Uphilldowndale

Watching nature take its course, from the top of a hill in northern England


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Generous Hospitality

Continuing our visit to Flanders Fields

The people of  the beautiful town of Ypres, were warm and welcoming.

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The town was completely restored after the Great War, it had to be.

Photo, City of Vancouver Archives

At the centre of the market square is the Cloth Hall,  the clock tower was having a bit of maintenance.

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I thought it a very slender scaffold tower, glad to see it was well tied in to the building. It’s a long way down for a comfort break!

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I’m more used seeing building sites like this secured, I’m sure if you tried this at home, some likely lad, would think it a blast to scamper up after a few pints!  The footings looked quite relaxed too…

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I’ve hardly any photos of the town, my planned day of  mooching around the streets, camera in hand was scuppered by a dramatic drop in temperature that left us scampering between coffee shops and museums  dodging the icy winds, others have done better than me

Such a shame the day before had been a beautiful spring day, Spud the dog who came along for his first overseas trip had been lapping up the sun and watching the world go by from his favourite spot in the van

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Spud had to have a visit to the vets whilst in Ypres, to have a worming tablet, a statutory requirement if he was to allowed back into the UK and to be marked on his pet passport. We found the vets online before we left home,  the appointment was made by email and it was all very straight forward, and for Spud who has seen more than his fair share of vets over the last few months,  he thought it rather swish and he was more than happy to escape with just a tasty tablet. 

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We were a bit perplexed the evening before, when we looked down the street where we thought the vets was located, it was all very traditional and looked residential rather than commercial, but in the daylight when the shutters were up we discovered that to accommodate the need for more modern space in such a carefully protected townscape, the façade of buildings are preserved, meanwhile  the walls within are a totally reworked space across several buildings, here at the vets, a carpark is on the lower floor with a sweeping ramp up to the glass walled offices and consulting rooms on the first floor.

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I wondered what it was like to live in a town with the legacy of remembrance tourism, tricky sometimes maybe?

But the hospitality we received was generous to say the least, here is a chicken pie, that we ordered ‘to share’  between two of us.

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It goes without saying that Belgium beer is good, and the  chocolate is divine, the scent of which wafts along the main square,

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judging by the state of this  last photo, I  obviously took it after the beer,

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Nothing is just black or white

Wisely our guide Patrick, took us to look at different perspective of the Great War in the Ypres area, we visited Langemark cemetery one of only four  German cemeteries in Flanders area. I’m glad he did. 

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Below is the main entrance, the style is very different to the Commonwealth War Graves sites, it has a completely different atmosphere, but then how we remember our dead, varies from one end of the country to the other, let alone another country and a very different set of circumstances.  The white stone of the British and Commonwealth cemeteries is an obvious difference to the dark stone of the German. 

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Although to my mind British and Commonwealth War Graves, and this German cemetery have a common theme, its a sense of enclosure,  that goes a little way to bring  the unimaginable enormity of this carnage (over 44,000 burials here) into, a place, however symbolic, that provides a sense, that is somehow, protective and embracing.

The  tablet shaped stones bear the names of many, we counted seventeen on one.


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Inside one of the two chambers at the entrance to the cemetery engraved in oak are the names of the men who are known to be buried here, but their grave is not identifiable, each day the rise and fall of the sun arcs  light across them.

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The cemetery is planted, with oaks, a  German symbol of strength ( remember there are no trees here that pre date the Great War, they were all destroyed by shelling and gun fire, these oaks are 80 years old)

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There is a wreath made of bronze oak leaves, mother nature slipped her own oak leaves in amongst the castings

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A visitor had left a poppy,

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the  German flower of remembrance is a corn flower,  Patrick told us more British and Commonwealth visitors come here than German. Whilst  we were there, there were several British school parties, I’m so pleased about this, its so important, and government funding is available for schools to visit.

There is a striking bronze sculpture of grieving soldiers

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They look out over an area of grass, an area not as big as a tennis court, this is the communal grave for 25,000 soldiers, yes twenty five thousand,

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the names of only half of them are known.  This small patch of grass, contains the equivalent of the population of our nearest market town. I stood and thought about this for sometime,

   German wreath 

Patrick pointed out a gateway too us

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And  then showed us a photo of Hitler, walking through the gate in June 1940. Chilling, how, why?

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N is for nurse

For me part of trying to understand the Great War is about trying to understand the social norms of the time. 

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And what was ‘the norm’ seems  strange and sometimes abhorrent now.  Attitudes to gender, race, class,  the fate of those that were shot at dawn, for cowardice, for what now would have been recognised as shell shock.

Both Mr Uphilldowndale and I have family that were either medical orderlies or medics,  my great uncle is on the far left of this photo, I’m assuming he would have served with the Sherwood Foresters regiment, but I’m not sure. (If any passing reader can tell me anything about when and where this photo was taken, please do, as there is not detail written on the back).

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It was when I saw the bunker at Essex Farm Cemetery  that was used as am advanced dressing station the grim reality of the conditions hit me. Confined and claustrophobic,  the stream of catastrophically wounded soldiers that passed under its gas curtain is an unbearable thought. 

It is the grim reality that adjacent to the advanced dressing stations were the hastily dug graves, that became the last resting place of many of the casualties. I suppose at least these guys had a marked grave.  Small mercies.

Women weren’t allowed this close to the front, they were further back in the evacuation line, which was all things considered very sophisticated, and necessity being the mother of invention the Great War led to many medical advances that we take for granted today. But at such a cost.

Nurse Nellie Spindler was one of only two women to be killed and buried in Belgium during the Great War, she was a Yorkshire lass.

Watch and listen here


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New Zealand’s warriors, so far away from home.

There were many surprises  that came from our visit to the World War One cemeteries around the Belguim town of Ypres.  Things we’d just never given any thought too before,  for example I’d only been thinking of the  British nationals that were buried in the immaculate grave yards, surrounded by poplars trees, and a vast expanse of fields and sky, the kind of image we are all familiar with.

 

We booked a guide, Patrick Jonckheere of 2explore, this was the best move we could have made.  He suggested we should start our first day at the Flanders Fields Museum, in Ypres, to start to familiarise ourselves with some of the key events.  He then picked up in his car and whisked us away, taking us too places we’d probably never have found or thought to visit on our own. like the Yorkshire Trench, in the middle of an industrial estate. It’s a long time since I’ve  been quite so focused or learnt so much in five hours! However the tour was so well paced and knowledgeable it simply flew by (we’d not asked for any specific places to be included, but Patrick prides his ability to research and deliver tours particular regiments, events, or people) .

In my naivety, I’d not thought about the fact that WWI was at the time of The British Empire, and those fighting and dying came from across the globe. Would I ever have thought of a Maori Battalion from New Zealand? (Over 16,000 New Zealand soldiers died during WWI).

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The memorials to the soldiers of New Zealand, are both  beautiful and evocative

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This  image is taken from within an art work, that  forms part of a New Zealand memorial garden at the Memorial Museum, Passchendaele, it made me wonder what it was like deep within those muddy trenches.

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I’ve not yet written about the act of remembrance that takes place at the Menin Gate in Ypres each evening. I defy anyone, not to be moved by it, but  this video brings a very special and, powerful and emotional energy, just watch.


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The Great War 1914-18

We’ve been away, our first trip into Europe in the campervan, it’s hard to describe it as a holiday, it was most certainly something we will not forget, more of an experience than a holiday. They say that travel broadens the mind, for us it was a question of wanting to have a better understanding.

We’ve been to Ypres (Ieper), in Belgium to visit the  World War One cemeteries in the surrounding area.

The numbers are shocking, unfathomable.

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This is Tyne Cot, the largest Commonwealth War Grave cemetery in the world, the resting place for 11,900 servicemen of the British Empire.

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The number of dead makes your head swim,

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it’s the detail that  breaks your heart.

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