November 2, 2017. After hearing so much about Passchendaele and the terrible 100 days of fighting over a mere 8 km of territory in 1917, we had to go and see the area for ourselves. 245,000 allied soldiers alone were casualties, not to mention Belgian citizens and German soldiers. We kept thinking, “How could it be worth such a heavy sacrifice?”
We followed two routes in this area, the Ypres Salient Route, and No Man’s Land Route (Niemandsland Route in Flemish).
One soldier on the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion, Vincent CARR, died on October 30, 1917 during the Battle of Passchendaele. His story was told earlier in this blog. (See links to The Cenotaph Research Project Begins and The WWI Names On The Cenotaph). He’s buried at Cement House Cemetery in Langemark, and our first stop on the war memorial trail in the Passchendaele area was there.
Cement House was the military name given to a fortified farm building on the Langemark-Boesinghe (now called Boezinghe) road. There are 3,952 WWI Commonwealth graves, 2,225 of them unidentified. There are an additional 22 WWII graves, 5 of which are unidentified.
After placing the flags on Carr’s grave, we saw that the graves on either side of him were Canadians from the same Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade unit as Carr, and that they died on the same day. It seemed only right to take a photo of all three graves and pay tribute to R. Bellas, our Vincent Carr, and J. B. Willson.
After leaving Cement House Cemetery, we stopped at the St. Julien Memorial (Sint Juliaan in Flemish), a Canadian War Memorial commemorating the Canadian First Division’s participation in the Second Battle of Ypres in World War I. This was a nasty battle where the troops faced the first poison gas attacks along the Western Front on April 22, 1915. The memorial is commonly known as the Brooding Soldier, the name given to the statue sculpted by Frederick Chapman Clemesha, an architect from Regina who was also a WWI veteran.
Unfortunately, the heavens opened as we arrived in the parking lot. We waited a few minutes in the hope that the rain would stop, but no luck. There was a big tour bus beside us and no one got out of it either. After ten minutes the bus left (guess they had to stay on schedule). At that point Pieter said, rain or not, he was going to the memorial. Only his cousin François was willing to join him! Mieke and I stayed in the car.
The sculpture is a stone tower, topped by the head and shoulders of a soldier, whose head is bowed. The soldier is in the pose of a serviceman standing with ‘reversed arms’ – resting his hands on the rifle butt and the rifle pointing with its barrel to the ground. This pose is a gesture of mourning and respect for the fallen.
The memorial is inscribed as follows: THIS COLUMN MARKS THE BATTLEFIELD WHERE 18,000 CANADIANS ON THE BRITISH LEFT WITHSTOOD THE FIRST GERMAN GAS ATTACKS THE 22ND-24TH OF APRIL 1915. 2,000 FELL AND HERE LIE BURIED.
The location of the statue is where the Canadian position was when they were attacked by gas. None of the troops had gas masks. They tried to protect themselves as best they good, and some pressed handkerchiefs soaked with urine around their mouths. As we now know, this did little good.
A few minutes after the Pieter and François came back into the car and we pulled away from the parking lot, it stopped raining and the sun came out. It was like a message had been received!
Although it was after 2 pm, and three of us were hungry and tired, we had a few more stops before Pieter would allow us to have a rest and lunch! We grumbled that he had forgotten we were volunteers on this journey, not military recruits! Our war memorial route continues in the next blog entry.
As yet, we have not been able to find any information on Vincent Carr’s wife, Bessie Carr, who came from Summerside, and died in 1918, a year after her husband. Can you help? If you are related to R. Bellas or J. B. Willson, we’d like to hear from you as well. Comments or stories? You can share them by emailing us at email@example.com or by commenting on this blog.
© Daria Valkenburg