Ypres - Travelogue Sept 8, 2007 13:32:17 GMT 1
Post by on Sept 8, 2007 13:32:17 GMT 1
Finished packing around 3:00pm on Sunday, said to John,
“That’s everything you kin shut the case noo”
Had a cup of coffee and the ubiquitous fag , down to the car and headed for Camberwell, nice bright sunny day, and lots of people milling around in the sun, London was busy as usual. Passed the Oval Cricket Ground, must have been something going on there lots of brightly dressed, people laughing and talking animatedly in the afternoon sun. Got to my Dads around 4:15 to find him sitting with the windows shut and the curtains drawn watching his enormous telly, far too big for the room, but he loves it. Opened the curtains and French door and tidied up, he had already packed everything except the things he wanted me to iron for him.
We ordered Chinese Food as I didn’t feel like cooking, and went to bed early in anticipation of our early start for our trip to Ypres, or as its called now Leper.
Got up at 06:30am, although our Eurostar wasn’t until 12:20 we wanted to get an early start and have breakfast on the way. Left my Dad’s at 07:15 and headed out of London on the A202, Peckham Road. Traffic was fairly light as we were going out of London, and it was a beautiful sunny morning.
Stopped into a Road Chef and had a full Breakfast, Sausage, Egg, Bacon, Tomato and Mushroom and a slice of toast and a cup of hot, hot tea, I love hot tea.
Arrived at the Channel Tunnel Complex too early, when I punched our reservation into the self check in machine it gave us an option of going on the 10:20 train instead of the 12:20, so we took it, just as well we did, but I’ll come to that later.
I don’t like tunnels, but was pretty much OK throughout the half hour journey through the tunnel, I was pre-occupied with the thought of driving on the right hand side of the road, in fact I was experiencing a mild panic attack, but kept a lid on it, for my Dad’s sake, I put on a brave face.
I needn’t have worried Sinecure was right and I took to it like a duck to water and soon I was driving along a beautiful French road towards Dunkirk, I was thinking I will keep to the main roads, as I don’t know the way and obviously we were relying on a map printed from the internet, it all looked so straightforward on the map, and didn‘t I also have step by step directions from the internet too? what could possible go wrong?, we turned left out of the Tunnel and then straight on towards Dunkirk, then turn right to Steenvoorde and straight through Poperinghe to Leper (Ypres). Yes, it looked straightforward and I was confident we would be there in around an hour and a half. Turned right at what I thought was the right turning for Steenvoorde, and although it was, it wasn’t the turning I had intended to take, you know, the turning on the internet map!!!! instead, it was onto a smaller country road. Although it was warm and sunny, there were also clouds which when they obscured the sun made it feel quite chilly. Driving along through beautiful countryside, we could see for miles in this fertile very, very flat countryside dappled with different coloured fields of corn, wheat and sugar beet. Kept getting images in my mind of soldiers running across this flat land and being picked off by German Machine Gun fire, sitting ducks, nowhere to hide, from the relentless German Artillery. After a while I began to realise we had taken the wrong turning, but I wasn’t too worried about being “Lost in France”. (Bonnie Tyler, real name Gaynor Hopkins) Kept following signs for Steenvoorde as I knew when we got there we needed to turn left towards Belgium and Ypres. After an hour of driving we came to a wee place I think it was called Cassele or Cappelle or something like that anyway and asked directions, we had been heading south instead of north, I should have known by the position of the sun, after all ah wiz in the Girl Guides fur a fortnight. Anyway got back on the right road and after another hour or so of uneventful of driving through more beautiful countryside and little villages, we arrived in Ypres. Beautiful place which had been razed to the ground during the Great War and had been rebuilt since then. The Cloth Hall which had been flattened, had been rebuilt in the same Gothic style and the surrounding buildings were Flemish and typical of the region, high gabled roofs which were dappled with little attic windows, very quaint. After driving round in the myriad of narrow confusing cobbled streets, we eventually found St Jacobstratte where our Hotel, The Albion, was situated. Beautiful hotel, and Dad and I had separate rooms. They had rooms where smoking was permitted but they were full, however, the Belgian lady who had checked us in said I could move to one of them the next day. My Dad frowned but I was pleased.
Unpacked and collected my Dad, he has this contraption that you push along and its also a seat. Out we went to find a decent restaurant for our dinner. I felt sorry for my Dad, as his contraption was not suited to cobbled pavements and roads and he was shaking and bouncing along all the way. We found a nice restaurant about 50 yards from the Menin Gate and had a lovely meal, and I even had two glasses of wine.
After our meal we walked, well I walked, my Dad bounced up to the Menin Gate, awesome is the only description I can give. The fact that it is right in the middle of the town, means that it cannot be seen in all its glory, Theipval, which I had seen on my visits to the Somme, is out in the countryside and you can easily see the magnificence of it, but the Menin Gate fights for space with the surrounding buildings, the inside walls consist of panels, naming the dead who have no known grave, and is a sobering sight. There were many people milling around waiting for the Last Post Ceremony at 08:00pm, but my Dad was getting very tired, so we decided to go back to the hotel for an early night.
Our itinerary for the second day was to Visit the Tyne Cot Cemetary on the way to Paschendale, where one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War took place. As you enter Tyne Cot, you are not prepared for the enormity of it, as it is hidden as you walk along a path to the small museum there, as we walked along there was the sound of a woman’s soft voice reading out the names of the dead and their age, it was quite moving and I felt tears well up for these young heroes. We went through the small museum and I was fascinated by a computer monitor on the wall which was showing photographs of the men the soft voiced woman was reading, I just stood there captivated by the images of the young faces. My Dad had to jolt me after about 15 minutes and I reluctantly moved on. As we walked along the perimeter wall of the Cemetery itself the magnitude of the human losses became apparent, Tyne Cot is the biggest war cemetery in the world and it is massive. I got my Dad up the two steps and left him with his contraption to wander around at his own pace, while I headed to the back of the cemetery where there were massive panels naming the soldiers with no known grave. I was looking for panel 60 to 61 for Carlin’s Uncle. Panel 60 is situated in a small apse off the main cemetery, there are some 10 or 12 panels in this place, you enter it through white stone Doric columns and the panels surround you in a semi-circle. I soon found the panel and Private Herd is the bottom name on it, and although part of the inscription has been lost through weather erosion, his name can be clearly seen. I was sooo pleased to have found this and it made the visit the more poignant knowing this brave young man was Carlin’s Uncle. I took some photographs of the panel and a close up of his name. I then went out and took a photograph of the whole recess, showing the beautiful columns, I then remembered the poppy I had brought with me and laid it at the foot of Panel 60. I don’t pray but I stood there for a few minutes in silent thought for this young man who had laid down his life so that I could live mine.
We left Tyne Cot in a sombre mood, and headed for Paschendale. Paschendale is a quiet sleepy town, and everywhere appeared shut, seeing the town now, its difficult to imagine the devastation it suffered and the death toll of the battle for Paschendale. “I died in hell, they called it Paschendale” (Seigfried Sassoon).
We were beginning to feel a bit hungry and the idea was we would have something to eat in Paschendale and visit the museum in the afternoon. We had difficulty finding somewhere to eat in Paschendale as everything appeared shut, we eventually went into a bar in the main square opposite the church, and ordered a tea and a coffee, they didn’t do food, but the very friendly Belgian proprieter, a man around 40, very dark and handsome with a pleasant smile, he said we could go to the pattiserie and buy some food and bring it back to eat in the bar. I went to the pattieserie opposite and bought some baguettes with ham, cheese and salad and two Danish Pastries. There were only two other people in the bar and we got chatting to one of them who was an Irish man who had lived in Belgium for 15 years, he was from Wicklow in Ireland and had a beautiful Irish Brogue. He loved living in Belgium and said that the Belgian people were the friendliest in Europe and I agreed, so much friendlier than the French, but perhaps it’s a culture thing, I always find the French to be a tad arrogant. We spent a pleasant hour and a half talking and laughing with our new found Irish friend, and when we left he directed us to the museum and we left in good spirits thanking him for the Craik.
The Paschendale museum is situated on the Zennebeke Road and is reached by a long path to a beautiful old Chateau, which, although weatherbeaten had retained its olde worlde charm, with wooden balconies all around and steps leading up to the main door. We walked around looking for a way for my Dad to get in to the museum as he could never have managed the stairs. We found a lift at the back of the building. I went around and again an extremely friendly young Blegian lad took me through the museum and out to where I had left my Dad sitting on his wee contraption. We got in the lift to the top floor and walked around.
I took a picture of a German Soldier on an horse, an interesting museum, but small. I was more interested in the building itself, which had survived the war and was like something from another age. I bought some candles with poppies on them for my daughters and after an hour or so in the museum, my Dad was feeling tired, so we went to the car and drove back to Ypres and the hotel. I went to my room and wrote some notes for my Glesga Pals travelogue and listened to some music on my MP3 while reading a book called 365 soldiers of the Great War, I had gotten it out of the Hotel’s small library. I had to give it back when I left, and I had reached the end of July, there was a short biography and description of the circumstances and manner of the deaths of 365 soldiers of the war, one for each day.
After about 3hours, my Dad and I went for a meal to the same restaurant as the previous evening and had another lovely meal. We decided we would go to the Menin Gate and watch the Last Post.
By the time 08:00 came around the Menin Gate was packed with throngs of people waiting to see the last post, this has been carried out every night for the past 75 years except during the 2nd world war, when the occupying German forces would not allow it. On this evening there were people from the British Legion laying wreathes and a bugler and a Scottish Piper. At 08:00 the traffic is stopped and everything is still and silent, the bugler sounds the last post and the piper played the Flowers of the Forest, a very moving spectacle. After this my Dad was getting very tired so we went back to the hotel and had a coffee and then to bed.
To be continued……………………..
Aw ra Best