Monthly Archives: June 2015

Polygon Wood & Tyne Cot, Passchendaele

The Battle of Polygon Wood took place in the second phase of the Third Battle of Ypres

Polygon Wood

View from the Aust. 5th Regiment memorial

 

Tyne Cot is the largest Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in the world and the most important reminder of the Battle of Passchendaele which took place in 1917.   In this battle, one of the most horrible in WW1, more than half a million casualties fell for the gain of only 8 km of ground.

Tyne Cot (Tyne Cottage) Cemetery

 

Tyne Cot

 

Vale Frederick Hinrichsen, Brighton, Vic.

Fred was 21 yrs and 8 mths old when he enlisted on April 8 1916.  Pte. Hinrichsen, 5th Battalion, AIF, embarked at Melbourne 11/9/16  and died of gas poisoning 27/4/18 and is buried in the tiny military cemetery at Caestre in the company of 149 British, 8 South African, 1 British West Indian and a further 31 Australian soldiers.  The cemetery  was used by front line units during the fighting to hold the 1918 German offensive and the opening phase of the subsequent advance to victory.  Fred’s personal effects, at the time of his death, consisted of a cheque case, pipe, religious books, pocket case, metal mirror, cards, letters, photos, paper cuttings, packet of dried flowers and motor driver’s certificate.  I wonder most about the flowers. Not all items were received by his parents as some were lost when the ship carrying them was torpedoed.

Fred was Geoff’s mother’s cousin and family history has it that he nursed little Winifred (Geoff’s mum) in his arms before he left Australia.  The gas that killed him (& several others) was delivered by a British shell that dropped-short, exploding in his forward observation post. Such mistakes in the heat of battle were not uncommon.

The last time we visited Caestre was in 2008 and the small brick-walled cemetery was in the middle of large, cultivated fields.  Now a new housing estate is being built close to the wall on one side.  There will be many young families, all around,  creating lives for themselves and bringing up new generations.  Something to be celebrated.

  
      

 

How could you not ….

 

Bailleul

Before  we actually left Bailleul we did a tour of the Unesco-classified, Beffroi (Belfry) de Bailleul.  It was originally built in the 12th century, and it reflected the rise of the middle class through agriculture and industry – linen, lace, textiles etc.  It has been destroyed and rebuilt many times, always in the same style, the last time being in 1932 after the whole town was reduced to rubble during the Great War. Geoff stayed with the group and climbed to the second- last level (too windy for the final assault) but I stopped climbing once I had had the opportunity to stand behind one of the clock faces, which was amazing.  The belfry is constructed in wood so that it can move with the very strong winds which are common in this region.

 

Post 1914-18 War

  

Beffroi de Bailleul as it is today. Geoff was at the second level from the top

  

View from the top

  

The bells, which were fashioned from cannons.

  

Melisande, who once graced the very top of the belfry. Siren, mermaid or witch?


 

Behind the clock face . The intentional error in the Roman numeral for 4 is that the three white spaces, between the four black bars, instead of IV, represent the Holy Trinity

  

The mechanism

 As for the man with the skewer – what can I say.  He graces the top of the stairs at the entrance of the town hall.   A captain of industry perhaps?

Albert to Bailleul

Yesterday we started the day with a scenic trip to the railway station ( a few wrong turns) so that Richard could catch his train to Lille to connect with the Eurostar.  Geoff and I went to see the enormous Lochnagar Crater at La Boiselle and a small, private museum nearby which features some interesting displays and tons of stuff, (weapons, shells, helmets etc) which have been found, and are still being found, in the area.  In the afternoon we drove to Peronne to see the Historial Museum of the Great War which is housed in the Chateau de Peronne.

Today we left Albert and drove to Bullecourt and Fromelles where there is a new, modern museum, the Battle of Fromelles Museum, which is focussed on the most recently discovered war-dead on the edge of Pheasant Wood.  With the aid of modern technology, many of them have been identified and they are all buried in the small cemetery alongside the museum.

We are in Bailleul for the night and the town has a distinctly Flemish air which is hardly surprising since we are not far from the Belgian border.  Geoff is having a rest while I catch up on my writing.  Poor Geoff has a dreadful cough and cold and really isn’t well.  We are hoping for a change of menu tonight.  I never thought I would say it but we are getting quite bored with the French food on offer in the places we have been.  Symptom of being on the tourist trail, I think, and of travelling in general when you can’t have exactly what you fancy.  Boo hoo!  One thing I have really enjoyed is scallops.  I love them and they are reasonably inexpensive and have been cooked to perfection every time I have ordered them.  Strawberries and cherries are in season and just delicious, so we buy them whenever we see them.  Spanish apricots have also been good.  Was I complaining about the food???  I think I just want a home-cooked meal.

 

The Lochnagar Crater which measures 91m in diameter and has a depth of 21m

  

Recovered weapons

  

Australian memorial at Bullecourt

  

Fromelles

   

Champs de Batailles – The Battlefields

The battlefields, cemeteries and memorials of World War 1, The Great War, are scattered throughout this region and the scale of the conflict and loss of life is reflected in the thousands of white crosses and headstones stretching in all directions.  Some cemeteries are small and others huge but they are all beautifully maintained and, at this time of year, ablaze with colour from the flowers blooming in front of every marker.  Red-hot pokers, extravagant peonies, poppies, of course, and many others.  The land has been transformed from a hell-hole of noise and mud and death into rolling green pastures and grain fields.  The grave sites are tranquil and open to the sun and flowers and birds or sheltered in leafy glades, guarded by large overhanging branches.  Unimaginable suffering and despair was endured here and you can only walk by the graves, read the inscriptions, and silently grieve for victims of war everywhere.

We began the day with a visit to Villers-Bretonneux and we toured the Franco-Australian Museum, temporarily housed in the Victoria Hall while extensive renovations take place.  Victoria School was rebuilt using donations collected by Victorian school children, penny by penny, after the war ended.  There is a true bond of friendship between the people of Australia and the inhabitants of Villers-Bretonneux and it is very touching to know that the message ‘N’oublions jamais l’Australie’ can be found in every classroom.  It was in April 1918 that Australian troops in V-B stopped the German push before Amiens could be captured.  The impressive Australian National Memorial is not far out of the town and there were quite a few visitors.  

In the afternoon we went to the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial, the biggest battalion memorial on the Western Front and the largest area of the Somme battlefield which has been preserved.  The site encompasses the ground over which the Newfoundland battalion attacked in July 1916 and part of the German front line system.  The centrepiece of the memorial is the caribou which stands over the grassed-over trenches which are still clearly defined. The avenue of maple trees provided a cool sanctuary on a very hot day.  Sorry Melbourne – I know you are having chilly weather but it is hot in Europe.

 

Richard and I at Victoria School at Villers-Bretttonneux

  

View from the top of the Australian War Memorial at V-B

  

Atop the Aust. War Memorial

  

The caribou – symbol of the Newfoundland Regiment

  

Le Chateau de Pierrefonds – en route to Albert

We drove to Albert via Compiegne because I have always wanted to see Pierrefonds Castle and had it as my screen saver at work for about twelve months (until the IT guys changed something and I didn’t know how to restore it!).  The original citadel was built in 1393 but it was attacked and dismantled in 1616.  The great ruin was bought by Napoleon 1 in 1810 and in 1857 Napoleon 111 had it restored in the style of a fortification of the Middle Ages.

 

Pierrefonds Castle

  
  

Model of the castle giving vital statistics

  

My favourite dress in an exhibition of opera & ballet costumes at the castle

   

Reims

We met our friend Richard in Reims and the next morning we visited Cathedrale Notre-dame where people have worshipped for 1,500 years.  This magnificent cathedral was nearly destroyed in 1914 when it was shelled and fire destroyed woodwork and shattered statues.  It took 20 years to restore the pitiful wreck which it had become.  Few of the ancient stained glass windows endured (many had already disappeared in the 18th century in an effort to let in more light), but there are now many glorious new windows, designed by modern artists, including Marc Chagall.  The famous figure of the smiling angel (dare I say smirking angel) lost her head during the war but she is restored to full health.  Sadly, we didn’t have enough time to do the Mumm champagne tour and I love champagne.

   

I love these vertical gardens

  

Cathedrale Notre-Dame in Reims

     

Verdun

We really only had a morning in Verdun so we drove into town with the intention of doing a tour of La Citadelle Souterraine (The Underground Citadel) but the earliest tour we could book was at 11 am and then we were bumped by a couple of tour groups so we requested a refund and meandered back to the car, buying baguettes and cold drinks on the way.  We drove to La Tranchee des Baionnettes (Trench of the Bayonettes) which is the oldest memorial on the battlefield – Dec 1920.  The memorial is set in beautiful woodland where you can follow overgrown paths to see remains of trenches.

The countryside here is lush and green and we had a peaceful picnic in a little, wooded glade.  We drove on to the Ossuary of Douament, a memorial built over the bones of 130,000 unknown soldiers.  These bones can be viewed through small windows set at almost ground level in the walls of the building.  It is a chilling sight.  In Feb 1916 the German army launched a great offensive on Verdun and the ensuing ‘Hell of Verdun’ was to last for 10 months: 300 days and 300 nights of fighting.  However, it was not until Nov 1918 that the entire territory lost in 1916 was finally recaptured, but the cost in lives was horrendous.

We continued our journey to Reims where Geoff nearly gave me a heart attack by driving down what I was sure was a pedestrian-only mall.  But, Dulcie had sent us there and it turned out to be OK.  Geoff is becoming very French in his driving and parking habits! 

La Tranchee des Baionnettes

  

L’Ossuaire de Douamont

  

View from the tower of the ossuary.