This year a group of Coveham Brethren marked the Festival of Remembrance by a trip to Ypres, the visit including
a visit to the Menin Gate, followed by a later visit in the evening to see - and hear - the Last Post ceremony.
But to start at the beginning: W.Bro. Tony Whitehorn first suggested the outing as a visit to the Builders of the Silent
Cities in Flanders Fields Lodge, No.55, who were conducting an Installation meeting on the 9th November. This was
expanded into what was effectively two and a half days, which allowed not only for the Menin Gate, but a tour of several
of the battlefield museums and war cemeteries in the Ypres area.
A total of nine Brethren decided to join the party, and Bro. Paul Sanchez and W.Bro. David Worsfold kindly offered the
use of their vehicles. On the morning of November 8th the mini-convoy headed from Cobham towards Belgium,
passing through the Chunnel and arriving a little earlier than expected. This gave ample time to ckeck in to the Albion
Hotel and then see the Menin Gate by daylight, before trying out one of the multitude of local hostelries for some
much-needed liquid refreshment. The weather proved better than expected, though with little heat from a late-autumn sun.
Following the Last Post, a tasty dinner preceded a good night's sleep.
The following morning was spent in the In Flanders Fields Museum,
conveniently sited some 350 metres from the hotel. This is probably
the best museum of WWI in Flanders, and covers a multitude of subjects,
ranging from hardware and munitions to superb holographic displays of
actors playing the part of actual people who took part in the War.
These depicted a gamut of folk from soldiers of different countries -
and sides - to civilians caught up in the devastation of their country.
This enormous building resembles a cathedral more than a museum, and
is in fact the renovated Cloth Halls of Ypres.
The remainder of the day was the highlight of the trip, the visit to Lodge No.55. Rather confusingly, though the Lodge
uses the same forms of ritual as Coveham, the entire ceremony was conducted in French; but as most of the Brethren there
had a good grasp of English, the chat following the ceremony proved very amicable, and the Festive Board was excellent.
More poussin, anyone?
Came the dawn, rather cold but thankfully still dry. W Bro Tony had worked out an itinerary which took in six of the 75
cemeteries in Belgium, the first of which was the Essex Farm Cemetery, which has also a series of bunkers used as dressing
stations. Here also we found a memorial to Canadian physician Lt. Colonel John McCrae, probably best remembered for his
poem "In Flanders Fields":
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.
After spending some time examining the multitude of gravestones, sadly noting the extreme youth of so many buried there,
the final stone found was that of Rifleman Strudwick, who was killed at only fifteen.
A teddy bear had been left at the grave, adding further poignancy.
From Essex we moved to Langemark Cemetery, which contains the graves of German dead, including 25,000 unidentified
soldiers resting in a mass grave. It was here that the Second Battle of Ypres began in April 1915 when the Germans
launched the first gas attacks over a wide front.
The next stop was at Tyne Cot Cemetery, the largest Commonwealth military cemetery in the world. Here lie 12,000 dead,
with a further 35,000 names engraved on the memorial of those without graves. Along the path to the Visitors Centre names
are spoken out loud by a female voice. These names are called out every few seconds on a continuous speaker system. Each
of the names is for one of the 34,887 soldiers from the United Kingdom and New Zealand Forces who are commemorated
on the Memorial to the Missing.
From Tyne Cot we travelled to Passchendaele Memorial Museum, another compelling insight into the complexities and
horrors of the War. After that, on to Hooge Crater Cemetery, which held a particular meaning for one of our number.
Among the nearly 6,000 graves here, one is occupied by Gunner James Kirby, and his great-nephew Alan wished to
leave a cross on the grave. Luckily, the War Graves Commission had provided the site of the grave online, and Alan
was able to spend some time with his relative. On the gravestone is a verse that bears repeating:
There is a link death cannot sever
Love & remembrance last for ever
Our last port of call was scheduled to be Hill 62, which has some of the actual trenches remaining from a century
ago, as opposed to the reconstructions that we saw at the Passchendaele Memorial Museum. Unfortunately, as the
shadows were lengthening and not everyone in the party was as young as once they were, only a few ventured to
explore the trenches. The rest found yet another hostelry to examine the Wipers Times. The origin of the name
for what is now a rather pleasant blonde ale was a trench newspaper, published by a Capt. F.J. Roberts on a
printing press left behind when the owner decamped from Ypres, apparently with some haste. While the newspaper
only ran from 1916 to 1918, the beer remains . . .
And so to a farewell dinner and a discussion of the day's activities, before the long drive back under the
Many thanks indeed to Tony for his supply of information and most comprehensive organisation without which
this trip would never have got off the ground, and to David and Paul for their indefatigable driving and
Let us never forget.