Today I invaded Belgium, or, more specifically, Ypres.
I went with my special subject history class and it was really quite good fun, thought very thought provoking. The atmosphere on the coach changed after the first cemetary and it took until Calais for things to be "normal" again.
My pictures of Ypres are here
Now for the write up.
We went to France through the Eurotunnel, which I was worried about to begin with because I can get i. Claustrophobic and ii. scared going through tunnels, expecially ones that run under water. Lots of people said I wouldn't notice. I did ;) Our coach went on there and stopped and then the doors were closed and it felt claustraphobic. Then we went into the tunnel and I concentrated very hard on my book to try and dissipate the feeling of terror. It kind of worked, and I got to the other end without a noticeble panic attack \o/ I smiled when we came out of the tunnel and really relaxed when the coach came off the Eurostar.
Long drive later (filled with commentary from our tutor, Dr Mark Connelly
, we arrived in Ypres and started visiting cemitaries. Mark told us that a third of all the British War Dead from WWI are in or around Ypres. That was rather startling.
The first cemitary we visited (pictures 1477 to 1486) was Brandhoek New Cemetery. New cemeteries were built post war. Old cemeteries were established during the war. Brandhoek is largely filled with men who died at a medical facility and a large proportion of the dead here are made up of the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC), including Captain N. G. Chavasse
who was one of only 3 people to ever win a Victoria Cross twice (VC and Bar).
The cemetary at Brandhoek was very small, especially compared to Tyne Cot which we would see later and was a very peaceful place. One of the most interesting and apt sights for me was seeing forget-me-nots growing on the graves.( Brandhoek )
Next we visited Menin Road South (pictures 1487 to 1499), in which is buried a Colyer-Fergusson, also a VC winner and also connected to Kent Uni, as his family sponsor grants and concerts at the University.( Menin Road South )
Tyne Cot (pictures 1500 to 1535) was next and this cemetery was truly awe inspiring. Tyne Cot is the largest British war cemetery anywhere in the world. There are 12,000 men buried in the cemetery of which only 2,000 have been identified. There are 35,000 men's names on the memorial to the missing.
Tyne Cot is so called because the German Pill Boxes
that littered the area reminded the soldiers facing them of the miners cottages on the tyne. The nickname "tyne cot" was born.
The names are inscribed on the wall of the missing in order of regimental preference, meaning that the Guards were first, then the regiments of foot listed in order of age.( Tyne Cot )
We drove past Poelcappelle on the way to Langemark. Poelcappell was noteworthy because it holds the grave of the youngest soldier to die in the war. He was 14. This seemed like a fitting mood-setter for Langemark.
Langemark (1536 to 1549) is the only German war cemetery in the area and has a mood and feeling completely different from any other cemetery I have been in. It just feels so full of sadness and sorrow and anger and dissappointment. In the small space of Langemark are buried at least 35,000 Germans. Listed on wooden plaques in the walls of the little chapel there are the names of the dead students from Germany's Universities. These are the same conscripts who went into war against regular soldiers singing
. They were slaughtered.
Tyne Cot makes you think but Langemark gets under your skin in a way no other cemetery in Ypres does.( Langemark )
Next we stopped quickly at St Julien (1551-1554), the site of the very first Gas Attack. The monument at St Julien was my favourite. It is truly beautiful. It is so very...respectful. I'm not sure that's the right word, but it's sort of what I mean.( St Julien )
Finally, we went to Ypres itself (1554 to 1569), saw the Menin Gate and had lunch. The coolest thing at the Menin Gate was a scale model of the Gate made out of metal with a braille inscription around the outside
for blind visitors. They can feel the model and get a feel for the gate. It's really very cool :D Ypres was fun (Also had the tackiest chocolate "souveniers" possible. Chocolate tommie's helmets
. ehehehhee :)
Quote of the day:
In Ypres town square, Roy's bankcard gets rejected by the cash machine:
Stefan: See? This is why Natwest are crap
Roy: which bank are you with then?
Stefan: HSBC - The world's local bank - accepted everywhere. That's why I use it.
*inserts card, card is instantly rejected by machine*( Menin Gate )
My impression of the day? It's kind of too soon to explain properly, though I'll try and put into words how I feel.
Paul Fussell said that one of the reasons that the people of the twenties felt they had completely lost the pre war world was that no language they knew then was up to the task of describing the war. Fussell explains that they had to invent new language to communicate what it was they felt. Having seen what I saw today I would say that actually Fussell is wrong and right at the same time. There was no language to describe it, but crucially there still is none today. No words can describe what I saw and felt. Words are completely and utterly useless for trying to quantify what I experienced today. I don't think that I will ever be properly able to do so.
I don't think I'm the only one who left feeling like that.