AKS Battlefields Trip
We arrived at Vimy in mid-afternoon on Friday and taken around the Canadian trenches. The size and depth of the trenches and tunnels was unbelievable, the darkness and damp was hard to endure for only a few minutes, never mind months! The craters were huge and the distance from German to Canadian trenches was minimal. Once the trench visit ended, we walked up to the Vimy Memorial, a giant structure unveiled in 1936 to commemorate the 11,000 Canadian soldiers lost and killed in World War I.
The next morning, after our first stay at l’Chateau d’Ebblinghem, we set off to Tyne Cot Cemetery in Ypres, the world’s largest British cemetery. We visited the small museum first, which contained many preserved artefacts and items from the War. At the Cemetery, the amount of graves was indescribable, not to mention the thousands and thousands of names on the wall. After a search on CWGC I found a soldier that is supposedly related to me, LCPL J. Stafford of the Lancashire Fusiliers. After finding his grave, I visited it and realised the sheer determination and bravery he must have had to give up his life for his country in such circumstances.
Our next stop was the German cemetery, Langemark. Once we arrived, we walked into the cemetery to find a mass grave and many blocks of metal with multiple names on. Langemark was randomly scattered, the graves were extremely low down and hardly maintained. This made me think that the Germans were meant to feel responsible and lower down than others did, which is a sad thought, really.
The third visit was the Passchendale Memorial Museum just outside of Ypres, where there was hundreds of artefacts, weapons, clothing and even food! This museum also had an outdoor trench experience as well as a very dark underground tunnel system (which Mrs. Ward braved for the first time).
After our lunch, we went to the Sanctuary Wood Museum at Hill ’62. The museum had many items including some very rare 3D photographs of the war, weapons, uniforms and bombs. The real highlight of the visit was the preserved section of British trenches behind the museum, one of the only sections of real trenches in the Ypres Salient that has been left in their original state. The trench system was enormous and extremely well kept! Wellies were essential, as the watery mud was feet deep in some places! There was also a pitch black tunnel which took you from one side of the trenches to the other, it really was pitch black, so I have no idea how soldiers used it.
Our penultimate location was the town of Ypres itself. We first went to Menin Gate to see the thousands of names on its walls, there was too many to comprehend, from all corners of the Commonwealth. We next stopped at the ‘In Flanders Fields’ Museum in the famously re-built ‘Cloth Hall’, which was an amazing building by itself. Inside we received wristbands where we could login and assigned a soldier to follow through the war. My favourite part of the museum (Mr. Maund’s too) was the trench-discovery. A video showed two men who discovered a trench under their land and were pulling out almost-usable items from the murky waters. They discovered many items including, helmets, barbed wire and even a full uniform of a soldier, which were all on display.
After some free time, a visit to a fair few chocolate shops and a restaurant meal, we went to Menin Gate to attend the Last Post Ceremony. The Last Post played, a choir sang, wreaths were laid and poems were read in an emotional service where the entirety of the crowd were silent. If you ever get the chance, I highly recommend you attend the Menin Gate Service, it is not an experience you’ll want to miss.
On our final day, we ended our tour of France and Belgium with a visit to ‘La Coupole’, Hitler’s not-so-secret secret rocket launching base. The size of the place was tremendous, and as it was pointed at London we were lucky it was bombed, before it caused more damage than Hitler already did. My favourite part of this experience was Mr. Cowlishaw’s highly recommended video about Hitler’s rocket development and a man called Wernher von Braun.
I highly recommend the trip and enjoyed it thoroughly; I thank Mr. Cowlishaw for organising it, Mrs. Ward and Mr. Maund for coming with us and not forgetting the coach drivers, Dave and Frank/Fred, for getting us there!