Day 5 – Part 2: The Dusk Ceremony at Polygon Wood

The Butte Polygon Wood with the Australian Memorial and cemetery

Having attended the morning ceremony at Tyne Cot, the cuzzies departed for Ypres and some sightseeing around the local area.  I headed back to Hooge for some lunch and a visit to the local WWI museum beside my hotel.  The plan was to grab some lunch, take it easy and rest up before the evening ceremony at the CWGC Polygon Wood New Zealand Memorial to the Missing.  It was promised to be a special event.

The Hooge Carter Museum is a quaint little WWI museum located in an old church opposite the Hooge Crater Cemetery.  It was a chance to grab some lunch and then have a wander around the museum.  Over lunch I meet a British couple that I had helped up at Tyne Cot Cemetery to find a grave they were looking for.  We got to talking and it turned out they had decided to make a spontaneous trip from England (only 2 hours away by ferry) to Flanders to visit a relative’s grave at Tyne Cot on the anniversary of his birthday and their wedding anniversary.  Unbeknownst to them the very day they would visit the cemetery, NZ would be commemorating the Battle of Passchendaele.  They were greatly moved by the ceremony and the unique New Zealand-ness of it.  Following lunch I took a wander around the museum.  It was packed to the gunnels with finds from the local area most of which were collected within a 500 metre radius of here.  A friendly informative little museum and you could spent hours digging through all the detailed exhibits and still not see everything as I found out.  Time had raced away and I needed to head back to the security area again in order to board a buss to Polygon Wood for the evening’s commemorations.

Polygon Wood is situated in the middle of what was the front on the Ypres Salient running between Messines and Passchendale.  It was also part of the big push all along the Western front in the Summer/Autumn offensive of 1917.  The Battle for Polygon Wood took place during the second phase of the 3rd Battle of Ypres and was fought between 26th of September and the 3rd October 1917.  Polygon Wood was a large forested area with a huge butte (French for small hill).  Much of the woodland was destroyed by the huge quantity of shellfire from both sides, and from July to October 1917 the area had changed hands several times.  The butte with its steep embanked sides provided panoramic views of the surrounding area for who ever held it.  General Herbert Plumer continued the series of British attacks of skirmishers along the line, followed by small infantry columns and creeping barrages.  The plan was that the Anzac Corps would make the main attack on the remainder of Polygon Wood and the southern part of Zonnebeke village in two stages, 730–820 m to the Butte and Tokio pillbox and after a one-hour pause for consolidation, make a final advance beyond the Flandern I Stellung and the Tokio spur.  The large mound in Polygon Wood, the Butte de Polygone gave observation of the east end of the Gheluvelt Plateau towards Becelaere and Broodseinde and the surrounding German trenches and machine gun pillboxes.

Though smaller than in 1917, Polygon Wood today is still large; the remains of three German pillboxes captured by the Australians lie deep among the trees.  The Butte is still prominent and today mounted on top of it is the 5th Australian Divisional Memorial.  There are two CWGC cemeteries in the vicinity of Polygon Wood, the Polygon Wood Cemetery and the Buttes New British Cemetery.  Within the Buttes New British Cemetery is the Polygon Wood New Zealand Memorial to the Missing where the evening’s commemorations would take place.  Before the commemorations began, I once again took the opportunity to put poppies on the graves of the soldiers whose names now adorn the Roll of Honour in the Gore RSA.

The sunset ceremony took the form of a musical tribute.  It was based around a theme of Christmas in the trenches far from home and included the powerful musical composition of Sergeant-Major Dwayne Blommfield’s “Passchendaele,” which includes 6 movements – Barrage, Reflection, Slaughter, Aftermath, Grief & Requiem. Powerful!

The entire evening ceremony can be viewed on the NZ Defence Force channel on YouTube by clicking on the following link: Passchendaele Sunset Ceremony 12 Oct 17.

Leaving the cemetery in the moon light and wandering through Polygon Wood in the darkness was quite eerie after the dramatic musical evening we had experienced and knowing what went on here 100 years ago.  As we got to the road it was somewhat chaotic in the darkness trying to find buses and get back to town.  After what seemed like hours, I was finally back.  I jumped in the car and headed off in the Flanders countryside to a restaurant where my cousins were.  It was my last chance to catch up with them before we parted ways as they headed to Southern Germany tomorrow and I headed to Münster and Northern Germany.

Dinner over!  Time to say bye to Bronwyn, Aimee & Kelsie (see you in NZ) and Steve & Cathy (hopefully see you in Sweden soon), and so my visit to Flanders and my step back in time to the carnage of the First World War was over.  Tomorrow, I would begin my two day journey back to Sweden.

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