Twenty of the Friends took part in the annual pilgrimage to St George’s Church, the Ypres Salient and the Somme over the May Day Bank Holiday. The Pilgrimage supports the church, shows fellowship to its members and enables the Friends to visit war graves, memorials and other sites with special, often family, meaning for them.
As usual, the Pilgrimage was spread over five days based in Ieper but with a day visit to the Somme. Whilst all Commonwealth war cemeteries and memorials are superbly maintained and share common design features they nevertheless vary incredibly in size and character; something which our varied itinerary allowed us to appreciate. At one end of scale is the huge Poelcapelle British Cemetery with it thousands of graves gathered together in this concentration cemetery after the war. The soldiers here were brought in from many small battlefield cemeteries or from the shell holes, ditches and fields where they had fallen without proper burial. The graves at Poelcapelle are laid out in long ordered rows and columns like many battalions drawn up on the parade ground. Sadly the majority of the soldiers here are unknown and bear inscriptions such as, “a soldier of the Great War” or “a corporal of the Royal Berkshire Regiment”. In complete contrast there are the small battlefield cemeteries such as the tiny Le Fermont near the Somme village of Riviere. Le Fermont contains barely a couple of dozen graves and is situated in a narrow tree-lined lane opposite a wide babbling stream.
Our visits to graves and memorials were given added poignancy and meaning by the sounding of the Last Post and recitation of the Exhortation by Pete and Kim Burgess respectively. We feel that this is a special mark of our respect and we are very grateful to Pete and Kim.
The names of the thousands of unknown soldiers of the Ypres Salient are recorded on the Menin Gate and at Tyne Cot, both of which we visited. We attended the sounding of the Last Post at the Menin Gate on Sunday when we also laid two wreaths; one on behalf the Friends and one for the Royal West Kent Regiment (the regiment in which the grandfather of one our group served).
The Pilgrimage began at Dover where we took the ferry to Calais. On the way to Ieper we stopped at Dozinghem Military Cemetery set in the woods near St Sixtus Abbey north of Poperinge. This cemetery was established in 1917 to serve three casualty clearing stations receiving wounded from the Third Battle of Ypres (Paschendaele) . We visited the grave of Capt Wilfred Dashwood of 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards who died on 2 August 1917. His brother, also a captain, served in the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and was killed in action in Plugstreet woods in May 1915. He is buried there in Rifle House Cemetery and we visited his grave later in the Pilgrimage.
On the following day travelled to the Somme visiting twelve cemeteries and memorials;
18th Division Memorial at Thiepval. This distinguished division was formed from volunteers from the east and south east of England, including the grandfather of one of our number.
Thiepval Memorial to the Missing
Highland Light Infantry Memorial at Authuille church. This has special meaning for Pete and Kim Burgess, members of the Boys Brigade, as the 16th Battalion was formed in Glasgow from BB members.
Pozieres British Memorial. Here we visited the memorial to Lance Corporal Edmund Wale of the Royal Berkshire Regiment who was killed in action in 1918 near Hangard Wood during the April retreat. His body was never identified. Edmund was the organiser`s great uncle.
Guillemont Road Cemetery. Here we visited the grave of Alfred Divers of The Buffs, a cousin of the organiser`s grandfather. Alfred came from Stelling Minnis in Kent and died on 15 September 1916, the first day that tanks went into action. The Buffs` objective was a strongpoint known as the “Quadrilateral". Unfortunately their single supporting tank failed on the day and Alfred was one of many infantrymen to be killed.
Delville Wood South African National Memorial
Guards Cemetery, Les Bouefs
Gordon Cemetery, Mametz
Dantzig Alley British Cemetery
Peronne Road Cemetery, Maricourt
Lunch was taken at the Ocean Villas Tea Rooms at Auchonvillers. This former farm was a stretcher bearers post during the war.
On Sunday we attended morning service in St George’s Church, followed by lunch with members of the church in the church hall. That afternoon we visited Westhof Farm Cemetery in the hilly country south of Ieper. We moved on to the aptly named Woods Cemetery which stands in woodland closer to Ieper. Here we visited the grave of Richard Howard of the Duke of Wellington`s Regiment. He was a musician and violin maker from Leeds. When he departed for the war he left behind the parts for a fiddle which he had not had time to assemble. Howard died in the Battle of Messines in 1917. 90 years later the fiddle came to light and was completed. Sam Sweeney, fiddle player with the group Bellowhead bought the fiddle and researched its story. This inspired him to create a show in tribute to Richard Howard and his fiddle. Returning to Ieper we visited Essex Farm Cemetery, famous for the Canadian dressing station where John McCrae wrote the poem” In Flanders Fields”. That evening we attended the Last Post at the Menin Gate where Edward Crofton, our Chairman, escorted by Richard and Stephen Divers laid wreaths on our behalf.
On Monday morning we walked through Plugstreet Woods from Prowse Point Cemetery and the adjacent memorial to the Christmas Day 1914 football match to Rifle House visiting Mud Corner, Toronto Avenue and Ploegsteert Wood cemeteries on the way. Today the woods are an attractive place alive with birdsong, flowers and red squirrels. Rifle House and Ploegsteert cemeteries are set in woodland glades, a huge contrast to the shattered trees and swampy land of the war where it was so wet that trenches could not be dug. The final visit of the morning was to nearby Chester Farm and the grave of Lieutenant Ernest Carlos of The Buffs. Carlos was a distinguished artist and friend of Robert Baden Powell and worked closely with him to establish the Boy Scouts; the visit was at the request of members of the Scouts.
Monday afternoon saw visits to Tyne Cot (the largest British cemetery in the world with 11908 graves) and Poelcapelle British Cemetery where several pilgrims visited relatives` graves and memorials. The last visit of the day was to the Black Watch Memorial at the request of Joe Hubble who served with the regiment in later years.
That evening we had dinner together in a restaurant appropriately situated in the casemates set in Ieper`s city wall. It was here in these casemates that the famous wartime humorous and satirical magazine “The Wipers Times" was printed.
We returned to Calais and the UK on Tuesday visiting Godwaersvelde Cemetery on the way. This rural cemetery is just across the Belgian border in French Flanders.