After a very long day yesterday travelling from Hull to Mouscron in Belgium we finally started going to visit the sites of this terrible “War to end all wars”! Our first port of call was Polygon Wood and the cemetery and the memorial to the 5th Australian Division and the monument to the unknown New Zealand soldiers who fell there.
After an opportunity to walk round and take photos of both cemeteries and the memorials we got back on the coach we’re travelling in and were taken to Black Watch Corner, so named after the famous Scottish battalion The Royal Highlanders.
At Black Watch Corner we came across a recently erected memorial and, once again, we were given time for reflection and to take more photos. We also heard about the brave action of The Royal Highlanders that led to the recognition of their bravery that stands there today.
After a short time at that memorial we then moved on to Poperinghe, or Pop as it was affectionately known, and firstly we visited the cemetery there and were told the story of 2nd Lieutenant Poole of the West Yorkshire Regiment who was a victim of a miscarriage of Military justice when they ignored medical advice and, due to his rank, had him shot for desertion as an example to his subordinates of what could happen.
Whilst there I also noticed 4 graves stood side by side of men from The Royal Army Medical Corps who all fell on 24th December 1916, upon asking our guide he explained to me that they had probably been trying to rescue an injured man from No Man’s Land and had fallen victim of a shell or a heavy attack.
From there we went to see “The Death Cell” where condemned men were kept before being executed by a firing squad in the yard outside, this place felt very strange because of the nature of it.
From Pop we were then taken to Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery and Visitor Centre. In the visitor centre you may explore the database and browse the hospital diaries. There are hundreds of pictures of the men buried there which are described in the information book as “faces behind the headstones”.
After this very emotional visit we then moved on to an even more emotional place as we visited The Menin Gate. Taking many pictures and looking at the columns of names of men who have no known grave you do feel a great deal of responsibility and weight of history and huge emotion.
After lunch we were taken to the village of Gheluvelt and the Chateau there where, on 31st October 1914, several British regiments were attempting to stop the German army breaking through their line and pushing on to Ypres. With the South Wales Borderers under intense pressure and retreating through the grounds of the chateau the only British battalion in reserve, the 2nd Worcester’s, were ordered forward to try and ‘plug’ the line. With only 350 men, outnumbered by 65 or 70 to 1, the Worcester’s made a bayonet charge and forced the Germans back, therefore, reclaiming the lost section, which then in turn, enabled the British line to fall back in good order.
After hearing about this heroic action, and seeing the memorial to the men of the South Wales Borderers and the 2nd Worcester’s we were then taken to the new In Flanders Fields Museum. There are many very impressive displays in this museum and having spent an hour there, due to time constraints, it was very widely agreed that 1 hour is nowhere near enough time to appreciate this museum as much as it clearly deserves.
After this we were taken back to the hotel in Mouscron.