In Fields Where Poppies Grow
Trip Start May 04, 2013
21Trip End Jul 07, 2013
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After consultation we decided to head south into Belgium and head for Ypres as our destination for the day.
Greg plotted the course on Tom Tom and discovered that we would not be far from Waterloo so that was to be our first stop as neither Les nor Chris had been there. We arrived at the mound about lunchtime. The boys headed up the steps – Kerrie found a spot in the coffee shop and treated herself to Crepes and Cappuccino. The required history lesson was delivered by Greg at the top – Wellington was over there, Napoleon was over there, they met in the middle and Wellington won!
Back on the bikes we headed for Ypres. Our reason for the visit was to attend the 8pm Memorial Service which has been conducted at the Menin Gate every night since 1928, except for the years during World War 2. We found our hotel, checked in and then went off to have a look at the Menin Gate. In 2007 we went looking for the Menin Gate in Menin – silly us! The Menin Gate is in Ypres! The gate, or archway is in the middle of the town and contains the names of 277 000 Commonwealth Military who were missing from the battles of World War 1. This impressive structure had a constant stream of visitors. Once again, Greg gave us the historical background.
Preparations for the Service started at about 6:30 so we picked a spot near the fence and waited for the ceremony. Also gathered there was a group of Australian girls from McKillop College in Bathurst NSW. They were on a 2 week History tour to France and the UK. We chatted to them about our trip and theirs until the service began at exactly 8pm. We were surprised at how well attended this was – Colour Party from the Ulster Guard, Marching Band from Liverpool, Piper, 4 Buglers several representatives from schools and communities to lay wreaths. One of the girls from McKillop College even recited the Ode. The reason for the large attendance soon became obvious – the next day was 1st July – the anniversary of the battle of the Somme. The service lasted about 20 minutes and was very moving.
We continued south in the morning to visit The Somme. Again, this was the second visit for Greg and I but the first for Chris and Les. We soon discovered that the area was very busy with many Commemoration Services planned for the day at the numerous memorials. Our first stop was Frommels, the site of the Pheasant Wood Cemetary and memorial. This is the cemetery where the remains of 260 newly discovered servicemen have been intered. We encountered a group of Australian school boys from Shepparton on their own tour of remembrance and listened intently as their guide told them the history of the battle - even Corporal Adolf Hitler had been present at this particular battle.
Next stop was the Australian 1st Division Memorial near Pozieres. This was the Australian troops' first engagement in the Somme and the first use of tanks in a battlefield. Just a few kilometres down the road we visited The Thiepval memorial. This is the largest British War memorial in the world where 73 000 men who have no known grave are commemorated. There had been a Commemoration Service there earlier in the day so many wreaths had been laid at the base of the Ulster Tower.
We then headed back towards Poziers to visit La Boisselle - a huge mine crater, the remains of a series of explosions on the 1st July 1916, the first day of the battle of the Somme - exactly 97 years before our visit. We decided to ride in to Albert and spend some time in the museum there. The museum is located in a tunnel under the town - about 1.4km of museum!
As today was not only the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, but also Canada Day, our next visit was to Beaumont-Hamel - the Newfoundland Memorial. There had also been a Service here today attended by the Prime Minister of Newfoundland. On 1st July 1916, men from the Newfoundland Regiment were trapped at this site by German machine gun fire. a network of trenches has been preserved at this site - one of the only examples of this in the Somme.
After a full day we headed to our overnight accommodation to return to the battlefields in the morning.
First stop today was Villers-Bretonneux. On 25th Arpil 1918, the Australians stopped the Germans at Villers Bretonneux. 11 000 of the Australians who died in France and have no known grave are commemmorated at the memorial just outside this town.
We visited the memorial but also spent several hours in the town as there is an obvious Australian connection there.
Australian soldiers from Victoria returned to Villers Bretonneux after the war and rebuilt the school in the town. The school is called The Victoria School and has one of the only school halls in France - the hall has beautiful wood panelling with carvings of Australoan native animals adorning the panels. We wandered in to the playground where the students were very keen to talk to us and asked many questions about what we were doing there and how we got the motorbikes to France. There were examples of Aboriginal style art works on the walls of the playground and Australian flags on display in the school foyer.
After a visit to the museum that is housed in the rooms above the school, it was time to get on the bikes and ride to Calais to catch the Train through the Chunnel back to England.
We would highly recommend a visit to this area as it really brings home to you the enormous loss of young lives caused by war.
WE WILL REMEMBER THEM - LEST WE FORGET.