25 July 2018
The week began with an early start followed by a long drive to Ypres. Passing frictionless across the channel we arrived around 2000hrs, leaving just enough time to admire the beauty of Ypres medieval gothic architecture. We saw the picturesque old cloth hall, now the in Flanders fields museum, before heading for tea.
The next morning, another early rise, we headed back to France and explored the Somme. We visited the Ulster tower where we had a talk about a battle that took place there and how life was in the trenches. It was a very interesting talk that provided a great insight to what it was like in the war, it was quite fascinating to see how close the Allied forces and central powers’ front line trenches were. Following the talk; a tour of the reconstructed trenches added to the story. We then split off into our groups. My bus went straight to the Thiepval memorial. There are over 72,000 names on the memorial to commemorate commonwealth soldiers that went missing in the Somme, let alone those whom were found and buried.
The second day began with a relaxed stroll along the promenade. It gave us the opportunity to see the beauty of the towns walls and entrances. The scenery didn’t disappoint just like the weather. We walked along the promenade to the Menin Gate. This gave us another opportunity to reflect on the major loses sustained. As well as an opportunity to think about how the families must have felt, never known what happened to their loved one.
After the promenade we visited the in Flanders fields museum. The museum was enjoyable to walk round. I really liked the parts that contained videos of people talking about experiences from the war. This helped build a picture of what the living conditions were like and how war affected people psychologically. I learnt about some of the bloodiest days in British military history, and about some of the most heroic acts carried out by soldiers.
You could trek up the tower in the old cloth hall, it was quite an effort but the views in the end were definitely worth it! The tower gave outstanding views of the gorgeous Belgium town. Even when we were 70m up we couldn’t escape the heat.
After lunch and a trip to the chocolate shop we visited the Hooge crater. This taught us about some of the military tactics that were used in the war. The crater was made after soldiers buried and detonated a few tons of explosives to blow up the enemy and their trenches, a tactic used throughout the war that caused mass casualties on both sides.
We ended the day at Hill 60. By the entrance to the museum there was a very large photograph collection that were very interesting to look at. There were photographs of the trenches, war horses, artillery gun fire and no mans land. There were some that were difficult to look at, showing some of the injuries that soldiers and horses sustained.
The final day! We left the hostel for another early start and headed for Talbot House. It showed us a different part of the war that you don’t often see. It showed what it was like further back away from the front line and the trenches. A video at the start showed us how troops were entertained, and how they had their morale kept high. After a walk round the museum and look around the centre of Poperinge we left for Passchendaele museum.
We called off at the Brandhoek new military cemetery on route. This is where Captain Dr Noel Godfrey Chavasse VC is buried. He is one of only three people to have been awarded the Victoria cross twice, one of which he died earning. The Passchendaele museum was fantastic. It showed all parts of the war. It showed you why it began; the changes in alliances during the war; what it was like living in trenches and bunkers; the weapons and armour used and how the front line and no mans land changed in the area throughout the war.
That afternoon we went to the Tyne Cot cemetery. I found it quite emotional, especially in the museum. There was a TV screen on one of the walls that was reading out the names of everyone that is buried there. The cemetery itself had a very tranquil atmosphere and was quite nice to walk around and just see how many gravestones are there, and just thinking about how many more there would be if there weren’t so many being shared.
We had a slightly earlier finish so we could go for tea and get ready for the Menin Gate parade. We went to a nice restaurant for chicken and chips before putting our uniform on for the last post ceremony. I was lucky enough to be selected to lay the wreath with two other cadets which was an honour! This was definitely my highlight of the week. We even got to meet the Australian cricket team who were present at the same ceremony! I was rather surprised and moved by the huge number of people who attended, what is a daily event, on a Thursday night. I think that shows how thankful people are the sacrifice our soldiers made in the war.
I thoroughly enjoyed the week and can’t really think of anything that would have improved it, besides getting rid of half the traffic on the M25. I learnt a lot this week, and in a far better way than been sat in a history classroom. I do hope to come back to Belgium at some point in the future, it is a very nice friendly country, with so many scars from the great war.
Cadet RSM Joshua Armstrong