Flanders 2019

  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 in 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 
  accurate navigation.

Let us never forget.
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