Day 2:    The Jean-Paul Memorial Tour of Ft. Loncin!


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The lagging laggardly lads leisurely lope to Liege 

One is never sure what is worst, the first day in Europe from a redeye flight, or the next day trying to get into the Central European Time zone groove, so the Boys rose around 8:30 with a leisurely brunch in the Marriott's buffet and lots and lots of coffee the Boys started the trip to Liege, and the first official tour stop on the World War 1 Over Dere Campaign. Sadly the Mike, Bone, and Ron all fumbled with the stupid French global navigator with no success. Similar to a French woman, always changing their minds!

But the real question is "why start in Liege?", didn't the war start in Serbia with the assassination of Emperor Franz Joseph? The reality is that his assassination started the war, it was when the Germans marched into Belgium demanded passage through to France, and were told no, that the bombing of Liege started the war and brought Great Britain in to the fray.

1914 the Fort de Loncin was one of the last Liège forts to suffer German bombardment. Liège first came under attack on 6 August 1914. Loncin was massively bombarded for three days from 12 to 15 August, before one of its two magazines, with twelve tons of explosive, blew up. The explosion destroyed the heart of the fort, killing 350 of the 550-man garrison, their bodies remaining under the wreckage. Loncin was the only fort at Liège that did not surrender. Many of the dead remain in the fort and the site is considered a war grave as well as a museum. So for Mike, Bone and Ron, starting in Liege, showed where the German's started the siege!

The need to urinate caused the Boys to procrastinate, which allowed the Boys 3 hours to Ruminate !  

Road coffees are great when you are suffering from jet lag, but it does play hell on your bladder! By the time the boys figured out where Fort Loncin with a combination of foolish-French GPS and the Google they arrived to discover that Campaign was starting on wrong foot!  

The damned Fort was closed for the day!!!

Stunned, the Boys had two things on their minds: 1. What do they do for the rest of the day? 2. Dang, we gotta pee!! Due to a lack of bathrooms in view, the Boys scouted for a discrete place to miter ate, when they came across someone in the Fort, who in mostly French and broken English said "Z Fort ees is closed today!!"  

Heartbroken and saddened, the Boys weren’t sure WHAT to do?

However, the story wasn't over !! The sad foreign faces made the Caretaker (Jean-Paul) feel bad, when Boney asked if they could peek in the Gate and take a few pictures, fortunately Jean-Paul’s lack of English turned out to be a good thing for the day. Bone just wanted to shoot a few pictures through the Gate, so as the Boys headed to get a few pictures through the Fence, Jean-Paul showed up with the keys and said “ZOK- just a few minutes!”

He opened up the gate and proceeded to give the Boys a heartfelt three-hour tour of Fort Loncin free of charge!!!   

Entry to Fort Loncin

The Start of the Jean-Paul Memorial Tour!

The incredible gracious tour (here-to-for noblely crowned the Jean-Paul Memorial Tour!) started near the Gate where Jean-Paul told the Boys that Fort de Loncin  is considered the symbol of the Battle of Liège and of Belgium's heroic stand against the German in 1914.

Just a couple of miles from the center of Liège, the Fort remains an exceptional memorial, untouched since its part destruction during the First World War.  

The fort exploded on 15 August 1914 hit by a German canon nicknamed the "Big Bertha." It had succeeded in resisting the German troops 11 days at that point. The shell which destroyed the fort measured 42 cm and weighed 800 kg: it buried 350 people in the process. Only 150 brave souls made it alive.   

The Memorials to the Fallen of Fort Loncin

Just in side the Gate is a series of memorials to the fallen of the Battle. Jean-Paul solemnly told Mike, Bone, and Ron that after the war Belgian sentiment of admiration for the fort's defenders resulted in a public subscription to erect a monument that King Albert I dedicated on 15 August 1923. The monument was sculpted by Liège sculptor Georges Petit, and comprises an 18-metre tower, with two 9.8 ft figures at the top representing Roman and Greek warriors rendering honor to the defenders of Loncin. Figures at the base include a woman with her arms spread over a dead soldier at her feet.

 A separate monument features a tablet with the French inscription Passant... va dire à la Belgique et à la France qu'ici 550 belges se sont sacrifiés pour la défense de la liberté et le salut du monde ("Passer by... go say to Belgium and France that here 550 Belgians sacrificed themselves for the defense of freedom and the salvation of the world"), attributed to the French general Malleterre, based on the epitaph by Simonides for the Spartan dead at the Battle of Thermopylae. A number of other commemorative monuments were placed at the site, including the flamme du souvenir, a figure of a man thrusting a torch from under the earth.

Big Bertha Big Blast!!

As Jean-Paul took the Boys into one of the worst busted up Bunkers that had housed the men he told them that the principal reason for the destruction of the Fort de Loncin was that the ammunition magazines had been placed too close to the surface and had never been upgraded since their construction to deal with improved artillery. Problems with concrete construction also became apparent, as techniques for concrete mixing, placement and construction were still being learned. In particular, a lack of nighttime illumination required that construction be stopped at the end of each day, and a poor understanding of the bonding properties of concrete caused weak points between daily pours of concrete, causing layers of concrete to separate under stress of bombardment or explosion.  The effects of the bombardment was amazing, and made Mike, Ron, and Bone think about what a hell it must had been to live through those days. 

A Massive Gun Turret sunk in the ground from the Bertha Big Blast!!

When a Big Bertha hit the munitions depot, it was over, the commander of the Liège sector, General Gérard Leman, whom had chosen the fort as his command post after Germans entered the center of Liège. Following the explosion he was rescued, unconscious or delirious, from the fort's ditch and made prisoner. The fort's commandant, Victor Naessens, wrote: "Under the effect of this titanic volcano, what remained of the concrete massif was dislocated and the greater part of the garrison was crushed by blocks of concrete, burned alive or asphyxiated."  

The 42 cm Big Bertha howitzer, the secret weapon of the German army in 1914, quickly became widely celebrated. The destruction of the Fort de Loncin was immediately used for propaganda by the Germans, precipitating the surrender of the last two Liège forts, Fort de Flémalle and Fort de Hollogne. The propaganda did much to cement the reputation of the Big Bertha. 

The Hero of the Day: Jean-Paul!!

A Shattered Machine Gun Turret, from the German Bombing !

The remnants of Bunker Walls

Bomb blasts in Western Wall of the Fort

Jean-Paul took Mike, Ron, and Bone to the Western section of the Fort to see a Museum and relate his dedication to Fort Loncin for the past 30 years of his life. He served in the Belgian Army and on retiring took on the role of caretaker. Evern since August 15th, 1914 the Fort de Loncin has been treated as a war grave and place of remembrance. Of the more than 300 dead, the majority remain buried in the wreckage. The remains that have been recovered from the fort have been re-interred in a crypt at the head of the fort. The continuing presence of unexploded munitions was judged by the Belgian army in 2003 to be a potential hazard. In October 2007, after a project of mine and explosives clearance, 2,500 shells, representing 142 tons of munitions, were extracted. During this work 25 bodies were discovered, of which four were identified. All were re-interred on 15 August 2008, Jean-Paul did his military duty and he helped find, and bury each of those men with Military honors on the Fort property.

In fact he showed the Boys two servicemen that had been found the day before. They had not be touched or move until the proper officials and experts could deal with them, For Jean-Paul the War is still very recent.

The 5 minute photo "favor" turned into a 3 1/2 hour, personalized tour, free of charge! Jean-Paul would not take a nickel from the Boys, but was willing to sell them some books to help with the Museum.

With fond memories, the Boys bid Jean-Paul a fond farewell, since it was getting late in the afternoon, Mike, Ron, and Bone set their sights on the Flemish Town close to the French Border, where for 4 years the German's had yearly pitched battles mostly with the British, the French, and few, but brave Belgians.    

The Boys enjoying a few Belgians in Ypres  

Getting to Ypres (pronounced Epers) around 5:00 The Boys were able to score a great Hotel right down town and had time for a great dinner sitting out side of the iconic Cloth Hall, each enjoyed a great meal and such legendary local Belgian beers such as Duval's and Leffes, waiting for a very special, nightly tribute to the fallen of the Great War!

The very moving, Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate

Mike, Bone, and Ron finished dinner just in time to catch a moving ceremony takes place under the Menin Gate every night at 8.00 PM rain or shine, year round.  

The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing is a war memorial in Ypres, Belgium, dedicated to the British and Commonwealth soldiers who were killed in the Ypres Salient of World War I and whose graves are unknown. The memorial is located at the eastern exit of the town and marks the starting point for one of the main roads out of the town that led Allied soldiers to the front line. Designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield and built and maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the Menin Gate Memorial was unveiled on 24 July 1927.  In medieval times, the original narrow gateway on the eastern side of the city of Ypres was called the Hangoartpoort, "poort" being the Dutch word for gate. In order to prosper and maintain its wealth, the city of Ypres had to be fortified, to keep out potential invaders. During the 17th and 18th centuries, while under the occupation of the Habsburgs and the French, the city was increasingly fortified. Major works were completed at the end of the 17th century by the French military engineer Sebastien Le Prestre, Seigneur de Vauban. At the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, the eastern exit simply cut through the remains of the ramparts and crossed a moat. The gateway was by this time known as the Menenpoort, or Menin Gate in English, because the road leading through the gateway led to the small town of Menen. Ypres occupied a strategic position during the First World War because it stood in the path of Germany's planned sweep across the rest of Belgium, as had been called for in the Schlieffen Plan.

By October 1914, the much battered Belgian Army broke the dykes on the Yser River to the north of the City to keep the western tip of Belgium out of German hands. Ypres, being the centre of a road network, anchored one end of this defensive feature and was also essential for the Germans if they wanted to take the Channel Ports through which British support was flooding into France. For the Allies, Ypres was also important because it eventually became the last major Belgian town that was not under German control. The importance of the town is reflected in the five major battles that occurred around it during the war. During the First Battle of Ypres the Allies halted the German Army's advance to the east of the city. The German army eventually surrounded the city on three sides, bombarding it throughout much of the war. The Second Battle of Ypres marked a second German attempt to take the city in April 1915. The third battle is more commonly referred to as Passchendaele, but this 1917 battle was a complex five-month engagement.

The fourth and fifth battles occurred during 1918. British and Commonwealth soldiers often passed through the Menenpoort on their way to the front lines with some 300,000 of them being killed in the Ypres Salient. 90,000 of these soldiers have no known graves. From September to November 1915, the British 177th Tunneling Company built tunneled dugouts in the city ramparts near the Menin Gate. These were the first British tunneled dugouts in the Ypres Salient. The carved limestone lions adorning the original gate were damaged by shellfire, and were donated to the Australian War Memorial by the Mayor of Ypres in 1936. They were restored in 1987, and currently reside at the entrance to that Memorial, so that all visitors to the Memorial pass between them. Reginald Blomfield's triumphal arch, designed in 1921, is the entry to the barrel-vaulted passage for traffic through the mausoleum that honors the Missing, who have no known graves. The patient lion on the top is the lion of Britain but also the lion of Flanders. It was chosen to be a memorial as it was the closest gate of the town to the fighting, and so Allied Troops would have marched past it on their way to fight. Actually, most troops passed out of the other gates of Ypres, as the Menin Gate was too dangerous due to shellfire. Its large Hall of Memory contains names on stone panels of 54,395 Commonwealth soldiers who died in the Salient but whose bodies have never been identified or found. On completion of the memorial, it was discovered to be too small to contain all the names as originally planned.

 An arbitrary cut-off point of 15 August 1917 was chosen and the names of 34,984 UK missing after this date were inscribed on the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing instead. The Menin Gate Memorial does not list the names of the missing of New Zealand and Newfoundland soldiers, who are instead honored on separate memorials. The inscription inside the archway is similar to the one at Tyne Cot, with the addition of a prefatory Latin phrase: "Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam – Here are recorded names of officers and men who fell in Ypres Salient, but to whom the fortune of war denied the known and honored burial given to their comrades in death". The Latin phrase means 'To the greater glory of God'. Both this inscription, and the main overhead inscription on both the east- and west-facing façades of the arch, were composed by Rudyard Kipling.  On the opposite side of the archway to that inscription is the shorter dedication: "They shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away". To this day, the remains of missing soldiers are still found in the countryside around the town of Ypres. Typically, such finds are made during building work or road-mending activities. Any human remains discovered receive a proper burial in one of the war cemeteries in the region. If the remains can be identified, the relevant name is removed from the Menin Gate.

The Last Post Ceremony has become part of the daily life in Ypres and the local people are proud of this simple but moving tribute to the courage and self-sacrifice of those who fell in defense of their town. How the Tradition Began In 1928, a year after the inauguration of the Menin Gate Memorial, a number of prominent citizens in Ypres decided that some way should be found to express the gratitude of the Belgian nation towards those who had died for its freedom and independence. The idea of the daily sounding of the Last Post - the traditional salute to the fallen warrior - was that of the Superintendant of the Ypres Police, Mr. P Vandenbraambussche. The Menin Gate Memorial on the east side of Ypres was thought to be the most appropriate location for the ceremony. Originally this was the location of the old city gate leading to the Ypres Salient battlefields and The Menin Road, through which so many British and Commonwealth troops had passed on their way to the Allied front line. The privilege of playing Last Post was given to buglers of the local volunteer Fire Brigade. The first sounding of Last Post took place on 1 July 1928 and a daily ceremony was carried on for about four months. The ceremony was reinstated in the spring of 1929 and the Last Post Committee (now called the Last Post Association) was established. Four silver bugles were donated to the Last Post Committee by the Brussels and Antwerp Branches of the Royal British Legion. From 11 November 1929 the Last Post has been sounded at the Menin Gate Memorial every night and in all weathers. The only exception to this was during the four years of the German occupation of Ypres from 20 May 1940 to 6 September 1944. The daily ceremony was instead continued in England at Brookwood Military Cemetery, Surrey. On the very evening that Polish forces liberated Ypres the ceremony was resumed at the Menin Gate, in spite of the heavy fighting still going on in other parts of the town. Bullet marks can still be seen on the memorial from that time. When the Last Post returned to Ieper (Ypres) after the Second World War the Brookwood Last Post Association (under Colonel McKay) continued, until recent years, to sound the Last Post at Brookwood Military Cemetery on the first Sunday of the month.

The Exhortation

After the wreath-laying a member or guest of the Last Post Association, a visiting dignitary or a visitor will have been invited to say the words of the Exhortation, taken from Laurence Binyon's poem “For the Fallen” (fourth verse). Standing in the center of the road under the arch of the Hall of Memory the person will say the words:  

" They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:  Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.  At the going down of the sun and in the morning,  We will remember them.”

With that the crowd broke up, feeling the effects of the Ceremony, the Boys headed back into the Square for one more round of drinks to reflect on the Day and enjoy a very nice evening outside!

Enjoying an awesome Summers Evening in Ypres with a few Belgians!

It had been quite the Day! a victory from the Jaws of Defeat at Fort Loncin launched a trend that was to follow Mike, Bone, and Ron the rest of the trip: Good food; luck, and experiences! With a VERY busy day planned, they enjoyed ( but did not overdue!) the Belgian beers and called it an evening around 11:00.