Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ypres 1914-18

The Ypres salient was the scene of fighting for virtually the whole war.  The British & Commonwealth push for Passchendaale in 1917 is one of the war's many great horror stories.  My  paternal grandfather's battalion, the 12th, was there, but he had the good fortune to be seconded to a training unit in England for most of 1917 and missed out.  My other grandfather didn't get to France until the Anzac Corps had been moved south to Amien. 

I expected the countryside to be flatter, but it is generally gently rolling country. Navigation is a bit tricky. The village names on the 1917 maps have often changed out of recognition, villages don't always have name plates, the modern roads are usually not on the old maps. Many intersections are devoid of road signs. The sun doesn't shine to tell you where south is because it's Belgium in summer. The sat nav suffers because the villages are often too small for it recognise them and it doesn't know the minor roads - but it's still good in giving you a general location and as a compass. The graveyards and monuments are a great help, but the brown signs to the monuments never give distances - you never know if it's 50 m of 5 km away.

The site isn't as dramatic as Verdun.  This area is such fertile land that they generally filled in the trenches to get it back into production.  The battlefields were also much more spread out, so there is much more travelling to do.    I saw only a fraction of what there is to see, but I'm happy that I saw a good sample of it.

Messines Ridge 7th June 1917

The successful attack on Messines ridge was perhaps the first sign that the British had begun to get some clues on how to fight WWI.  Including: 1) Set limited objectives that are achievable and holdable. 2) Send in the Anzacs or Canadians.

The Anzacs attacked on the right or southen end of the sector, the British on the left. 
There is graveyard and monument for the many dead Anzacs on Messines ridge on the edge of the village. 

The 1st pic overlooking the graves looks SW towards the Anzac start line on the next ridge about 1.5km.  The 1st German line was close to our line, the 2nd was on this ridge.

The 2nd pic is taken from the start line looking back the other way but to the north.  The 2 views almost meet on the right but in opposite directions.

The 3rd pic is taken from a point SW of Messines
which is just off the left edge.  The Anzac advance was from left to right.

The 4th pic is a German pillbox of their 2nd line in the british sector just south of Wytschaete.

Polygon Wood Sept 26 1917

As part of the Passchendale offensive the 5th Australian Division attacked Polygon wood.  It was destoyed in the process, but has been replanted.  In the middle of it is a memorial to the 5th Division.

The photo only shows half the cemetary.

Passchendaale 12 Oct - 6 Nov 1917

The Canadians got to Paschendaale at enormous cost.  More VC's per sqm than anywhere. 

Pic 1 is Paschendaale church viewed over the memorial.

Pic 2 is looking the way they came - the typical rolling Ypres countryside.

Hill 60

They made movie last year about the Austalian Tunnelling Corps.  This was their finest hour.  The hill is a pretty insignificant lump - actually spoil from the adjacent railway cutting & not a natural hill.  The ground remains a mangled landscape with angled bits of concrete pillbox sticking out of it.

Yorkshire Trench

This is section of British trenches that has been excavated and restored by locals.  It's a little patch in the middle of an industrial estate near Boesinghe a few km north of Ypres.

The gravel paths on the right trace the lines of underground tunnels forward of the trench line. 

It was interesting to be able to walk along a trench line that has not been degraded by time.

The 1917 Museum at Zonnebeke

Zonnebeke is a village  a few k's short of Paschendaale.  A chateau destroyed in the war, but rebuilt has been made into a museum.  It has the usual dummies in uniform, old films running, maps and bric a brac of war, but it's best feature is a recreation of a tunnel system. 

With the sound effects of water pumps and shellfire and dummy soldiers in the rooms, it gives an impression of what it must have been like - much cleaner and safer of course. 

The stuffed rats on the floor were a nice touch.

1 comment:

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