visited the Cloth Hall and 'In Flanders FIeld Museum', dedicated to World War I and it's effects of Ieper. A well put together museum tells the story of the city and region very well.

That evening, I went to a restaurant the name of which I can't immediate recall and had a delicious salad. I decided to try to not use English, and the sald was about the only thing I thought I could pronounce half right. Luckily, it was pretty good, albeit a tad heavy on the raw herring. I got by though, I ent back to the hotel afterwards and spent the evening catching up on my Facebookery.

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photo by: silirat