Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Day 7 Belgium

Today was a very busy day. We travelled across 3 countries, England, France and Belgium.  An early start was required to meet our train to the Continent, a quick breakfast, load the coach and move through London early morning traffic to get to St Pancreas station to board the Euro-Star train to Lille in France. We were concerned that it might be more difficult than it turned out to be. In fact it was very simple, and soon after check in and our security check (we have been through so many metal detectors it is becoming a natural thing to empty out our pockets and walk through the “arch”)

 The train left on time and soon we were moving at 200kph through the English countryside, the Chunnel and then rural France.

 on the Euro-Star at 200 kph

Today is the start of our visit to the Western Front. Our first stop was Fromelles, the site of the first Australian action on the western front, where over 2000 young men died in an attack that achieved nothing. It is the site of the only all Australian cemetery in France, a poignant sit as it contains no headstones, because the builders thought that 510 graves with no identified soldiers was too much to bare. So they planted 510 red rose bushes.

The group in the cemetery at Frommelles

The area around this place is flat. It shows us very plainly that there was no protection from the withering machine guns that swept the ground cutting young men down. Even when they reached the enemy trenches the poor drainage meant that they could not even use them for cover.

the flat land of Flanders

The story of the events was presented by Mr Scritchley. He explained the reason why a statue of one digger carrying another stands in the fields. How against British orders the men went out to retrieve their wounded mates, and how one Australian went back into no man’s land to rescue a total stranger, because he was a “cobber”. 


 The Cobbers Memorial

The boys signed the visitors book at the cemetery. All were affected by the emotion of this place, and many were even willing to admit it!

We left there to visit another important and powerful place. Tyne Cot Cemetery.  However we were forced to make a quick dash to Ypres as the toilets were closed for the winter! I guess we only have normal bodily functions during summer. After this short interlude we were able to enter a place that assails the senses. It is the biggest military cemetery in the world, over 15,000 young men lie in beneath the grass.

the boys with part of the cemetery behind

After the cemetery we then travelled to the Hill 65 Trench Museum. Here some of the trenches that were through Sanctuary Wood have been preserved. They give a graphic and powerful lesson into the type of conditions faced by the men living in the trenches. Today was cold, windy and there has been a lot of rain here (yesterday) so the trenches were exactly the way they were during WW1, slippery, wet smelly and dank. A perfect lesson!

The trenches

Some teacher and student in a trench

The drive into Ypres was a pleasant diversion with the Christmas lights still up.

Ypres at night. The main square and the “Cloth Hall”

At 8pm we went to the Menin Gate. A memorial to the soldiers killed along the Ypres salient that have no known grave. It contains 35,000 names.

At 8 the Ypres Fire Brigade plays the Last Post every night. It has been doing so since 1918, only the German occupation of WW2 stopped it, and the day they left the tradition was re-started.

 The Playing of the Last Post

The boys stood proudly displaying the Australian Flag in Memory of those Australian boys who’s names are on the memorial.

The men of the Fire Brigade were happy to stand with our lads and have their picture taken.

On the way back to the Hostel some of us found a Belgium Chocolate shop open, especially Mrs Vial. She threatened us with terrible things if this picture was put on….but in the tradition of freedom of speech we laugh at the danger and publish anyway! (Please let the authorities know if you don’t hear from us tomorrow!)

1 comment:

  1. Hi All, thanks for the very descriptive updates and pictures so that we all back here can have some appreciation of what you are all experiencing. A big thankyou must go again to Jim and Tania for all their work in organising this trip - what this group are experiencing and learning cannot be taught from text books or classrooms. Stay safe and we look forward to the next update. Jarryd - Dad is doing well with his knee, Meagan has been excused from nursing duties and Mum is busy at work (not that busy that I couldn't find time to write this).


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