Woke to a relatively clear and warm morning. The warmer temperatures here are a contrast to the cold ones I left in Scandinavia. I also found a message waiting for me on Facebook and it simply read, “Are you here?” It was from my cousin informing me that his wife Cath, their daughter Jess and his sister Bronwyn with her two daughters Aimee & Kelsey were in Brugge only 45 km away. What a surprise! Bronwyn was visiting from NZ so they decided they would take her across the channel from the UK to Belgium & Germany. They were moving on to Ghent in the afternoon and it was decided I would join them later in the day. So plans for the day were laid and I headed out to make my first visit to the battle sites of Flanders.
Now when I had been back in NZ in June, I had promised our local Returned Serviceman’s Association (RSA) in Gore that if possible I would lay poppies and photograph the graves and memorials of those soldiers who fell in Flanders who were listed on their Roll of Honour, some of whom had never been visited by family members because of distance and economy. I would also be making a visit to the memorial at Tyne Cot in 2 days time for the Centennial Commemorations of the Battle of Passchendaele, where maternal and paternal family members are remembered who had fallen in the battle.
My hotel was located in Hooge about 4 km outside Ypres and I was to discover the hotel was actually the stable buildings to the original Château de Hooge on the Bellewaerde Ridge which had been the site of intense and sustained fighting between German and Allied forces for the entirety of the war (I will actually have a separate post in my blog on this later). The first cemetery I would visit was across the road from the hotel – the Hooge Crater Cemetery.
The Hooge Crater Cemetery is a Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) cemetery and is named after a land mine crater which was blown nearby in 1915. Many of the dead from the battles for Bellewaerde Ridge, the Château de Hooge and the land mine explosion are buried here including 3 from the Gore (2 352 in all). Sadly, one of them dying on Christmas Eve 1917.
Next it was on to Lijssenthoek Military Cemetary about 8 km west of Ypres. It is a CWGC burial ground and after Tyne Cot, it is the second largest cemetery for Commonwealth forces in Belgium with some 10 121 graves. Lijssenthoek was the location for a number of casualty clearing stations during the First World War. The village was situated on the main communication line between the Allied military bases in the rear and the Ypres battlefields. Close to the Front, but out of the extreme range of most German field artillery. The cemetery had not only graves for the Commonwealth soldiers but also for the French, German and Chinese. Here I found 7 graves from the Roll of Honour in Gore.
My reflections on the having visited these sites thus far I will defer until later in a dedicated post. I left Lijssenthoek with reflections and emotions I had not experienced before and they filled my thoughts as I headed the 90 kms to Ghent to meet my cousins.