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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

Messages via clock tower in Ypres


Scarson909

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Hello All,

My Grandfather Lt. Reginald Thurston served and was stationed in and around Ypres. He also saw action in the front lines there.

My father used to tell stories that his father told him of messages or signals being sent from the clock or clock tower in Ypres.

Is there any truth in the tale??

Just curious!

Sarah

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Hi Sarah, welcome to the Forum. Do you know when your grandfather first served in the Ypres area? Early in the war it was very very common, on all sides, to have stories about spies operating behind the lines. High buildings, wind mills, towers and the like were commonly linked to these stories. Several innocent civilians were executed for allegedly informing the enemy about movements, etc. While spies were operating behind enemy lines on both sides, the stories about spying were much more widespread.

Therefore it was true that such tales were passed around but it is unlikely that the tale was true.

Robert

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Alan Palmer in 'The Salient: Ypres 1914-18' gives that on October the 22nd '14 the Germans, who had already been bombarding Ypres for three weeks, moved their attack to the 'Gothic heart of Ypres': ...The Cloth Hall had already been hit on four occasions: now the main objective was the destruction of the city's towers. A post war apologist for the OLH * alleged that they housed observers in touch with the allied batteries and reporting the effectiveness and accuracy of any counter bombardment: there is no evidence that they were used in this way.

Palmer cites that the German excuse was given in: Ypres, 1914: An Official Account published by order of the German General Staff (published London, 1919). However, the claim that there is no evidence doesn't, of course, prove that they weren't used for observation at some stage before they were levelled; If they were, they would undoubtedly have given very good views over the surrounding area, but would have become an extremely unhealthy spot for those doing the job once they became targets.

* I believe this should be OHL - Oberste Heeresleitung (German Supreme HQ)

NigelS

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Thanks for your reply,

My Grandfather served with the 1/1 Cambridgeshire Regiment . He went over to France on Feb 14th 1915 and returned to undertake officer training with the Norfolk Regt. on Dec 31st 1917.

Here is the info I have :

In 1915: the Battles of St. Eloi & Second Ypres (as part of the 27th Division (82nd Brigade of the 27th Division, BEF)

in 1916: the Battles of the Somme, encompassing the fighting on the Ancre, & the Battles of Thiepval Ridge, the Ancre Heights, and (again) the Ancre;

prior to the Somme, the battalion fought at Richebourg l'Avoue (as part of the 39th Division--118th Brigade)

in 1917: the Battles of 3rd Ypres, including the Battles of Pilkem Ridge, Langemarck, Menin Road Bridge, Polygon Wood, and

the 2nd Battle of Passchendaele (again, with the 118th Brigade of the 39th Division).

He returned to France on 11.11.18 to serve in a P.O.W Coy until 1919.

I have been reading the war diaries for the Cambridgeshires and they really are quite harrowing.

My husband and I will be visiting the Somme and Flanders at the start of May and we now have lots of places to take a breath, wipe away a tear and give thanks .

Sarah

Hi Sarah, welcome to the Forum. Do you know when your grandfather first served in the Ypres area? Early in the war it was very very common, on all sides, to have stories about spies operating behind the lines. High buildings, wind mills, towers and the like were commonly linked to these stories. Several innocent civilians were executed for allegedly informing the enemy about movements, etc. While spies were operating behind enemy lines on both sides, the stories about spying were much more widespread.

Therefore it was true that such tales were passed around but it is unlikely that the tale was true.

Robert

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Nigel,

Thanks very much for your reply.

It certainly seems like it could have been possible...and yet being the man asked to "go to the the top of the tallest structure in town and tell us what you can see" must have been a thankless task...and yet when we think about all the other situations these men were put into...maybe it is not so much different.

thanks again for responding

Sarah

Alan Palmer in 'The Salient: Ypres 1914-18' gives that on October the 22nd '14 the Germans, who had already been bombarding Ypres for three weeks, moved their attack to the 'Gothic heart of Ypres': ...The Cloth Hall had already been hit on four occasions: now the main objective was the destruction of the city's towers. A post war apologist for the OLH * alleged that they housed observers in touch with the allied batteries and reporting the effectiveness and accuracy of any counter bombardment: there is no evidence that they were used in this way.

Palmer cites that the German excuse was given in: Ypres, 1914: An Official Account published by order of the German General Staff (published London, 1919). However, the claim that there is no evidence doesn't, of course, prove that they weren't used for observation at some stage before they were levelled; If they were, they would undoubtedly have given very good views over the surrounding area, but would have become an extremely unhealthy spot for those doing the job once they became targets.

* I believe this should be OHL - Oberste Heeresleitung (German Supreme HQ)

NigelS

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I note he was around the Somme in 1916. The hands of the village clock tower at Mesnil just behind the British lines, were rekoved by member of the 14th Royal Irish Rifles (YCVs) because they feared they were being used to send messages to German lines for bomnbardment purposes.

The hands were only handed backi after the war and are (I blieve) still on show in the Mayor's office. This may be the story referred to? Searching for pic.

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