Visiting More Memorials In The Passchendaele Area

November 7, 2017.  After visiting Cement House Cemetery and the grave of Vincent Carr, and the St. Julien Monument to commemorate the position where Canadians were during the first poison gas attack, we stopped at the German Military Cemetery in Langemark.  Its official name is “Deutscher Studentenfriedhof”, one of four German cemeteries in the Flanders region of Belgium.   ‘Studentenfriedhof’ means ‘the students’ cemetery’ and is called that due to the large number of young volunteer soldiers who are buried here.

This is the only German cemetery that seems to get visitors at all, especially non-Germans.  It’s an impressive but depressing cemetery.

CIMG8740 Sep 9 2017 Statue at German War Cemetery in Langemark

Bronze sculpture by Emil Krieger of four soldiers in mourning. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

The cemetery has 44,061 burials.  25,000 of these were unknown and buried in a large communal grave.

CIMG8742 Sep 9 2017 German War Cemetery in Langemark

Memorial says “In this cemetery rest 44,061 German soldiers from the war of 1914-1918”. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Over the decades, researchers have identified 17,000, whose names are now on bronze plaques positioned around three sides of the cemetery.

CIMG8745 Sep 9 2017 German War Cemetery in Langemark

Bronze plaques with the names of identified German soldiers. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

After this rather chilling stop, we continued on to the Passchendaele Canadian Memorial, located on Canadalaan (Canada Lane) in Zonnebeke.

CIMG8746 Sep 9 2017 Canadalaan location of Passchendaele Memorial in Zonnebeke

Canadalaan was named in honour of Canada’s role in the Battle of Passchendaele. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

It was here that we were reminded of the madness of the Battle of Passchendaele. British and Australian soldiers had tried, from July until early October 1917, rather unsuccessfully, to capture the German-occupied Belgian coast.  They made only minimal advances and the commander of the British forces, Sir Douglas Haig, ordered the Canadian Corps to take their place and capture Passchendaele.

20,000 Canadian soldiers arrived in the midst of heavy rainfall and waist-deep mud, and no one seemed to have enough sense or authority to force a rethink to the plan to begin an assault at that time of year.  The only voice of sanity was Canadian-born Lt. Gen. Sir Arthur Currie, who took the time to inspect the battlefield and, after doing so, protested that the planned attack would cost 16,000 Canadian casualties.  No one listened to him.

So, on October 26, 1917, Canadian troops began a series of attacks in the area.  On October 30, 1917, with the help of two British divisions, they began the assault on the village of Passchendaele, inching their way from shell-crater to shell-crater, under heavy fire.  The landscape was already destroyed by shelling and heavy rain.  Roads, trees, and most buildings were gone.  It was in the midst of this that Vincent Carr from North Tryon died, instantly killed by a high explosive shell.

Troops reached the outskirts of Passchendaele during a terrible rainstorm, and held on for five days, waist-deep in mud and exposed to German shelling. Reinforcements arrived on November 6, and by November 10 Canadian troops occupied the village, thus ending the battle.  Almost 12,000 Canadians were wounded, and over 4,000 died.

CIMG8750 Sep 9 2017 Pieter at Passchendaele Memorial in Zonnebeke

Pieter at the Passchendaele Canadian Memorial in Zonnebeke. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

The Passchendaele Canadian Memorial has the following inscription on one side, on a granite block, saying:

“The Canadian Corps in Oct-Nov 1917 advanced across this valley – then a treacherous morass – captured and held the Passchendaele ridge.”

IMG_20170909_141204168_HDR Sep 9 2017 Passchendaele Memorial in Zonnebeke

The Passchendaele Canadian Memorial has maple leaves carved in the form of a wreath on the front and back. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

The Battle of Passchendaele, which lasted 100 days, had more than Canadian casualties.  275,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers were killed and wounded, among them the Canadian casualties already mentioned.  220,000 German soldiers were also killed and wounded.

Beside the Passchendaele Canadian Memorial is the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 in Zonnebeke, which concentrates on the Battle of Passchendaele itself.  They have begun a Passchendaele Archives Project of trying to put faces and stories to those who died between July 12 and November 15, 1917 during the battle.  If you have a relative, and a photo, please consider supporting this project. You can email them at archives@passchendaele.be or visit their website at www.passchendaele.be for more information.  They will send you a form to fill out: Passchendaele Archives Questionnaire.

After these two visits, Pieter was finally persuaded to go for a snack before continuing on with the war memorial tour.  Across from the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 was a lovely restaurant, Brasserie De Volksbond, where Pieter and I shared Belgian bread and Passendale cheese.

CIMG8762 Sep 9 2017 Passendale cheese at Brasserie de Volksbund in Zonnebeke

How could we resist having Passendale cheese for lunch? (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Yes, while we Canadians know Passchendaele for the battle, it’s better known for its Passchendaele beer and Passendale cheese.

CIMG8753 Sep 9 2017 Passchendaele beer sign at Brasserie de Volksbund in Zonnebeke

Pieter didn’t get a chance to sample the Passchendaele beer! (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

If you are wondering about the spelling difference, the Belgians have a much simpler spelling of their village and region!

CIMG8747 Sep 9 2017 sign for Passchendaele

Passchendaele = Passendale. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

Our next stop on the War Memorial Trail, after a much needed lunch break, was Tyne Cot British Cemetery, which was also in Zonnebeke.  Comments or stories?  You can share them by emailing us at dariadv@yahoo.ca or by commenting on this blog.

© Daria Valkenburg

On The War Memorial Trail of Passchendaele and Surrounding Area

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).

CIMG8738 Sep 9 2017 sign saying Ypres Salient Route

Signs along the road marked the routes you could follow on the war memorial trail in Belgium. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

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.

CIMG8723 Sep 9 2017 Pieter at Cement House Cemetery with flags

Pieter at the entrance to Cement House Cemetery. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

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.

IMG_20170909_131617502 Graves of Bellas Carr Willson in Cement House Cemetery

The graves of R. Bellas, V. Carr, and J. B. Willson in Cement House Cemetery. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

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.

cimg8733-sep-9-2017-pieter-by-brooding-soldier-monument-st-juliaan-memorial-in-langemark.jpg

St. Julien Memorial in Langemark. (Photo credit: François Breugelmans)

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 dariadv@yahoo.ca or by commenting on this blog.

© Daria Valkenburg

 

The Cenotaph Research Project Begins

CIMG5472 B&W Aug 5 2015 WWI and WWII memorial at Borden Carleton Legion.JPG

July 28, 2017.  The cenotaph research project began in summer 2016 quietly by enlarging a photo of the cenotaph and showing it to Islanders in the hope that someone would recognize a name.  In the meantime, Pieter started searching the surnames at the Canadian Virtual War Memorial (www.veterans.gc.ca) and Library and Archives Canada Military Service Files (http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/military-heritage/Pages/military-heritage.aspx) to try and identify the names.  We didn’t have first names, only surnames and an initial.

The search was made more difficult as we soon learned that many Islanders were known by their second name.  The initial on the Cenotaph sometimes referred to the second name or a nickname.  For example, Alfred became Fred and F was the initial he was identified by.

We had no luck with photos until one day Helen Carr mentioned that her husband’s uncle, Vincent CARR, was listed on the memorial.  Did we want a photo of him?  We did, and went to visit Helen’s husband Delbert.  With that photo, Pieter delved into Carr’s military records and learned that he died at Passchendaele.

We had the basis of an article to write, and decided to include someone from WWII whose photo we didn’t have.  Pieter chose Everett Samuel FRANCIS, who died off the coast of Newfoundland when the ship he was on, SS Caribou, was torpedoed.

After the article ran, Helen Carr came to the rescue once again, by finding a relative of Francis, who then was able to put us in touch with Francis’s daughter Greta, who lives in Ontario.  We learned that Francis was on his way to Newfoundland to meet his three week old baby daughter Greta for the first time when he died.  Luckily, Greta had photos of her father and shared them.

We hope you enjoy this first article that ran in October 2016, “Putting A Face And Story To The Names On The Cenotaph” in the County Line Courier.   CLC Page 6-7 Putting a Face and Story to the Names on the Cenotaph

If you have photos or documents you’d like to share, please email them to dariadv@yahoo.ca.  Comments or stories?  You can share them by email or by commenting on this blog.

© Daria Valkenburg