Monday 22 August 2022

Belgian Trip Pt4

 Menin Gate

After the Museum aan de IJzer we reboarded the coach and headed for Ypres and the Menin Gate. For me this was the highlight of the whole trip, I`ve always wanted to visit and pay my respects there. Even though it was quite warm (mid 20s) I wore my suit with a white shirt and black tie, my wife also wore black which caused some sonfusion among the choir as they thought we were joining in (with our voices - no chance).

Now I`d seen pictures and read about it, but to see all those names - WOW.

The names of 54,395 men from Britian and the Commonwealth who died in the salient but whos bodies were never identified or found are incribed on the walls. It should be noted (with some shock) that these are only those who died before 15 August 1917! Another memorial at Tyne Cot (which we didn`t visit has another 34,984 names!! Neither memorial has any names of soldiers from New Zealand or Newfoundland as these are honoured with their own memorials or of course all those many thousands who have graves among the numerous military cemetories in the area!

The place had a overwhelming effect on me, just reading all those names - from all corners of Britain of course but Australians, South Africans, Indians, Canadians and soldiers from the West Indies too, just name after name....... Certinly puts our little probelms in perspective and make playing soldiers seem very silly.

Towards 8pm we gathered under the main arch, the choir on one side, we stood opposite. I have to admit I was overcome with the occasion (the heat and wearing a suit may have played a part), but my head began to go, I was sweating profusely at one point I thought I was going to faint! I literally had to clench my toes and dig me finger nails into my palms to regain control along with deep breathing exercises I used in scuba training. 

 A crowd gathered and waited in the heat, I was impressed when the ushers went into the crowd and moved a lad in a wheel chair and moved him to where he could see. At eight sharpe the bugles were blown and one member of the choir party (ex-forces) in his full dress uniform laid a wreath, the choir sang a couple of verses of Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer (which I always call - Cwm Rhondda) and Calon Lan (in Welsh of course)

This is a youtube link to the choir`s performance 
(you`ll have to cut/paste it into your browser)


Sunday 21 August 2022

Belgium Trip Pt3

 Museum Aan De Ijzer

Tuesday 16th the choir was going to take part in the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate, they were kind enough to allow Debbie and I to hitch a ride on the coach. Part of the day was a stop and visit to this museum. 

The Museum aan de IJzer (Museum on the Yser) is located at the European Peace Site on the river Yser, which includes the Pax Gate, Yser Crypt and Yser Tower. The Yser Tower is home to the interactive museum of war and peace, on 22 floors. The roof terrace at a height of 84 metres (which makes it the highest memorial in Europe) offers a unique view of the entire front region. The tower is a symbol to the futility of war and to peace.

The tower is just an astounding sight

You first thing I noticed were large wire baskets containing hundreds of shell casings which had been placed around the entrance gates

Then you have the Pax Gate with the Yser Crypt beyond

The original tower was began in 1928 as memorial to Flemish soldiers who died during the Great War, but this soon became a symbolic location for the Flemish nationalist movement. The association of the Flemish movement with colaboration with the Germans durign WW2 led to two former memebrs of the Belgian resistance blowing the tower up in 1946! The remains of the tower were remodelled into the peace gate. 

The grounds have several pieces of art sculpture created from battlefield debris

The main tower is 22 floors high topped by a viewing balconey, the balcony has a 360 degree painting set above it pictured as the view would look at the height of WW1 - just amazing!! As was the view from the rooftop
The towers various levels focuses on the Belgium-German part of WW1as well as Flemish emancipation. As you descend, you pass through a dated timeline of the war along with news, propaganda, symbolism and history. There are many short films being shown of actual wartime news or cartoon representations. Whilst there was a fair bit in English most of the descriptions and all newspaper/notices, etc were in Flemish or Dutch. 
Frankly it is impossible to describe everything in any detail that would do it justice so here are some photos I took, mostly uniforms and kit:

The choir 



Saturday 20 August 2022

Belgium Trip Pt2


On Sunday 14th we moved onto Ghent with the plan of meeting up with the tour party who were coming by coach from the UK 

A very interesting city with several very large and impressive cathedrals and churches.

Near the city centre is Castle Gravensteen (also known as the Castle of the Counts), a real fairytale castle to look at. Now pre C20th is not really my thing, but of course we went for the tour:

Back in the 800s, Count Arnulf of Flanders built a castle on this site. This small castle constructed out of wood included a grain store and it thrived in the growing industry of young Flanders. In fact, Ghent grew to be the largest city in the region. Two centuries later, wool became the dominant product of Ghent. The wooden castle, with its outdated grain store, was replaced with one built of Tournai limestone. The counts in power added high walls and watchtowers, and they extended the moat. You can still see inside the addition of different types of bricks to add color. The existing castle was built in 1180 by Count Philip of Alsace. The Castle of the Counts, while never a permanent residence, served for hundreds of years as a place for counts to stay during their travels. It seems no one in power wanted to live in Ghent full-time, as the people here were far too rebellious to make good neighbours, even with barriers of stone and a moat separating the higher classes from the commoners.

The castle has an interesting collection of arms and armour dating between C12th and C16th

Near the entrance I found this plaque commemorating 1st SAS Parachute Regiment

Across the river from the castle was this huge iron cannon