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WWI BATTLEFIELDS TOUR
MAY 2014
 
 
 
     

ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT

Deane Parr offers an account of a trip made to the battlefields of the Great War

I apologise to Erich Maria Remarque for using the anglicised version of his book title for this piece, but that was the name of the tour that The Magnificent Seven from Stratton went on. Back in the cold dreary days of late January (I think we were in “The Royal Oak” at Bere Regis!) we thought that it would be appropriate to mark the centenary of the outbreak of WW1 with a visit to the battlefields and associated cemeteries and memorials.

Fast forward to February 27th. (This time it was “The Springhead” at Sutton Poyntz) The Escape Officer had obtained details of what was available tour wise, a date was chosen and bookings made. We became the Magnificent Seven because two of our number were unable to attend, otherwise we could have been the “Nine something or other rather flattering that rhymes with nine.” Press “Fast Forward” again, to:

Day 1
. 0645hrs on 26th May. Having received travel clearance from the various SWMBOs – and persuaded them to drop us outside the County Museum we boarded the coach for Dover where we arrived some 6½ hours later – having followed the scenic route via Poole, Bournemouth, Fareham and Pease Pottage! In what seemed like the blink of an eye, albeit a very slowwww, longggg blink we arrived in Calais just after 5pm and set off for our hotel in Neuville en Ferrain. (I think this might be French for “just around the corner from Belgium) Anyway, billets were allocated and in short order we were quality testing Franco-Belgian beer/ale etc. and tucking into the Plat du jour.

Day 2. Reveille was at 0630 with petit dejeuner/le breakfast at 0700. Our tour guide, RSM Jon Wort – he wasn’t really a RSM but he looked as if he could have been – had us fallen-in for the coach departure at 0900 sharp. Now the narrative becomes serious and somewhat abbreviated since there was so much to see and experience, time and space limit descriptions to highlights only.

Our first stop was at Black Watch corner and The Black Watch memorial at Polygon Wood followed by a short journey to Sanctuary Wood where there is a museum and also many sections of a trench system which have been preserved.
 
Black Watch Memorial at Polygon Wood


Sanctuary Wood
 
Next on the itinerary was Tyne Cot cemetery where some of the fallen at Passchendale are buried and those still missing are remembered. It is a sobering thought that only about 20% of those lost in the conflict rest in marked graves. The morning ended at Hooge Crater museum and cemetery before moving on, after lunch, to the cemeteries at “Hyde Park Corner” and “The Strand” and then The Messines Ridge sector and the New Zealand Memorial park and the Irish Peace Tower.
 
Tyne Cot Cemetery


Hyde Park Corner Cemetery
 
Next, on to Ploegsteert where we paused at the site of the Christmas Truce where football was played in no-mans land. A wooden cross now marks the spot but this is adorned with football scarves and old footballs litter the surrounds – make of this what you will. Our final stop was in the beautiful town of Ypres, with the cathedral, cloth market (finally restored in 1962) and other medieval streets and buildings being reconstructed after the war to be indistinguishable from the originals. Appropriately, the haunting notes of the Fire Service buglers sounding the last post at the Menin Gate drew our day to a close. It was a very thoughtful crew that returned late that evening to the hotel.
 
Menin Gate - Last Post