Jump to content
The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

Trip to Flanders


susanhemmings
 Share

Recommended Posts

Just returned from my first trip to the Western Front. Found it very saddening that all those lives were just lost. Attended the last post at Menin Gate - it was amazing. Dead hushed and made the hairs on your arms stand up. I could hardly focus my camcorder for tears. It was extremely moving. Its hard to understand what those poor fellows went through when the countryside is so green, sunny and birds are singing in the clear blue skies.

What an experience. I am so glad I went.

Stayed in a B and B (Varlet Farm) - probably known by a lot of you, but my first experience. Never to be forgotten. Right in the middle of the battlefield (2.5 km from Tyne Cot Cemetary - we walked there).

Can recommend Varlet Farm - the hostess is a Battlefield Guide. Has lots of churned up memorabilia in an outhouse. Lots of photos of veterans round the walls of B and B. Smashing hostess. Lots of books on WW1. Great breakfast.

Thought to share it with you. (most of you probably are familiar with the experience, but just in case some are not!).

Well worth the trip, if very saddening. I think everyone should experience this so we make sure nothing like this happens again. It was a futile waste of a whole generation.

Sorry if I sound angry, but am just sad.

Forgot to add: I camcordered the plaque of Royal Garrison Artillery names (my grandad was in this although survived) - have this on my camcorder if anyone want me to look up a name from RGA or RHA (camcordered good part of this too).

Regards, goodnight, Susan.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks for the comments Susan, and welcome to the Forum. I haven't had a chance to stay at Varlet Farm yet but I certainly intend to on a future visit to Ieper. Your comments make me even more commited!

Cheers,

Mat

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I just got back from a trip to Flanders as well.

Stayed at The Shell Hole in Ypres and interestingly met "Ypresman" in the bar and we shared some beers. Being my first time to the area, he was a great source of information about the area, local customs and what to see. Many thanks Marc, Angela and I appreciated your help, although we did'nt make it to Verdun (next time).

We too found the experience astounding. How much death and destruction occured in such a small area. It was almost a religious experience to be able to walk the places that I had read so much about and be able to see in my mind's eye what occured. Just the mud that stuck to my feet from the fields gave me a greater appreciation of the conditions - how hard it must have been just to walk, let alone carry loads and fight!!

The Ypres area is hallowed ground for us Canadians, yet it is disappointing that so few of us are aware of this. I was however, glad to see a lot of school groups from the UK touring the area.

We had visited Gallipoli last winter while on a trip to Turkey and were shocked and saddened by what happened there. But the shear scale and brutallity of the western front makes it pale in comparison. However, the level of stupidity involed was about equal.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

However, the level of stupidity involed was about equal.

Hi, Steve (?) & welcome to the Forum

I'd be interested to read your further comments about the "stupidity", particularly from your perspective as a Canadian and, I presume, a relative newcomer to having an interest in the the Great War.

From my own perspective, I'm not sure that I'd describe Britain's international committments to Belgium as "stupid" (even with the passage of all the years), but folk from our former Empire may have a different intersting slant on it.

regards

John

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think everyone should experience this so we make sure nothing like this happens again.  It was a futile waste of a whole generation.

Regards, goodnight, Susan

Susan - welcome to the forum. I am pleased that you enjoyed your trip to Ypres and I agree that everyone should experience the haunting silence at the Menin Gate. I understand your anger at the loss - we must make sure that it never happens again.

To do that, I believe that we must ensure that every politican understands that armed conflict must be a last resort, not a policy tool and certainly not the primary means to achieve political ends. Jaw jaw is generally than war war but, then again, we (as a nation) must not turn the other cheek to armed agression nor fail to help those who are the subject of attack. To do otherwise is to appease those who would use terror and fear to achieve their (often) chauvanistic goals.

Those who would send soldiers, sailors and airmen to fight bear the heaviest responsibility of all in power. Before commiting troops they must understand that that everyone will lose, soldiers on both sides, their loved ones and (perhaps most of all) innocent civlians caught in the middle of a war which they did not start or want. As for the public, we must understand that loss of life is inevitable in conflict but we must not flinch from defeating an agressor if this is the only option to prevent greater loss.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Susan,

welcome to the Forum and I echo your views on Varlet Farm, I had my first visit there last week and already I am planning my next.

Steveinns,

Ypres is not the only hallowed ground for Canadians as they fought and died all along the Western Front. I am very proud of my Great Uncle who although born in England enlisted in the Canadian Forces in Toronto after emigrating in the early 1900's and was wounded near Cambrai in October 1918. You should, and probably are rightly proud of what the Canadians achieved.

If you are not aware there is an author, I think named Norm Christie who has written several books (most of which I have in my study) about the Canadian effort in WW1. (I can give you further details of the books should you wish.)

Best wishes,

Scottie.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thank you all for your comments. Yes, I do agree we should not let aggressors reign, but I am not sure how this can be achieved. And yes, I do think people have the right to be protected, and we should all do our bit to help... And I also think as you say perhaps the politicians need educating - perhaps more than the "masses".? But thank you anyway, it certainly gives everyone something to think about.

On the Canadian note: I visited ?Hill 62, (may have got this wrong and sorry if I have) - I was delighted and humbled to have been able to lay two small yellow flowers I picked - crossed through with a reddening maple leaf (from the nearby trees lining the avenues around the area) onto the memorial on top of the hill. I felt very honoured to be able to do this one small thing. (Hill 62 - near Sanctuary (!!) Wood) - hope I have the name right - but this place made me feel unwell, cannot explain what it was - it was really freak like and spooky. Not the re-exposed trenches, but the "museum". Whether or not it was musty in there - anyway, felt very uncomfortable when I came out. Did anyone else feel this?

Regarding Varlet Farm - it really is tremendous and can thoroughly recommend it (as cockney tone says.....)

Also Good on the Australians for NOT shooting their shell shocked victims - I was made acutely aware of this when visiting the museum in Poeperinge (probably spelt this wrong) saw holding cells and outside is a book to write in. Someone had written "I have never felt prouder to be an Australian" - very moving.

Susan,

welcome to the Forum and I echo your views on Varlet Farm, I had my first visit there last week and already I am planning my next.

Steveinns,

Ypres is not the only hallowed ground for Canadians as they fought and died all along the Western Front. I am very proud of my Great Uncle who although born in England enlisted in the Canadian Forces in Toronto after emigrating in the early 1900's and was wounded near Cambrai in October 1918. You should, and probably are rightly proud of what the Canadians achieved.

If you are not aware there is an author, I think named Norm Christie who has written several books (most of which I have in my study) about the Canadian effort in WW1. (I can give you further details of the books should you wish.)

Best wishes,

Scottie.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest steveinns
Hi, Steve (?) & welcome to the Forum

I'd be interested to read your further comments about the "stupidity", particularly from your perspective as a Canadian and, I presume, a relative newcomer to having an interest in the the Great War.

From my own perspective, I'm not sure that I'd describe Britain's international committments to Belgium as "stupid" (even with the passage of all the years), but folk from our former Empire may have a different intersting slant on it.

regards

John

Hi John,

Thanks for the welcome. I am a newcomer to this forum and was directed to it by Ypresman when I was talking to him at The Shell Hole. I am not however, a newcomer to the subject and have been a member of other WWI forums for a number of years. As well, I have been interested in the study of WWI for quite some time and military history in general for a very long time.

As for the "stupidity" comment, I was not referring to the commitiment of Britian and her Empire to the struggle in general. But was referring to HOW the war was conducted. There were too many mistakes made with a seeming inability to learn from them, since they were repeated time and time again. The definition of an idiot is a person who continually does the same thing, expecting a different result.

I will assume that most veteran posters on this forum are well familiar with the Western Front. So, for illustrative purposes, I will discuss briefly a couple strategic mistakes at Gallipoli (Chanakale to our Turkish friends) made by the high command, with particular referrence to the ANZAC landings and Suvla Bay. The places and people changed, but the same mistakes were tragically repeated many times.

The first and foremost mistake was WHERE the ANZACS landed. The topography the Aussies faced at Ari Burnu was perhaps the worst possible landing area on the entire peninsula. This area is characterized by a series of high steep ridges and deep valleys. Whereas there are wide, flat valleys running completely across the peninsula both to the east and west of Ari Burnu. The entire area was commanded by the heights of Chanuk Bair rising about 200m and 1 km inland from Ari Burnu. There were two very large mistakes here. First was the selection of the landing site. Hamilton relied entirely on poor maps when even a brief cursory observation of the location would reveal how unsuitable it was. The second major failure of the high command was to remain there even though it became quickly apparent that the Ari Burnu area was a completely untennable location. and a breakout was near to impossible.

The next major failure of the campaign was the landings at Suvla Bay. This operation initially had the potential for success and a favourable ending. But like so many operations of WWI, the opportunity was squandered. The primary failure of the high command here was the selection of Stopford to command it. He was a close to retirement "desk jockey" with no combat experience whatsoever. His primary backgroud was in supply and the sum total of his command experience was commanding the guards at the Tower of London. It was pure and simple cronyism that put him at Suvla in a job that he was thoroughly unsuited for.

Stopford landed unopposed with 3 divisions at the head of a wide valley that traversed right across the peninsul and terminated at the guns that sunk the British ships in March. The whole valley was defended by (get this) only 2 batallions of Turks. He did not put out patrols to assess what he faced, but instead started to dig in. Stopford wasted 36 hours before he made a move inland and only then after Hamilton had to come ashore and personally tell him to move. In the meantime, the Turks were able to reinforce the area with with about 1 division and artillery on the high ground and the rest as we say is history.

So, what is the "stupidity" we take away with this which was repeated time and again.

Firstly: An inability to recognize failure when presented with it and worse, to reinforce that failure rather than exploit success where it occured. Two major examples of this come to mind. On July 1/16, the reinforcing of the failed left rather than reinforcing the advances on the right. And at Cambrai, the poorly possitioned reserves that were unable to get into battle quick enough to exploit the breakthrough made by the tanks.

Secondly: Cronyism and the Old Boys Network. The long held assumption that someone is suitable to command merely because of their station in life, regardles of aptitude or experience.

Comments are welcome,

thanks, Steve

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest steveinns

Steveinns,

Ypres is not the only hallowed ground for Canadians as they fought and died all along the Western Front. I am very proud of my Great Uncle who although born in England enlisted in the Canadian Forces in Toronto after emigrating in the early 1900's and was wounded near Cambrai in October 1918. You should, and probably are rightly proud of what the Canadians achieved.

If you are not aware there is an author, I think named Norm Christie who has written several books (most of which I have in my study) about the Canadian effort in WW1. (I can give you further details of the books should you wish.)

Hi Scottie,

I am well aware of the various battlefields that Canadians fought upon in France. What Canadian can forget Vimy. My interest lies with the Ypres Salient area because the Canadian forces spent so much of their time and blood in that small corner of the front in most of the major battles of the area.

I am familiar with the Works of Norm Christie. He has also produced an excellent 8 or 10 episode documentary series called "For King and Empire" that airs on the History Channel in Canada.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Comments are welcome, 

Steve

In brief, it's impossible to argue against your Gallipoli analysis as it fairly clear to most observers that the failure to exploit after the initial landings was the one of the significant causes of failure of the campaign (IMO).

However, I'm not sure I translate that into "stupidity" in relation to the events on the Somme, 12 months or so later. For whatever reason, 30th Division was successful on the right, but by the end of 1/7 (perhaps 2/7), it was decimated and there was, IMO, a rallying of the German troops. Yes, of course, it would have been great if cavalry had been waiting behind Maricourt. But it wasnt. It would have been great if 90 Brigade had had the strength (and ability to get a command decision) to exploit the fact that Bernafray Wood had been evacuated (allegedly). But it hadnt. The great difficulty of 1916 was the failure of communication not, as such, command decisions.

In terms of your second point, I think you are looking at this with the precise science of hindsight. The Old Boys Network and the class system was simply how things were done then in society at large (not just in the army). IMO.

John

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest steveinns
Steve

In brief, it's impossible to argue against your Gallipoli analysis as it fairly clear to most observers that the failure to exploit after the initial landings was the one of the significant causes of failure of the campaign (IMO).

However, I'm not sure I translate that into "stupidity" in relation to the events on the Somme, 12 months or so later. For whatever reason, 30th Division was successful on the right, but by the end of 1/7 (perhaps 2/7), it was decimated and there was, IMO, a rallying of the German troops. Yes, of course, it would have been great if cavalry had been waiting behind Maricourt. But it wasnt. It would have been great if 90 Brigade had had the strength (and ability to get a command decision) to exploit the fact that Bernafray Wood had been evacuated (allegedly). But it hadnt. The great difficulty of 1916 was the failure of communication not, as such, command decisions.

In terms of your second point, I think you are looking at this with the precise science of hindsight. The Old Boys Network and the class system was simply how things were done then in society at large (not just in the army). IMO.

John

Hi John,

To make a mistake the first time, no matter how tragic, may be forgiven. To not recognize the mistake for what it is and then to do something about it is less forgivable. However, to continually make the same, or similar, mistakes is pure stupidity. It shows an inability to learn.

Keeping the ANZACS at Ari Burnu for 9 months was reinforcing a failed operation in an untennable location. Stopford sitting on his behind was a failure to exploit a successful landing. Reinforcing Rawlinson's dismal failure on the left while not exploiting the success on the right is similar in nature (30th Div may not have been decimated if they were supported). All of these examples were contrary to long established military doctrines that had been know for many centuries. Simply put,"Never reinforce failure, only success".

To land at Ari Burnu was a command decision. Not pulling the ANZACS out sooner was a command decision. Reinforcing Rawlinson was a command decision. Poor preplacement of reserves at Cambrai was a command decision. Putting incompetant people in charge are command decisions. So blaming poor communications IMO barking up the wrong tree.

In the early part of the war some of the above may be forgiven. However, in the latter part I think not. I agree with you regarding the Old Boys Network and how things were done. This does not make it right!! And where the failure comes in regarding this aspect is the continued arogance of Haig and his staff toward those of a "lower" station in life even in the face of the poor performance of some of those from his own class. This was not a war of a couple bickering Princes of days past, but a struggle as never seen before and the stakes were too high and the cost too great to allow the pettiness of class to influence command decisions. Granted, the situation did improve somewhat in the latter stages of the war with some promotions based on merit, of men from the middle or lower classes. But I think this is because of the neccessity to fill out the officer ranks when the aristocratic pool was getting much shallower. Rather than a conscious decision to invlove men of other classes.

Yes, I like everyone else has the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. The real challenge is to try and place yourself in the contemporary circumstance. What did that person know at the time? So, I reiterate my point that to not learn from past mistakes and to ignore well established doctrines is indeed stupid.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

As ever, my head stuck in books - never can remember which one:

I read that when Haig's Chief of Staff visited the front - as he was driving along in the car he promptly burst into tears at the sight that he witnessed.

........ just found it:

AJP Taylor book: (he says Third Ypres was the blindest slaughter of a blind war) quote from book:

"On 8th November Haig's Chief of Staff visited the fighting zone for the first time. As his car struggled through the mud, he burst into tears, and cried "Good God, did we really send men to fight in that?". His companion replied: "It's worse further up".

Link to comment
Share on other sites

As ever, my head stuck in books - never can remember which one:

I read that when Haig's Chief of Staff visited the front - as he was driving along in the car he promptly burst into tears at the sight that he witnessed.

........ just found it:

AJP Taylor book: (he says Third Ypres was the blindest slaughter of a blind war) quote from book:

"On 8th November Haig's Chief of Staff visited the fighting zone for the first time.  As his car struggled through the mud, he burst into tears, and cried "Good God, did we really send men to fight in that?".  His companion replied: "It's worse further up".

There has been a great deal of doubt cast on whether this actually happened, I think Basil Hart first reported it and nothing has been found to substantiate it.

The statement was attributed to Kiggell and has been widely repeated but I really don't think it was ever made.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

That is interesting Paul.

Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

regards to you

susan.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Just returned from my first trip to the Western Front.  Found it very saddening that all those lives were just lost.  Attended the last post at Menin Gate - it was amazing.  Dead hushed and made the hairs on your arms stand up.  I could hardly focus my camcorder for tears.  It was extremely moving. 

I think most of us have the same experience at the Last Post Ceremony - I certainly did.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

sanctuary wood museum, musty and the need to get out, sounds familiar, must be Jacques' feet.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Welcome, ... most feel that way about Menin Gate, Varlet Farm, etc ....

While the whole experience raises strong emotions ... I am constantly reminded to keep my rhetoric down. Words like "useless" .... "stupid" and the like are, indeed, "Fighten' words" ... As a historian I am constantly reminded and constantly remind "It is never as simple as that" ...

We do things that are confusing and confused ... we try things that work, don't work, sort of work and/or become mysteries to the future.

I have tried to explain Ypres/Ieper many times to students ... I am about to do it once again, today ... and to me it comes down to a stubborn defense of a position that became an ideal and there is something about "US" that holds to "ideals" beyond the lines of self-interest.

But, no matter ... on another string there is a discussion between several people from all over the world about the identity of a soldier, just found ... they've got him down to one of nine ... How incredible both in the fact that there are folks who still care and that these tools we have nowadays can bring enough of us together to get stuff like that done ...

Before we call that poor man's death, stupid or wasted, we should understand we really don't know, do we. All we can really TRY to say is what happened ... what has happened since ... and be proud we humans keep on trying ....

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...