A few weeks ago someone in the office came up with the idea of doing a battlefields and cemetery tour of Belgium and Northern France. Specifically focussing on the WW1 battles. This seemed like an exceptionally good idea so the four of us, Chris Jarvis, Chris Puxley, John Bailey and I decided that we would do four days over there visiting as many sites as we could cram in.
The original plan was to go out via the channel tunnel on the shuttle on Friday morning, 27th July. I would pick John up from Newbury and meet up with Chris and Chris at Chris’s house in Whitley Wood. Chris prefers to use the term ‘South Reading’ as Whitley Wood has the same sort of reputation as Moss side, Blackbird Leys and Beirut…..
Seemed like a plan so we settled on that as a departure point. As the weather was unspeakably hot, it turns out that the cheap Chinese air conditioning they had fitted on the trains through the tunnel wasn’t working properly. This was causing up to 7 hour delays to get on the train after you left the M20. a distance of about half a mile. As this did not sound like a wise plan to sit in this traffic for over half a day in 30+ degrees with no facilities, we decided that we would go out on a proper means of transport out of Dover….the cross channel ferry! Unfortunately there were no sailings that day so we had to book the 07:30 ferry for the Saturday morning. Lost a day but surely better than sitting in the traffic.
On the Saturday as we whizzed past the idiots queueing for the shuttle at junction 11a of the M20 on the way to the boat we all shouted rude things out the window…….
Unfortunately this sense of euphoria and unwarrented gloating came back to haunt us half and hour up the road as we realised that about half a million other people had the same idea and the queue for the boat was around 3 hours. Better than seven we repeatedly told ourselves as we sweated it out in the queue.
Finally got on the boat at around 12:30 which was not a complete disaster. Was very busy though.
Got off the boat (yes I know it’s technically a ship….) and steamed out of Calais onto the usual deserted French roads and headed for Ypres (pronounced Leeper or Leper) where our hotel was.
This is the link to the hotel website. Hotel O
That’s Chris Jarvis on the left, Chris Puxley in the center and John Bailey on the right. I’m the well dressed handsome fellow behind the camera…..
Over the next three days this picture was repeated many times, only the location, backdrop and strength of the brew changed.
In the main square in Ypres about 100m from the hotel is the old cloth hall This magnificent edifice was flattened in the great war and completely rebuilt from the ground up. This now houses a stunning WW1 museum and tour. You can climb up the 280 something steps (steep and spiral) and walk around the roof area. I have to say that the parapet up there is not vey high, the walkway is very narrow and it’s a bloody long way down! I’m OK with heights but that took me by surprise.
This is the hall at dusk
This is the hall by night.
Just a few yards up from the town centre is the Menin gate. I thought that this was out on its own away from the town but its actually part of the town walls.
Every night there is a service there and the last post is played by the town fire brigade in full dress uniform to commemorate the ones lost in WW1. Surprisingly there is a huge crowd every night. I estimate up to 500 people were there on the first night we saw it. They close the roads and everything stops for an hour. Anyone can lay a wreath and there are many people from all over the work that attend. On the first night there was a group from Oxforshire the Adderbury Morris Men who laid a wreath to one of therir members who fell. there was also a brass band that played rousing tunes that made you want to go and invade Germany immediately.
When we finished the ceremony at around 20:00 we went back int to square to get somthing to eat. Very busy just after the event so we had to hunt around for a restaurant that had space. Found a really super one tucked away in a corner. Treated myself to steak, chips, salad and peppercorn sauce. Absolutely lovely! Regretfully there are no photographs of this as it didn’t hang around long enough to photograph….
Following a hearty breakfast (no pictures) we decided that the best way to get a round for the day was to hire some bikes. Luckily this was Belguim which is absolutely flat as a pancake so bikes are plentiful and very easy to get hold of. There was a another hotel just round the corner that had some for hire so we made a beeline there. Cost was €15 per day which is pretty cheap.
We then headed up to to the first stop for the day. This was in an industrial areea around 5 miles north of Ypres at a small town called Boezinge
A few years ago they discovered some existing WW1 trenches and tunnels when they were digging in the estate. These have become known as the ‘Yorkshire’ trenches.