On The War Memorial Trail In the Passchendaele Area

December 9, 2017.  After we finished placing flags in Belgium in memory of those names on the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion, we decided to visit some of the memorials in the Passchendaele area.  Anyone who has been here knows that it’s impossible to see everything in such a short time, but we did our best to see as many as we could.

After we left Maple Copse Cemetery, where it’s possible the George Albert Campbell is buried, we went to the 85th Canadian Infantry Battalion – Nova Scotia Highlanders Monument in Zonnebeke.  It was a small monument, located in a farmer’s field.  It was impossible to drive right up to it, so Pieter parked the car and went there alone.

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Information sign about the 85th Canadian Infantry Battalion – Nova Scotia Highlanders Monument in Zonnebeke. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

The monument is in memory of the 85th Canadian Nova Scotia Battalion, which suffered heavy losses during the battle of Passchendaele at the end of October 1917.  One side of the monument has a black bronze plaque with the inscription: “85th Canadian Infantry Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders) BEF. This plaque was erected by the Battalion in memory of their valiant comrades who gave their lives in action before Passchendaele at Decline Copse and Vienna Cottage on 28 to 31 October 1917.” Below the inscription are listed the names of the 12 officers and 132 other ranks who died in these actions.

CIMG8868 Sep 10 2017 85th Nova Scotia Highlanders monument

85th Canadian Infantry Battalion – Nova Scotia Highlanders Monument in Zonnebeke. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

From the photo above, you can notice that the sky was dark.  After a day of sunshine, it had started to rain.  But, since we weren’t made of sugar, we kept going.  Our destination was Kitchener’s Wood in Langemark, but along the way we saw a sign marking the location of the final battle of Passchendaele, right beside the Passchendaele New British Cemetery in Zonnebeke.  Of course we stopped to visit.

CIMG8869 Sep 10 2017 Sign marking final battle of Passchendaele beside New British Cemetery in Zonnebeke

Sign on the wall of the Passchendaele New British Cemetery in Zonnebeke says “end of the Passchendaele offensive 25 September 1918. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

CIMG8872 Sep 10 2017 New British Cemetery in Zonnebeke

Entrance to Passchendaele New British Cemetery in Zonnebeke. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

650 Canadians are buried in this cemetery, including Alexander Wuttenee DECOTEAU, Canada’s first Aboriginal-Canadian police officer.  A Cree born on the Red Pheasant Reserve in Saskatchewan in 1887, he enlisted in 1916 and was killed by a sniper during the Battle of Passchendaele on October 30, 1917, the same day and battle in which Vincent CARR, who is listed on the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion, lost his life.  After reading about Private Decoteau, we went and put a Canadian flag by his grave.

CIMG8874 Sep 10 2017 Pieter by grave of Alexander Decoteau New British Cemetery in Zonnebeke

Pieter by the grave of Private Alexander Decoteau in Passchendaele New British Cemetery in Zonnebeke. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Our last war memorial trail stop for the day was at Kitchener’s Wood Memorial in Langemark-Poelkapelle.  This was harder to find than we expected, as the car’s GPS directed us to an empty field! A farm with what looked to be a house was across the field and we had a discussion whether to give up or knock on the door and ask directions.

Now, if you are a long-suffering wife, you know who was ready to give up rather than ask directions.  Yep, the guy who could speak the language sat in the car, while the Canadian with poor Dutch skills went and knocked on the door.  It was clear that the door was beside the kitchen as through the window I could see a group of young men around a large table, and one young man washing dishes by the sink.  The man washing dishes opened the door, and to my great relief very quickly found out he spoke as much Dutch as me.  It turned out that he and his companions were all from Poland, near where my maternal grandmother was born!

Obviously we weren’t the first to get tricked by the GPS system as he was familiar with the Kitchener’s Wood Memorial and explained that there was an error in the navigation system.  The memorial was 500 metres down the road right beside a house, on the side of the road opposite to where the GPS directed us to.

With the right directions, we found the memorial by a farmhouse.  The memorial was erected in memory of the soldiers of the 10th Canadian Battalion and the 16th Canadian Scottish Battalion, who were killed during a night attack at Kitchener’s Wood on April 22, 1915 during the first lethal chemical gas attack by the Germans.

CIMG8883 Sep 10 2017 Pieter by Kitcheners Wood Memorial

Pieter by Kitchener’s Wood Memorial. (Photo credit; Daria Valkenburg)

French troops had fallen back, leaving a 6 km gap to the left of the Canadian sector.  During the night of April 22 into 23, the 10th Canadian and the 15th Canadian Scottish Battalion counter-attacked and captured a German held position at Kitchener’s Wood.  This prevented a German breakthrough to Ypres and beyond.

CIMG8880 Sep 10 2017 Kitcheners Wood Memorial close up of acorn

On a polished stone base is a roughly worked stone representing the mutilated oaks of the forest, with the inscription: “Kitchener’s Wood, 22 April 1915″ encircling an oak leaf with an acorn. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

This ended our war memorial tour in Belgium for this trip, and we went back to the hotel to relax.  One more stop in Belgium, at the In Flanders Museum in Ypres, and then on to The Netherlands where we will be visiting the graves of WWII soldiers.

Comments or stories?  You can share them by emailing us at dariadv@yahoo.ca or by commenting on this blog.

© Daria Valkenburg

2 thoughts on “On The War Memorial Trail In the Passchendaele Area

  1. We are still following your journey with great interest.

    Somewhere near the Passchendaele monument in your photo, we attended the unveiling of a monument to the Queens’ Own Rifles when we visited the area in 2014. We were fortunate enough to meet the lady who lived in the house that was situated next to that monument (similar to the house in your picture).

    She mentioned that there is a huge amount of ordnance still buried in the fields around there – so they cannot be worked with heavy farm equipment. Every week her husband (the grandson of the family who occupied the farm before WW1) comes across pieces of old military hardware which are still surfacing. She mentioned that a significant percentage of the explosives did not detonate when they landed during the battle – hence the ongoing danger. I don’t remember the exact number, but it was in the millions, and it worked out to a significant number of unexploded items per square metre of ground.

    She showed us a soldier’s metal helmet that was used by her husband’s grandfather to measure out feed for the animals after the war. It is now a treasured memento of those times. All of his other implements and farm equipment had been destroyed during the battle.

    Thanks for letting us share in your journey.

    Norm and Bev Crone.

    >

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    • Dear Norm and Bev,
      We’re glad you are enjoying this very emotional journey with us, and sharing your own memories from your trip. How amazing that you were able to meet a resident who was able to tell you her own story. The people who live or grew up in these former war zones are indeed still dealing with the results of conflicts, and have a very matter-of-fact attitude about it.

      We hope you will enjoy the journey through Netherlands and Germany, which are still to come.
      Pieter and Daria

      Like

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