The Morning bloomed early, yep gotta use flower references today, because it is all gonna be about poppies, unexploded ordinance, and one of the critical areas of battle during the entire 4 years of the Great War, the Ypres Salient! However, first-things-first! Having done Ypres the year before, Bone knew to get a Tour Guide for the many sites around the Town, and at first it wasn't looking too good! All the tours were sold out by 8:00, one Shop Keeper, a Canadian from Ontario whom Bone bought a French 70 mm shell casing the year before helped the Boys by calling in a favor from a local who agreed to give the Boys a Tour at 10:30!
So with some time to kill, the Bone thought it would be cool to check out one of the many, but maybe the best of the World War I Museums, the Flanders Field Museum in the Cloth Hall!
Starting the Day, Tackling the Cloth Hall!
The Cloth Hall is the Center of Ypres, with iconic medieval architecture by which the Town revolves. It was one of the largest commercial buildings in Europe during the Middle Ages, when it served as the main market and warehouse for the Flemish city's prosperous cloth industry. The original structure, erected mainly in the 13th century and completed 1304, lay in ruins after artillery fire devastated Ypres in World War I. Between 1933 and 1967, the hall was meticulously reconstructed to its prewar condition, under the guidance of architects J. Coomans and P. A. Pauwels. At 410 feet in breadth, with a 230 ft-high belfry tower, the Cloth Hall recalls the importance and wealth of the medieval trade city. It is a very cool architecture where in a row spanning the front of the edifice are tall pointed arches that alternately enclose windows and blind niches. Before the Great War, the niches framed life-size statues of historical personages, counts and countesses of Flanders. The niches on the side wings are now mostly vacant, but those in the center contain statues of Count Baldwin IX of Flanders and Mary of Champagne, legendary founders of the building; and King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth, under whose reign the reconstruction began. Situated between these two couples, directly above the central archway entrance or Donkerpoort, is a statue of Our Lady of Thuyne, the patron of Ypres.
There ain't no Bats in The Cloth Hall Belfry, why?! cuz Mike, Ron, and Bone checked it out!
Mike, Bone, and Ron bought tickets to Flanders Field Museum which entitled to climb to the top in the Belfry, which is capped with four turrets and a spire, that houses a carillon with 49 bells. From a pole atop the spire a gilded dragon overlooks the city. The tower offers an expansive view of the surroundings and was used as a watchtower in centuries past. It has also accommodated the town archives, a treasury, an armory and a prison. In less enlightened times, cats were thrown off the belfry for reasons that are not clearly understood. One theory is that cats were in some way associated with black magic. A different theory is that cats were held to protect the cloth against mice, but the annual excess of kittens had to be dealt with in some way. Today, a jester commemorates this act by tossing stuffed toy felines from the tower during the triennial Cat Parade. The climb to the top took a while and is a little dizzying, but the view is awesome!
Scoping out Passchendale and the Tyne Cot Cemetery
From the Belfry, The Boys could see the entire Ypres Salient Theater. Geographically, Ypres is at a verrrry long slow slope that rises to the west and crests in a ridge where the brutal 3rd Ypres or Passchendale Battle occurred. After 20 minutes the boys headed down to meet their Flemish Tour Guide, Lukas at the Book Store for their first stop of the Day, which all about Heroes' and Heroin, opps no, but definitely red poppies!
Essex Farm CWGC Cemetery, location of the John Mcrae Site
The first stop on the Tour may not have been the most profound with the most body count, but was the most poignant with the death of a friend, a Doctor, and a poem.
Being Oakland County-raised Midwest American boys, Mike, Bone, and Ron all remember every November old Vets from the American Legion selling paper poppies in traffic.
The Boys sorta knew that they had something to do with one of the World Wars, probably World War I, but none knew the story of the "On Flanders Field" Poem.
Essex Farm CWGC Cemetery is where Lieutenant Colonel John Mcrae, MD (November 30, 1872 – January 28, 1918) a Canadian poet, physician, author, artist and soldier during World War I, and a surgeon during the Second Battle of Ypres, in Belgium. He is best known for writing the famous war memorial poem "In Flanders Fields". Mcrae died of pneumonia near the end of the war. McCrae was born in McCrae House in Guelph, Ontario to Lieutenant-Colonel David McCrae and Janet Simpson Eckford; he was the grandson of Scottish immigrants.
When Britain declared war on Germany at the start of World War I, Canada, as a Dominion within the British Empire, was at war as well. McCrae was appointed as Medical Officer and Major of the 1st Brigade CFA (Canadian Field Artillery). He treated wounded during the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915, from a hastily dug, 8 foot by 8 foot bunker dug in the back of the dyke along the Yser Canal about 2 miles north of Ypres.
It was during the second battle of Ypres that the German army launched one of the first chemical attacks in the history of war. They attacked the Canadian position with chlorine gas on 22 April 1915, but were unable to break through the Canadian line, which held for over two weeks. In a letter written to his mother, McCrae described the battle as a "nightmare": "For seventeen days and seventeen nights none of us have had our clothes off, nor our boots even, except occasionally. In all that time while I was awake, gunfire and rifle fire never ceased for sixty seconds.... And behind it all was the constant background of the sights of the dead, the wounded, the maimed, and a terrible anxiety lest the line should give way." Alexis Helmer, a close friend, was killed during the battle on May 2. McCrae performed the burial service himself, at which time he noted how poppies quickly grew around the graves of those who died at Ypres. The next day, he composed the poem while sitting in the back of an ambulance at the Essex Farm Advanced Dressing Station, which read in the following prose:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie, In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
"In Flanders Fields" appeared anonymously in Punch on December 8, 1915, but in the index to that year Mcrae was named as the author. The verses swiftly became one of the most popular poems of the war, used in countless fund-raising campaigns and frequently translated (a Latin version begins In agro belgico...). "In Flanders Fields" was also extensively printed in the United States. McCrae, now "a household name, albeit a frequently misspell one", regarded his sudden fame with some amusement, wishing that "they would get to printing 'In F.F.' correctly: it never is nowadays"; but (writes his biographer) "he was satisfied if the poem enabled men to see where their duty lay." Sadly, on January 28, 1918, while still commanding No. 3 Canadian General Hospital (McGill) at Boulogne, McCrae died of pneumonia with "extensive pneumococcus meningitis". He was buried the following day in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission section of Wimereux Cemetery, just a couple of miles up the coast from Boulogne, with full military honors. His flag-draped coffin was borne on a gun carriage and the mourners – who included Sir Arthur Currie and many of McCrae's friends and staff – were preceded by McCrae's charger, "Bonfire", with McCrae's boots reversed in the stirrups. Bonfire was with McCrae from Valcartier, Quebec until his death and was much loved. McCrae's gravestone is placed flat, as are all the others in the section, because of the unstable sandy soil.
It was very ironic as the Boys walked around it was a grey, drizzly day and even more so as they approach the Bunker that McCrae wrote the poem in low and behold! a Poppy, in, Flanders Field!
A Poppy, in Flanders Field!
Essex Farm was strategically located along the Yser Canal or the "Yleperlee." During the First World War, the YIeperlee was part of the frontline, it linked the Ypres Salient, held by the French and English, to the Yser Front, held by the Belgian Army. Because of its location close to the frontline, the canal bank was chosen by the British as the site of an Advanced Dressing Station. During the Second Battle of Ypres in April-May 1915, a first basic medical station for British Army casualties was established in rough dugouts cut into the western bank of the canal. The original crude dugouts in the canal bank were expanded into a dressing station by 1917 and reinforced with concrete. They gradually developed into a series of rooms and a larger medical station was built up with huts to cope with larger numbers of wounded. The Advanced Dressing Station was also equipped with a railway line, narrow gauge railway lines and camps to cope with the huge number of wounded soldiers from the northern part of the Ypres Salient. The land south of the farm known by Allied soldiers as "Essex Farm" was used as a dressing station cemetery from April 1915 to August 1917. The 49th (West Riding) Infantry Division buried their dead of 1915 in Plot I. Many burials were made without definite plan.When the Boys walked through the gravestone they noticed how many of them were not laid out with any thoughtful order, but simply hastily dug graves. To make matters worse, the Cemetery was bombed continuously for all four years of the War, many of those buried (including Mcrae's buddy) were blown up, never to be found.
Where John Mcrae perform medical triage and wrote "On Flanders Field"
In the center of the memorial site are the remains of concrete bunkers used by a British Advanced Dressing Station, while separate memorials to John McCrae and his poem In Flanders Fields are just to the east of these bunkers. In the north-eastern quarter of the memorial site are the remains of emergency housing provided by the Belgian government for the local population during the First World War, while the most visible landmark in the south-eastern quarter of the site is the memorial to the 49th (West Riding) Infantry Division on the ridge of the dyke.
In the centre of the memorial site are the remains of concrete bunkers used by a British Advanced Dressing Station, while separate memorials to John McCrae and his poem In Flanders Fields are just to the east of these bunkers. In the north-eastern quarter of the memorial site are the remains of emergency housing provided by the Belgian government for the local population during the First World War, while the most visible landmark in the south-eastern quarter of the site is the memorial to the 49th (West Riding) Infantry Division on the ridge of the dyke.
Ron, Mike, and Bone in the John Mcrae Field Hospital
The John Mcrae, Flanders Field Memorial
Mike, Ron, and Bone in the drizzling Flanders Field, channeling John Mcrae
Where the experts think John Mcrae's friend, Alex Helmer was thought to be buried
Based on Mcrae's writings and archeologists findings, they suspect that Alex Helmer was buried where the red flowers were in the back of the picture, however due to the constant German bombing, the real likelihood is his body was blown up along with many others.
"Whose name is only known to God"
This Commonwealth War Graves Commission war cemetery was designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield. There are 1,200 servicemen of the First World War buried or commemorated in Essex Farm CWGC Cemetery. 103 of the burials are unidentified but special memorials commemorate 19 casualties known or believed to be buried among them.
After the Mcrae Memorial and the walk amond the graves it was time to check out the first of many trenches during the Over Dere Tour!
"Ain't no Pudding, but Poppies", as the Boys horse around in the Rain in the Yorkshire Trench!
A Well Preserved Great War Trench!
After the Mcrae Memorial and the walk amond the graves it was time to check out the first of many trenches during the Over Dere Tour! The next stop started a little weird, Lukas their Tour Guide was from the area and drove into an Industrial Park just ½ mile from Essex farm and just when the Boys were wondering what they were doing there they saw it, the Yorkshire Trench!
The story of the site goes back to 1997, when the Town of Ypres wanted to develop a new industrial site along the Ieper-Yzer canal, where they quickly encountered numerous vestiges of the war were soon discovered: unexploded ammunition, constructions, human remains,... Since then, the bodies of some 205 soldiers of three different nationalities have been recovered. The city acquired a small plot of land, for the creation of a memorial site by the In Flanders Fields Museum. This plot marks the location of ‘Yorkshire Trench' originally dug by the British in 1915. In close consultation with the archeological team, the trench was restored along its original route, including the entrance and exit of a deep dug-out from 1917.
A series of information panels and a ground plan of the dug-out on the site gave Mike, Ron, and Bone a graphic representation of trench warfare. Unfortunately, the skies opened up from a drizzle to a downpour and dampered the Boys enthusiasm to “play” too long in the Trench, so they all jumped in the car for the next stop, the German Cemetery at Langemarck!
The German Cemetery at Langemarck
The next stop was very different in layout and vibe, it started out as a military cemetery with a small group of German graves in 1915. Between 1916 and 1918 the burials at Langemark were increased by order of the German military directorate in Ghent. During the war the village was known by the spelling of Langemarck. In later times the “c” in the name was dropped. From the mid 1920s the private German war graves organization, the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge (VDK) and the newly established Official German Burial Service in Belgium began to renovate German cemeteries in Flanders. At that time this cemetery was named “Langemarck-Nord”. This was done to distinguish the cemetery from the other 15 German burial sites in the Langemark area. The VDK secured private funds in the form of sponsorship from its members and was able to carry out significant work on two cemeteries in Flanders, namely this one at Langemarck-Nord (10,143 war dead) and another further north at Roeselaere called Roselaere-de Ruyter (2,806 war dead). Due to space concerns, most of these graves are 4 to a plot (very communal!)
The lore of the German "KinderKorps!"
The battle at Langmarck has a special significance for the German people for this reason and Langmarck Cemetery was to play an important role in the rise of an Austrian upstart named Adolph who pretty much started World War II. It all started in September 1914 four new German Army Corps had been formed (approximately 48,000 men in total). Over two thirds of the men were young, inexperienced volunteers between 17 and 19 years of age (known as Kriegsfreiwillige). As a result of the young age of so many of the soldiers, the Corps became known as the “Kinderkorps”. The word “Kinder” translates as “children” in English. These four Corps were incorporated into the newly established German Fourth Army. By 19th October, with only a few weeks of training, they were on the march towards Ypres from the north east. From 20th October they encountered the experienced, well-trained soldiers of the British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F.) who were holding a series of positions making up the forward British Line north-east and east of Ypres. The four new German Corps of the German Fourth Army made an advance on the British Line north east of Ypres. German casualties were very heavy especially in the vicinity of Becelaere and Langemarck. The courageous but inexperienced young Germans in the “Kinderkorps” were cut down in their hundreds. Some regiments lost 70% of their strength in casualties. The British battalions fought to hold their ground but also lost casualties in dead, wounded and prisoners. There are stone grave marker for 8 soldiers, three of whom are unidentified. All of the identified 5 soldiers were killed in October or November 1914 and two of them are student “Kriegsfreiwilliger” (war volunteers) Ron, Mike, and Bone easily saw those Graves with their special markings.
A Memorial to the Fallen Germans
Many soldiers who fell during the battle were buried here and you can tell on the graves as the Boys walked around the cemetery On 29th October the German Army attacked the British Line on the Menin Road at Kruisecke Crossroads, east of Gheluvelt. The German aim was to break through the British front and take Ypres. Their failure and the death led to a visit after the Battle of France in May 1940 by Herr Hitler. He "idolized" the Students as "fighting children" and Germanic hero's. Year later a local man from Wytschaete, south of Ypres, who was a young boy at the time, recalled the impression it made on him suddenly to see a convoy of big black cars and lots of German officers in their grey uniforms driving near his family's farmhouse. He hid in the wood owned by his family and watched Adolf Hitler walking nearby with his entourage of officers. In the First World War Hitler had served with the Bavarian Reserve-Infantry-Regiment 16 and had been in action south of Ypres in the area of Wytschaete on the Messines Ridge.
In 1954 an agreement was signed to establish three German collecting cemeteries for First World War dead in Flanders: Langemark, Menen and Vladslo. This decision was based on the experience of having to maintain many smaller cemeteries during the inter-war years outside Germany's borders on foreign soil. With more graves gathered together in fewer locations it was considered that the care and upkeep of the cemeteries could be carried out more effectively which led to over 9,500 exhumations and reburials. From this time almost 9,500 German soldiers were brought into Langemark from 18 German burial sites in the area. The number of exhumations ranged from cemeteries containing from 54 to 1,562 burials. Some burials were not identified by name, but were known to be German. These cemeteries included Langemark-Kerselaere, four cemeteries in Moorslede, two cemeteries in Passchendaele, five cemeteries in Poelcappelle, two cemeteries in Staden, one in Westroosebeke, two in Zillebeke and one in Zonnebeke-Polygone. Eight soldiers, identified and unidentified, were generally buried in each grave plot and their identities were marked with a grave number. The somber stories made the typically chatty Boys quieter than normal because the next stop was a gas!
The Site of the first Gas Attack in History, the Canadian Memorial to their Gas Causalities
The rain finally took a break as they left Langmarck Cemetery, next stop was the St. Julien Memorial, which is a Canadian war memorial and small commemorative park located in the village of Saint-Julien, Langemark. The memorial commemorates the Canadian First Division's participation in the Second Battle of Ypres of World War I which included fighting in the face of the first poison gas attacks along the Western Front. The village of Saint Julien and a section of forested land called Saint Julien Wood was at a pronounced bend in the north east sector of the Ypres Salient prior to the Second Battle of Ypres. The area was also the junction between the British and French sectors of responsibility. The Canadian First Division was assigned the most northern section of the British line and to their left, the 45th (Algerian) Division held the southernmost end of the French line. The German Army had brought forward 168 tons of chlorine gas deployed in 5,730 cylinders buried in front of their trenches, opposite Langemark-Poelkapelle, north of Ypres. The Canadians, who had been moved into their positions only a few days earlier were manning the lines for several hundred metres along a front to the southwest of St. Julien when the German Army unleashed the first poison gas attack on the Western Front on 22 April 1915. Pushed towards the Allied lines by a wind from the north, the initial gas attack largely drifted to the north and west of the Canadian lines, into the trenches of the French colonial troops of the French 45th (Algerian) and 87th (Territorial) Divisions, of 26th Reserve Corps. The gas drifted across positions largely held French colonial troops who broke ranks and abandoned their trenches after witnessing the early casualties, creating an 5 mile gap in the Allied line. The German infantry were also wary of the gas and, lacking reinforcements, failed to exploit the break before the First Canadian Division and assorted French troops reformed the line in scattered, hastily prepared positions 1,000 to 3,000 yards apart. In actions at Kitcheners Wood, Mauser Ridge, Pilkem Ridge and Gravenstafel Ridge the Canadians held the line and prevented a German breakthrough until they were relieved by reinforcements on the 24 April.
In the 48 crucial hours that they held the line, 6,035 Canadians - or one man in every three who went into battle - became casualties; of that number, approximately 2,000 (or one man in every nine) were killed. After the attack, those killed were found blue from suffocation, many of them had claw marks on their faces and chest trying to “find” air. Coroners noted that their lungs had “liquefied, truly a horrible death (or being married to Jenny Howes!). The memorial at Saint Julien was unveiled on 8 July 1923 by Prince Arthur, the Duke of Connaught and the tribute was made by French Marshal Ferdinand Foch, former Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers on the Western Front. In his address, Foch stated; "The Canadians paid heavily for their sacrifice and the corner of earth on which this Memorial of gratitude and piety rises has been bathed in their blood. They wrote here the first page in that Book of Glory which is the history of their participation in the war." After their completion in the mid-1920s, the sites became links in a chain of memorials that included 900+ Commonwealth cemeteries, making a road of remembrance or via dolorosa. The 'Brooding Soldier' column rises from a low circular flagstone terrace and is sculpted at its top to form the bowed head and shoulders of a Canadian soldier. The soldier's hands resting are on the butt of his down-turned rifle in the 'arms reversed' position, a pose used as gesture of mourning and respect for the fallen performed at funerals and services of remembrance. Surrounding the column and central terrace are gardens of tall cedars trimmed into the shape of artillery shells and low cut cedars trimmed to look like shell explosions. Some of the soil that nourishes the gardens of the memorial was brought from various locations from across Canada to represent the broad spectrum of Canadian men who fought shoulder to shoulder on the battlefields of 1915.
A REAL,,,,, Great War,,,, Gas Bomb!!!!
While at the Canadian Memorial, Lukas shared with the Boys the simply incredible amount of ordinance that was dropped in the Ypres area between 1914 and 1918, with major battles every year of the War, tens of millions of tons in bomb's artillery shells, bullets littered the skies and eventually the mud of the pounded and soggy, boggy landscape. Plus, in the Great War artillery were notoriously unreliable, many sunk into the into the mud unexploded. Every year the Farmers when they till their farms, even a hundred years later they bring up unexploded bombs. The farmers know to call a special Ypres Police Unit meant to deal with these unwanted souvenirs. By happenstance, Lukas neighbor pulled a German gas bomb out of the ground the day before, giving Mike, Ron, and Bone a very real example of lasting and continuing legacy of the Great War. Which took the tour to Lukas Neighbors Barn for even more examples!
Great War Debris found in one Flemish Farmers Pasture !!!
In the Barn was hundreds of spent shells and other military debris that had been drudged up in the past 10 years. Lukas shared that he almost lost a finger from a hand grenade that blew up when he as a 10 year old picked it up. Apparently to this day there are a lot of school children with missing digits and hands from unwisely playing with 100 year old ordinance. Next, on the subject of mud: Third Ypres or Passchendale!!
The Muddy Hell of Third Ypres: Passchendale
The Battle of Passchendaele, also known as the Third Battle of Ypres, was a campaign of the First World War, fought primarily (as most Ypres Salient Operations were) by the British and was the heavily promoted by the British Commander in Chief Sir Douglas Haig. Haig thought that the Germans were wore down and a break through could be achieved.
Now there were many, many horrible battles in World War I, and Passchendaele would be a candidate for the worst.
Not only were the British walking up that 2-mile hill from Ypres to the Ridge that were heavily defended with artillery shelling, and concrete German pillsboxes with cross fire machine gun nests, but all in the most pernicious mud ever. The already low-lands of Belgium Flanders had been pummeled for three years with shelling, and men, animal, and machine churned it up, destroyed the drainage systems, and created a quagmire.
When considering the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917, what immediately springs to mind is a desolate, shattered landscape of mud. So when looking these the photographs of this lengthy campaign (July to November), and the weather conditions proved quite changeable and fickle. The other factor at Ypres was the physical characteristics of this part of Flanders. The water table in this area is very high and indeed parts of the battlefield were swamp or reclaimed swamp. So even when the surface appeared dry, it could in places be sodden below the crust and digging into the ground even to a shallow depth would invite water. Naturally the blanket coverage of shell craters only made the situation worse.
On Bone’s first trip to Passchandaele, his tour guide told him how men and horses would literally “drown” in the mud. It got so bad that if a soldier fell off of the plank walking paths that they would beg their friends to shoot them because if their friends attempted to pull them out, they would likely drown too.
Plus, the Germans quickly figured out to train their machine guns on the plank paths were the Brits had to walk in single file making it easy picken’s Worse, as the Brits fell to their death around the plank paths, it was too dangerous to try to recover those bodies, making a very stinky, scary killing field.
The 3rd Ypres Campaign was controversial in 1917 and has remained so with Historians till this day. The British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, opposed the offensive, as did General Ferdinand Foch the French Chief of the General Staff. Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, commanding the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), did not receive approval for the Flanders operation from the War Cabinet until 25 July. Matters of dispute by the participants, writers and historians since the war, have included the wisdom of pursuing an offensive strategy in the wake of the Nivelle Offensive, rather than waiting for the arrival of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) in France.
The choice of Flanders over areas further south or the Italian front, the climate and weather in Flanders, the choice of General Hubert Gough and the Fifth Army to conduct the offensive, debates over the nature of the opening attack and between advocates of shallow and deeper objectives, have also been controversial. The passage of time between the Battle of Messines (7–14 June) and the Battle of Pilckem Ridge (31 July) the opening move of the Third Battle of Ypres), the extent to which the internal troubles of the French armies motivated British persistence with the offensive, the effect of the weather, the decision to continue the offensive in October and the human cost of the campaign on the soldiers of the German and British armies, have also been argued over ever since.
According to Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson in Passchendaele: the untold story , during August 1917, 127 mm of rain fell in Flanders, which was double the normal average for that month. October also proved another very wet month, with 30 mm of rain falling in just the five-day period 4-9 October (pp 126, 159). However the month of September was mostly dry and this coincided with the three major pushes that the Australians spearheaded in the Ypres sector (Menin Road 20 Sept, Polygon Wood 26 Sept, and Broodseinde 4 Oct). During these attacks the troops marveled at how strong and utterly dominant their supporting artillery fire was.
But in the afternoon of 4 October, right after the Broodseinde operation had been completed (it was over by noon), the weather broke and the rain set in, quickly turning the devastated battlefield into a quagmire. In these conditions it was impossible to drag forward enough artillery and ammunition to maintain such strong support. So the troops that attacked in the wet after 4 October noticed a dramatic drop-off in supporting artillery fire to the point where at times it was barely noticeable. Another pitiful result was the greatly increased difficulty of evacuating the wounded. The decision therefore to continue the offensive and capture Passchendaele in the rain and mud was a weighty one. As C. E. W. Bean later wrote,
‘In these circumstances Haig made the most questioned decision of his career.'
Interestingly, at this point Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig acknowledged the weather and terrain problems, telling war correspondents on 11 October: ‘It was simply the mud which defeated us on Tuesday [9 October]. The men did splendidly to get through it as they did. But the Flanders mud, as you know, is not a new invention. It has a name in history - it has defeated other armies before this one...'
One wonders with this admission of the difficulties presented, why Haig then persisted with the offensive. However, it must be considered that there were real dangers in halting the offensive where they stood. They were still short of the final ridge at Passchendaele and had they remained short of it, it would have been very difficult and costly in lives to hold such a poor position. So perhaps it can be argued that the final push to capture Passchendaele through the dreadful mud of October and November was a combination of this tactical necessity, Haig's perception of an imminent German collapse and his desire to see his grand plan through to a successful conclusion.
For the Germans the onset of rain was a Heaven-sent. Indeed Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria, the Field Marshal in command of the entire northern sector of the Western Front (i.e. that principally opposing the British and Commonwealth forces), made a relieved note in his diary; "Germany had been brought near to certain destruction (sicheren Untergang) by the Flanders battle of 1917".
It should also be remembered that despite these dreadful conditions and the grievous losses, the British Army and its Commonwealth troops did succeed in capturing Passchendaele and part of the final ridge. It was the Canadian Corps that finally achieved this on 6 November. The Canadians would by 1918 become past masters at providing massive artillery support for their infantry, but in the mud before Passchendaele in November 1917, these techniques they were trying to perfect must have been greatly frustrated. With this in mind, their capture of Passchendaele is all the more impressive. Finally, in one of the war's ‘what ifs', it may well be speculated that the offensive at Ypres during 1917 might have succeeded had it gotten underway several weeks earlier, and the final ridge at Passchendaele been captured in early October, before the weather really broke.
However, the Post War thoughts on the campaign were not good...In his Memoirs of 1938, Lloyd George wrote, "Passchendaele was indeed one of the greatest disasters of the war ... No soldier of any intelligence now defends this senseless campaign ...". In 1939, G. C. Wynne wrote that the British had eventually reached Passchendaele Ridge and captured Flandern I Stellung but beyond them were Flandern II Stellung and Flandern III Stellung. The German submarine bases on the coast had not been captured but the objective of diverting the Germans from the French further south, while they recovered from the Nivelle Offensive in April, had succeeded. In 1997, Griffith wrote that the bite and hold system kept moving until November, because the BEF had developed a workable system of offensive tactics, against which the Germans ultimately had no answer. A decade later, Sheldon wrote that relative casualty figures were irrelevant, because the German army could not afford great numbers of losses or to lose the initiative by being compelled to fight another defensive battle, on ground of the Allies' choosing. The Third Battle of Ypres pinned the German army to Flanders and caused unsustainable casualties.
Actual casualty counts are still debated; Bone heard on his first trip that the Passchaendale/Third Ypres Campaign the German's loss 412,000 men, the British/Allies 492,000, or more than the entire US Civil War!!
One can only wonder, which is what Mike, Ron, and Bone were doing as they walked solemnly through the last stop of the Tour, the resting place of those who fought in Passchendale, the Tyne Cot Cemetery.
The Terrible Legacy of Passchendale: Tyne Cot Cemetery
Tyne Cot Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery and Memorial to the Missing is a Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) burial ground for the dead of the First World War in the Ypres Salient on the Western Front. It is the largest cemetery for Commonwealth forces in the world, for any war.
The name "Tyne Cot" is said to come from the Northumberland Fusiliers, seeing a resemblance between the many German concrete pill boxes on this site and typical Tyneside workers' cottages (Tyne cots). Tyne Cot CWGC Cemetery lies on a broad rise in the landscape which overlooks the surrounding countryside. As such, the location was strategically important to both sides fighting in the area. The concrete shelters which still stand in various parts of the cemetery were part of a fortified position of the German Flandern I Stellung, which played an important tactical role during the Battle.
On 4 October 1917, the area where Tyne Cot CWGC Cemetery is now located was captured by the 3rd Australian Division and the New Zealand Division and two days later a cemetery for British and Canadian war dead was begun. The cemetery was recaptured by German forces on 13 April 1918 and was finally liberated by Belgian forces on 28 September. After the Armistice in November 1918, the cemetery was greatly enlarged from its original 343 graves by concentrating graves from the battlefields, smaller cemeteries nearby and from Langemark.
The cemetery grounds were assigned to the United Kingdom in perpetuity by King Albert I of Belgium in recognition of the sacrifices made by the British Empire in the defense and liberation of Belgium during the war.
It was a Cross to Bear on the German Pillbox
The inscription on the Cross of Sacrifice built upon the largest of the three pillboxes reads: THIS WAS THE TYNE COT BLOCKHOUSE CAPTURED BY THE 3RD AUSTRALIAN DIVISION. The Cross was built on top of a German pill box in the centre of the cemetery, purportedly at the suggestion of King George V, who visited the cemetery in 1922 as it neared completion. The King's visit, described in the poem The King's Pilgrimage, included a speech in which he said:
"We can truly say that the whole circuit of the Earth is girdled with the graves of our dead. In the course of my pilgrimage, I have many times asked myself whether there can be more potent advocates of peace upon Earth through the years to come, than this massed multitude of silent witnesses to the desolation of war."
— King George V, 11 May 1922
The cemetery was designed by Sir Herbert Baker. The land on which the cemetery stands is the free gift in perpetuity of the Belgian people to those who are honored here.
Another German Pillbox
The cemetery has several notable graves and memorials, including the grave of Private James Peter Robertson (1883–1917), a Canadian awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery in rushing a machine gun emplacement and rescuing two men from under heavy fire. He was killed saving the second of these men on 6 November 1917.
Two Australian recipients of the Victoria Cross buried in the cemetery are Captain Clarence Smith Jeffries (1894–1917), and Sergeant Lewis McGee (1888–1917). Jeffries led an assault party and rushed one of the strong points at the First Battle of Passchendaele on 12 October 1917, capturing four machine guns and thirty five prisoners, before running his company forward again. He was planning another attack when he was killed by an enemy gunner. On the same day, McGee, who had earned his decoration eight days earlier at Broodseinde, was killed charging an enemy pillbox in the same battle.
And, the last German Pillbox
Also at Tyne Cot, behind the Cross of Sacrifice which was constructed on top of an old German pillbox in the middle of the cemetery, there are 4 German graves, buried alongside Commonwealth graves. These graves are of men that were treated here after the battle, when the pillbox underneath the main cross was used as a dressing station for wounded men.
Seeing the "Slope" from Ypres to Tyne Cot
Tyne Cot was a very strategic spot on the Passchandaele Ridge that looked down the 2 mile slope to Ypres that the Boys could see. It was on this slope that the German's built a series of Pillboxes that caused significant casualties and the Boys wandered over to check out the most visible, the Cross in the middle of the Cemetery.
Mike and Ron, Checking it all out
The Relationship between Tyne Cot and the Menin Gate
The walls forming the memorial in the background, with one of the rotundas The stone wall surrounding the cemetery makes-up the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing, one of several Commonwealth War Graves Commission Memorials to the Missing along the Western Front. The UK missing lost in the Ypres Salient are commemorated at the Menin Gate memorial to the missing in Ypres and the Tyne Cot Memorial. Upon completion of the Menin Gate, builders discovered it was not large enough to contain all the names as originally planned and used Tyne Cot as and extended area for the missing British Soliders.
For all the horsing around the Boys typically do, the whole tour left Mike, Ron, and Bone (unusually) sober and reflective. After Tyne Cot, Lukas drove the Boys back to Ypres leaving them with a day of memories and thoughts of the Great War in Belgium that needed to still needed to be quelled!
"On the Menin Road Again" (Willie Nelson?)
Back at the Flanders Field Museum, still trying to figure out what was the Ypres Salient?
After the Tour the Boys still needed to put it all together and had the time to finish their visit of the Flanders Field Museum, where they learned more about the Great War in Belgium, in particular was the Ypres Salient!?
A "salient" is a bulge" in the line that the Germans had in the "Race to the Sea" with the Brits, French, and Belgians. Creation of the Salient in 1915 resulted in a stalemate situation between the Allied and the German armies. The Allies sat firm in a defensive semi-circular Front Line running from the northeast, east and southeast of Ypres. The occupation of this ground east of Ypres pushed a bulge, called a “salient” in military terms, into the German Front Line here. To the advantage of the Allies it forced the Germans to provide extra manpower to hold a longer section of Front Line. However, a serious Allied disadvantage here was that the Germans had knowingly secured relatively good positions along the edges of this salient. From the south of Ypres there is a naturally occurring spur of high ground which continues around the eastern side of the town of Ypres. It runs generally in a north-easterly direction creating a ridge of slightly higher ground from Messines in the south to Passchendaele in the north (indicated in brown on the map).
The Allied determination to protect Ypres at all costs left them in a difficult defensive position. The Allied forces found themselves defending a saucer-shaped salient of some 20 square miles. Ypres was in the rear of their defensive Front Line in the centre of the "saucer". The German Army, however, was digging into selected good defensive positions on the slightly higher ground around the rim of the saucer (such as Passchendaele).
The battlegrounds here became known as the “Ypres Salient” for this reason. The advantages of the rise in ground to the west of Ypres on the naturally occurring spur becomes clear when visiting these battlefields as Mike, Bone, and Ron were able to see from the Cloth Hall Belfry. It is not only the crucial advantage of the view across the enemy's positions and rear areas. But also the daily life of the soldier is greatly affected by the better drainage of the positions located on higher ground. As was seen in Tyne Cot, the area around Ypres is generally low-lying, it consists of heavy, waterlogged, clay-based soil, has a damp coastal climate and is prone to flooding, which was to have a significant impact on all the battles that occurred over all four years in Flanders.
Were the Germans in Ypres? Yelper!
Many people think because of the Salient, the Germans were not in Ypres,,,,, WRONG!!! According to local accounts in the first contact for the people of Ypres with the First World War was the arrival of thousands of German troops on 7th October 1914. They began to enter the town from the south-east along the road from Menin through the Menin Gate (Menenpoort) and from the south through the Lille Gate (Rijselpoort). Scouting parties advanced north and west beyond Ypres in the directions of Boesinghe, Vlamertinghe and Elverdinghe. By 9pm the town, its streets and market square were packed full of horses and riders, soldiers, carts, carriages, cars, field kitchens and guns. The local accounts reckon on about 10,000 troops. Soldiers were billeted for the night in the halls of the Cloth Hall, in schools, the army barracks, the waiting rooms at the railway station and in houses with the local people. The mayor, Mr Colaert, advised the people of Ypres to stay calm and remain in their homes.
The shops were crammed full of German soldiers. By way of payment some offered German coins, some had paper notes. Others gave pre-printed coupons to the shopkeepers or locals for food and clothes. There were stories of damage to the railway station, stealing from local peoples' homes and drinking. The bakers were ordered to have 8,000 bread rolls baked and ready for 8.30am the next morning, 8th October, to distribute to the troops. Hay, straw and oats were requisitioned and the town's coffers were emptied of 62,000 Francs. Horses and wagons were requisitioned and paid for with coupons. Anyone in receipt of a coupon as payment was, however, unlikely ever to receive payment from the German Army because the next day, 8th October, the Germans started to move out of the town from about midday. The soldiers on foot went in the direction of Dickebusch. The cavalry went in the direction of Vlamertinghe. They were never to return. However, their brief visit, their rampage and rape of resources in Ypres, doubled down the bad feeling the Belgians felt for the Germans throughout the whole War.
After the Germans left, few days later on October 13th, troops of the French and British Armies arrived in Ypres, passing through the town to the east and taking up defensive positions to hold up the advance of the German Army. From that time the town was to become embroiled in war for the next four years. Almost every building would be razed to the ground by November 1918. The German and Allied Armies first encountered one another at Ypres in mid October 1914. Battles took place for Messines in the south, Gheluvelt to the east, Zonnebeke and Langemarck to the north-east of the town. The first major battles to take place in the area of Ypres took place from October 1914. However, during the fierce fighting in the autumn of 1914 the German Army was unable to capture Ypres. The French and British forces had denied the German commanders a route across Belgium to the French coastal ports of Calais and Dunkirk.
The Ypres Salient line held primarily by the British Army east of Ypres saw most of the action in the First Battle of Ypres on 19th October 1914. This battle occurred in the late autumn at a crucial point in the “Race to the Sea”, when the Allied Armies and the German Armies were engaged in an attempt to outflank one another in a desire to reach and secure the ports on the northern French coast. With the agreement of the French Commander-in-Chief (General Joffre), the British Commander-in-Chief (Field-Marshal Sir John French) withdrew British forces of the British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F.) from their positions on the Aisne battlefield. They moved to Artois and Flanders to extend the left flank of the French Army and hold back the German advance towards the coast. At the same time the British 3rd Cavalry Division and 7th Division were covering the withrawal of the Belgian Army from Antwerp. These two divisions were then moved to the east of Ypres on a line between Langemarck - Poelcapelle - Zonnebeke - Gheluvelt - Zandvoorde. Despite the troop movements and the cost of blood and treasure in battles every year, not much land transferred until the end of the War. As the Boys were wrapping up the Museum was closing.
It had been a impactful day! Seeing Essex Farm, trenches, real bombs!, Tyne Cot, and Gas Attacks left the Boys with a lot to ponder,,,,,, over a Belgian Beer!!
A Final Mike, Bone, and Ron Salute to the Menin Road through the Menin Gate!
As the Boys left the Museum the rains that drove the British crazy for four years now deluged the Boys, they went into a local Italian eatery on the Square to grab a beer and some mediocre pasta. As the rains continued and the beers als flowed, the thought of doing the Menin Gate Ceremony again waned quickly, the Boys called it an early night, with Mike heading to the bunk and Ron unsuccessfully trying to teach Bone about tacking in Soccer !
"Besides, tomorrow was France and the Somme!!!"