I’ve just completed my third full day in Ypres and although it was my intention to blog every day I simply haven’t had the time or the energy to do so. Since arriving I’ve cycled 28 miles, walked nearly as many and in the process visited 20 cemeteries, two museums, half a dozen memorials and snapped nearly 700 photographs. More importantly I’ve spent time at the graves of 60 soldiers, most of whom have some connection to my home town.
I’ll provide a more detailed account of my journey through the Ypres salient when I return home but for now here’s a brief summary of what I’ve been up to so far.
Day one began with a walk under bright and sunny skies from Hooge to Potijze, Sint Jan and into Ypres. I spent time in seven different cemeteries and nearly two hours at the Menin Gate. Later in the day I met Annick Vandenbilcke at the In Flanders Fields Museum where I was given a friendly welcome, a brief tour and an introduction to the “Canada in Flanders” exhibit. Earlier this year I provided the museum with some research and photos of the 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish) and so it was wonderful to see the super-sized images integrated into their displays. I’m looking forward to a return visit on Tuesday.
On day two I borrowed a bike from my b&b and set out on a 45km circuit known as the Vredes Fietsroute. Now I’m a walker and not a cyclist so this was a great opportunity to see Flanders and to discover muscles I never knew I had. Joking aside it was a great route and I was able to visit eight cemeteries along the way, including Polygon Wood, Tyne Cot, Maple Copse and the German War Cemetery at Langemark. I modified the route slightly to include a visit to Passchendaele, where I ate a picnic lunch on the lawn of the Canadian memorial, and Poelcapelle. By the time I rejoined the Menin Road nine hours later I was well and truly spent. As luck would have it there was a Frieten (chip) shop right on the corner and so I ate my dinner on a picnic table by the side of the road. As I stood up to leave I realized I had been eating next to Birr Cross Roads Cemetery and so there would be one more stop before I called it a day.
Today I rode the bus to Poperinghe and spent the morning at Talbot House, the First World War “Every Man’s Club” that is today both a museum and a hotel. It was opened in late 1915 by Chaplains Neville Talbot and Phillip “Tubby” Clayton as a place where soldiers could enjoy rest and recreation regardless of rank.
In the afternoon I walked to two cemeteries on the outskirts of “Pop”, Nine Elms British Cemetery and Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery. During the war both were located behind the lines and near Casualty Clearing Stations. The latter is massive and contains the remains of nearly 10,000 soldiers. I visited four soldiers with Victoria connections as well as the grave of Major-General Malcolm Smith Mercer who was killed on June 3, 1916 while leading the 3rd Canadian Division at Mount Sorrel.
The hot, sunny and humid weather finally broke late this afternoon. A thunder storm was forecast and sure enough I had just safely navigated Hellfire Corner, now a large roundabout, when the rumbling skies opened up. It was double-time over the last 200m to the b&b.