I'd like to share my recent trip to France and Belgium with you guys
I'm a huge WW1/WW2 nerd, and it is of massive interest to me. Last week I went across to Belgium to see some of the more interesting sites, I took my camera and had an amazing time.
We went across on the channel tunnel, and made our way through France into Belgium.
First stop was Lijssenthoek Commonwealth war graves, during the First World War, the village of Lijssenthoek was situated on the main communication line between the Allied military bases in the rear and the Ypres battlefields. Close to the Front, but out of the extreme range of most German field artillery, it became a natural place to establish casualty clearing stations. The cemetery was first used by the French 15th Hopital D'Evacuation and in June 1915, it began to be used by casualty clearing stations of the Commonwealth forces.
From April to August 1918, the casualty clearing stations fell back before the German advance and field ambulances (including a French ambulance) took their places.
The cemetery contains 9,901 Commonwealth burials of the First World War, 24 being unidentified. There are 883 war graves of other nationalities, mostly French and German, 11 of these are unidentified. There is 1 Non World War burial here.
This picture shows a third of the cemetery, a shocking introduction to my tour.
As with almost all WW1 Commonwealth cemeteries there is a section of the site dedicated to the German burials.
Despite Germany only making one payment towards the Commonwealth maintenence towards their WW1 war graves in 1921 these sites have been beautifully maintained by the Commonwealth, with GB making over 90% of the pro-rata contributions to these graves. Enough respect cannot ever be paid to the skilled Belgian workers who look after these historic sites.
Next stop was to pay respect at the resting place of Captain Noel Chavasse, the only double Victoria Cross winner of WW1 and quite frankly one of the most honerable characters of the war.
The original entry by the war office for Captain Chavasse's efforts -
His second VC was officially recorded with this entry -Victoria Cross
Chavasse was first awarded the VC for his actions on 9 August 1916, at Guillemont, France when he attended to the wounded all day under heavy fire. The full citation was published on 24 October 1916 and read:
Captain Noel Godfrey Chavasse, M.C., M.B., Royal Army Medical Corps.
For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty.
During an attack he tended the wounded in the open all day, under heavy fire, frequently in view of the enemy. During the ensuing night he searched for wounded on the ground in front of the enemy’s lines for four hours.
Next day he took one stretcher-bearer to the advanced trenches, and under heavy shell fire carried an urgent case for 500 yards into safety, being wounded in the side by a shell splinter during the journey. The same night he took up a party of twenty volunteers, rescued three wounded men from a shell hole twenty-five yards from the enemy’s trench, buried the bodies of two Officers, and collected many identity discs, although fired on by bombs and machine guns.
Altogether he saved the lives of some twenty badly wounded men, besides the ordinary cases which passed through his hands. His courage and self-sacrifice, were beyond praise.
Brandhoek Commonwealth cemetry is the location, this is the information board which greets you upon entry -Chavasse’s second award was made during the period 31 July to 2 August 1917, at Wieltje, Belgium; the full citation was published on 14 September 1917 and read:
War Office, September, 1917.
His Majesty the KING has been graciously pleased to approve of the award of a Bar to the Victoria Cross to Capt. Noel Godfrey Chavasse, V.C., M.C., late K.A.M.C., attd. L’pool R.
For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty when in action.
Though severely wounded early in the action whilst carrying a wounded soldier to the Dressing Station, Capt. Chavasse refused to leave his post, and for two days not only continued to perform his duties, but in addition went out repeatedly under heavy fire to search for and attend to the wounded who were lying out.
During these searches, although practically without food during this period, worn with fatigue and faint with his wound, he assisted to carry in a number of badly wounded men, over heavy and difficult ground.
By his extraordinary energy and inspiring example, he was instrumental in rescuing many wounded who would have otherwise undoubtedly succumbed under the bad weather conditions.
This devoted and gallant officer subsequently died of his wounds.
All Commonwealth cemeteries have a safe which holds the historical burial records of the men who lay there, a handy tool for identifying any personal connection or graves of specific interest.
Brandhoek is located between to houses, and backs onto the back gardens. As with most "small" Commonwealth sites.
During the First World War, Brandhoek was within the area comparatively safe from shell fire which extended beyond Vlamertinghe Church. Field ambulances were posted there continuously.
Until July 1917 burials had been made in the Military Cemetery, but the arrival of the 32nd, 3rd Australian and 44th Casualty Clearing Stations, in preparation for the new Allied offensive launched that month, made it necessary to open the New Military Cemetery. The New Military Cemetery No 3 opened in August and continued in use until May 1918.
Brandhoek New Military Cemetery No 3 contains 975 First World War burials.
Next stop was Essex Farm, a very well established site which holds one of the youngest official burials of the Great War. A 14 year old child who lied about his age. A chilling tale.
The land south of Essex Farm was used as a dressing station cemetery from April 1915 to August 1917. The burials were made without definite plan and some of the divisions which occupied this sector may be traced in almost every part of the cemetery, but the 49th (West Riding) Division buried their dead of 1915 in Plot I, and the 38th (Welsh) Division used Plot III in the autumn of 1916.
There are 1,200 servicemen of the First World War buried or commemorated in this cemetery. 103 of the burials are unidentified but special memorials commemorate 19 casualties known or believed to be buried among them.
The cemetery was designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield.
It was in Essex Farm Cemetery that Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae of the Canadian Army Medical Corps wrote the poem ' In Flanders Fields' in May 1915.
The 49th Division Memorial is immediately behind the cemetery, on the canal bank.
Essex farm features preserved bunkers, which go a very small way to showing the shocking conditions of the Great War. Can you imagine being treated for your wounds in these areas, with costant mortar fire, little to no pain killers or drugs, mud, dirt, disease and death all around. Unimaginable in todays society, again the sacrifices and suffering must never be forgotten.
This is a large bunker...
And a standard size bunker -
This walk shows the German front lines, and as far as the Germans got into Ypres. If they crossed the canal 20 yards to the right of this picture the war would have been all but lost.
The Essex regiment memorial -
The information boards at the site -