LAST POST, IEPER

Buglers from the Last Post Association

On the fourth day of our tour in July, the group attended the daily Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate Memorial in Ieper. Two of us laid wreaths along with several other groups. See a separate report.

Wreath Laying at the Menin Gate

On Friday, 6th September a special ceremony was held in Ieper to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the city 75 years ago by the 1st Polish Armoured Division commanded by General Maczek on 6th September 1944.

Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate

The daily Last Post ceremony was held for the first time on 2nd July 1928. It was suspended on 21st May 1940, following the German occupation of the city at the start of the Second World War. It is not known whether this was a decision imposed by the occupying German authorities or was voluntarily undertaken by Richard Leclercq, who was then chairman of the Last Post Committee.

Belgian Plot at Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey

From January 1941, the Ieper Last Post ceremony was continued at Brookwood Military Cemetery in Surrey and this at the initiative of Edgar Ashley Cook, MBE. A number of members of the Belgian Defence Forces who died during their WWII service in England are buried there.

Guy Gruwez, honorary chairman of the Last Post Association: “By 5 o’clock in the afternoon of 6 September 1944, the city had already been liberated by the Polish Division that was fighting alongside the Canadian Army. There was a great sense of joy and relief. Bugler Jozef Arfeuille thought immediately to celebrate this unique moment by a resumption of the Last Post ceremony. He went with a group of neighbours and friends to the Menin Gate, where he played the Last Post no fewer than six times, or so it is claimed, to mark the restoration of our freedom. In this way, the daily ceremony was re-initiated after a gap of four years.

For many years, the City of Ieper has commemorated the liberation together with the City of St. Omer, the city in France with which Ieper is twinned. Both cities were liberated on the same day in September 1944 by the same Polish Armoured Division. The commemorative ceremony is held on alternating years in each city. In 2019, it is the turn of St Omer, where the ceremony take place on Sunday, 1st September.

Fisher J. (no relation) was an English soldier

Alderman Diego Desmadryl: “Because this year is a special anniversary, the City of Ieper did not want to let this occasion pass without some form of recognition. As a result, we arranged a programme of events in Ieper on Friday 6th September. This consisted of a short ceremony at the Polish memorial plaque on the Cloth Hall at 19:30hrs, followed by the daily Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate at 20.00. This was arranged by the city authorities in collaboration with the Last Post Association and the Royal Association of Veterans (and persons treated as such).”

Wreath laying ceremony at the Menin Gate

Benoit Mottrie, present chairman of the Last Post Association: “On 6th September 2019, the Last Post ceremony was held for the 31,520th time. During the past 25 years, public and international interest has increased enormously. For this reason, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all my predecessors, all past and current members of the board of directors and all other supporters of our Association. In particular, I would like offer a special word of thanks to all past and present buglers and ceremonial assistants, who give their time so freely and so generously. In this way, we will continue to remember each day those who died for the liberation of the city and the restoration of our freedom.”

Our group after the Last Post ceremony

MENIN GATE

Menin Gate, Ieper

Reginald Blomfield’s triumphal arch at one of the entrances into Ieper (Ypres) was designed in 1921. It honours the missing of World War One in Flanders, who have no known graves. The lion on the top is the lion of Britain but also the lion of Flanders. It was chosen to be a memorial as it was the closest gate of the town to the fighting, and so Allied Troops would have marched past it on their way to fight.

Menin Gate, Ieper

Its large Hall of Memory contains names on stone panels of 54,395 Commonwealth soldiers who died in the Ieper Salient but whose bodies have never been identified or found. On completion of the memorial, it was discovered to be too small to contain all the names as originally planned. A cut-off point of 15th August 1917 was chosen and the names of 34,984 UK missing after this date were inscribed on the Tyne Cot memorial instead. The Menin Gate Memorial does not list the names of the missing soldiers of New Zealand and Newfoundland, who are instead honoured on separate memorials.

Menin Gate, Ieper

The inscription inside the archway is similar to the one at Tyne Cot, with the addition of the Latin phrase meaning ‘To the Greater Glory of God”: Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam – Here are recorded names of officers and men who fell in Ypres Salient, but to whom the fortune of war denied the known and honoured burial given to their comrades in death”. Both this inscription, and the main overhead inscription on both the east- and west-facing façades of the arch, were composed by Rudyard Kipling.

Inside the archway

On the opposite side of the archway to that inscription is the shorter dedication: “They shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away”. There are also Latin inscriptions set in circular panels either side of the archway, on both the east and west sides: “Pro Patria” and “Pro Rege” (‘For Country’ and ‘For King’). A French inscription mentions the citizens of Ypres: “Erigé par les nations de l’Empire Britannique en l’honneur de leurs morts ce monument est offert aux citoyens d’Ypres pour l’ornement de leur cité et en commémoration des jours où l’Armée Britannique l’a défendue contre l’envahisseur“, which translated into English means: “Erected by the nations of the British Empire in honour of their dead this monument is offered to the citizens of Ypres for the ornament of their city and in commemoration of the days where the British Army defended it against the invader.”

Menin Gate, Ieper

Reaction to the Menin Gate, the first of the Commonwealth War Grave Commission’s memorials to the missing, ranged from its condemnation by the war poet, Siegried Sassoon, to praise by the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig.

Menin Gate, Ieper

IN FLANDERS FIELDS

In Flanders Fields

By John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

***

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,

In Flanders fields.

***

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

The Advanced Dressing Station where John McCrae was based at Essex Farm

At the beginning of WWI in 1914, Canada, as a Dominion within the British Empire, was at war as well. McCrae was appointed as Medical Officer and Major of the 1st Brigade CFA (Canadian Field Artillery). He treated the wounded during the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915, from a hastily dug, 8 foot by 8 foot bunker dug in the back of the dyke along the Yser Canal about 2 miles north of Ypres. McCrae’s friend and former militia pal, Lt Alexis Helmer, was killed in the battle, and his burial inspired the poem, ‘In Flander’s Fields’, which was written on May 3rd 1915 and was first published in the magazine Punch.

Bunker where McCrae treated the wounded

From June 1st 1915, McCrae was ordered away from the artillery to set up No. 3 Canadian General Hospital at Dannes-Camiers near Boulogne-sur-Mer, northern France. C.L.C. Allinson reported that McCrae “most unmilitarily told [me] what he thought of being transferred to the medicals and being pulled away from his beloved guns. His last words to me were: ‘Allinson, all the goddamn doctors in the world will not win this bloody war: what we need is more and more fighting men.'”

“In Flanders Fields” appeared anonymously in Punch on December 8, 1915, but in the index to that year McCrae was named as the author. The verses swiftly became one of the most popular poems of the war, used in countless fund-raising campaigns and frequently translated. “In Flanders Fields” was also extensively printed in the United States, whose government was contemplating joining the war, alongside a ‘reply’ by R.W.Lillard, “…Fear not that you have died for naught, / The torch ye threw to us we caught…”.

McCrae’s grave at the CWGC Cemetery at Wimereux, France

For eight months the hospital operated in Durbar tents shipped from India, but after suffering from storms, floods, and frosts it was moved in February 1916 into the old Jesuit College in Boulogne-sur-Mer.

Plaque at Essex Farm

McCrae, now “a household name, albeit a frequently misspelt one”, regarded his sudden fame with some amusement, wishing that “they would get to printing ‘In F.F.’ correctly: it never is nowadays”; but (writes his biographer) “he was satisfied if the poem enabled men to see where their duty lay.”

Lt Col John McCrae Pic. Guelph Museum

On January 28, 1918, while still commanding No. 3 Canadian General Hospital (McGill) at Boulogne, McCrae died of pneumonia with “extensive Pneumococcus meningitis” at the British General Hospital in Wimereux, France. He was buried the following day in the CWGC section of Wimereux Cemetery, just a couple of kilometres up the coast from Boulogne, with full military honours.

A plaque with McCrae’s poem ‘In Flander’s Fields’

ESSEX FARM CEMETERY

Cross of Sacrifice at Essex Farm Cemetery

Back to World War One in Flanders, day four of our trip visited one very interesting site before returning to Ieper. The CWGC maintained Essex Farm Cemetery is just north of Ieper near Boezinge. More than 1000 servicemen of the First World War are buried or commemorated here. Of these, 103 burials are unidentified. There are special memorials to commemorate nineteen casualties known or believed to be buried at this site.

Memorial for 49th (West Riding) Division at Essex Farm Cemetery

It was the location of an Advanced Dressing Station during WWI. The concrete buildings used by the dressing stations can still be seen in the cemetery. A project to restore the surviving bunkers at the dressing stations was carried out by the town of Ieper (Ypres).

Close-up of 49th WR Division memorial. Pic. Peter Smith, Leger Battlefield Tours

The bunkers represent the largest number still visible and located together in the Ypres Salient area.

Essex Farm Cemetery seen from the nearby hill (CWGC picture)

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.

Lt Col John McCrae (Guelph Museums picture)

It was here that Canadian doctor Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae wrote the poem In Flanders Fields’ in May 1915, which I will feature separately.

LT TOM KETTLE REMEMBERED

Tom Kettle (Pic. WikiCommons)

The following story by Patricia Killeen is taken from the US website IrishCentral.com published on September 10th. It details a commemoration held by the Irish in France including our Ambassador commemorating Lt Tom Kettle (former MP), Lance Corporal Francis Ledwidge from Slane and other members of Irish regiments in WWI.

Tom Kettle: Irish War Poet and nationalist was remembered by the Irish in France on the eve of the anniversary of his death.

On Sunday, September 8th 2019 the Irish Embassy Paris and the Irish in France Association invited Irish people living in France to the inauguration of the ‘Irish Peace Garden.’ The garden, located in the grounds of the Château de Péronne, in the heart of the Somme battlefields, pays homage to the WW1 Irish soldiers. The château also houses ‘The Historical Museum of the Great War’.

Our day out also included visiting the museum, the Church and village of Guillemont and the Ulster Tower in Thiepval.

As our Ambassador Patricia O’Brien rendered homage to the Irish WW1 soldiers, complimented the new garden, and spoke of the strong link between Ireland and France, at that moment in time I felt happy to be Irish in France. After the speeches, Peter Donegan led us through the gardens and entertained us with stories of his challenge transforming a 14th-century dried-up moat, constructed to keep people out, into a welcoming garden that drew people in.

The village of Guillemont, a short drive away and the neighboring village Ginchy, are soaked in Irish blood. More than 1,200 men from the 16th (Irish) Division were killed in the liberation of these two villages on 3rd and 9th September 1916. The church is at the very centre of the small village, which has neither a shop nor a café. However, we did locate the ‘Rue de la 16ème Division Irlandaise’!

One again French officials and the Irish Ambassador spoke. I lost the battle of keeping tears in check in the beautifully decorated church, where the dead Irish soldiers are so honored. Plaques on the wall list the different battalions of the 16th Irish Division including the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in which Thomas Kettle and many Irish Volunteers had enlisted. Our Ambassador paid homage to Kettle (economist, journalist, barrister, writer, poet, and former Member of Parliament for John Redmond’s constitutional nationalist party) who died at the Battle of Ginchy on 9th September 1916. She said she hoped that Kettle would be proud of the progress that had been made for peace in Europe and Ireland.

Lt Kettle’s name on WWI memorial at Westminster Hall

Kettle, an ardent Irish nationalist, donned the British uniform knowing many of his fellow countrymen wouldn’t understand why. He enlisted after witnessing the horrors in Belgium after the German invasion and said “while a strong people has its own self for centre, it has the universe for circumference.”

He went to war for European civilization and to fight for the freedom of another small country, fully aware that after Irish independence eventually came he would be seen as one of the ‘foolish dead,’ in contrast with the 1916 Rising ‘heroes’. In the final lines of his poem, ‘To My Daughter Betty, The Gift of God’, Kettle explained his decision: “Know that we fools, … Died not for flag, nor King, nor Emperor, But for a dream, born in a herdsmen shed, And for the secret Scripture of the poor.”

In the lead up to the centenary of the 1916 Rising, the Irish President Michael D. Higgins, acknowledged Kettle’s place in Irish history and said he was “an Irish patriot, a British soldier and a true European and understood that be authentically Irish we must also embrace our European identity’.

Francis Ledwidge, the other Irish WW1 war poet who died at the Battle of Ypres on July 31, 1917, like Kettle is now also considered as an Irish patriot and a WW1 war hero.

More Irish men, many of them members of the Irish Volunteers, died defending France than died creating an Irish republic. Many of them died for European freedom and in the hope that a grateful Britain post-war would pass the shelved Home Rule bill. On the other hand, other brave Irish men from Ulster enlisted in WW1 in the hope that the British would throw out the same Home Rule Bill!

Our final stop was at the Ulster Tower, Northern Ireland’s national war memorial, constructed in 1921 opposite the Thiepval Wood from where the 36th (Ulster) Division made its historic charge on July 1st 1916. The Irish Ambassador, the Mayor of Péronne and the Sous-Préfet de Péronne once again laid wreaths, as they had done at the Celtic cross and French monument outside the Guillemont church.

As I looked at the orange flowers in the green, white and gold Irish wreath, I remembered in ‘Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somne,’ how Frank McGuinness’s had described that Protestant soldiers exchanged their Orange sashes before going into battle.

Over the course of the day, I saw how revered our Irish WW1 soldiers were in France. The men, whose place in Irish history had been a long time enigma, had apparently always been honored in the French villages they defended. Tom Kettle and Francis Ledwidge were friends with many of the 16 men executed in the aftermath of the 1916 Rising. Francis Ledwidge’s poem “The Lament for Thomas MacDonagh” is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful WW1 poems.

When young people are struck down in their prime we can’t help but wonder about the outcome if they had lived. How would the combined talents of Tom Kettle, Tom Redmond and the 16 executed men have impacted the course of Irish history and the 1921 peace terms if they had been spared?

Kettle wrote from the Somme that if he were to live he would “spend the rest of his life working for perpetual peace.” He had enlisted for ‘Liberty’ and after being wounded insisted on returning to the Somme out of ‘Fraternity’, for his Dublin Fusiliers. The WW1 soldiers were denied ‘Equality’ in a world where ‘bumbling’ deciders sacrificed young men as fodder. Kettle described the Great War as ‘an outrage against simple men’.

In the Irish Peace Garden, Ambassador Patricia O’Brien expressed her hope in people’s ability to assemble and discuss. I hope many will have the opportunity to visit the Peace Garden and museum in Péronne, the village of Guillemont and the Ulster Tower for the pleasure of a great day out, and ‘lest we forget’ peace can never be taken for granted.

WWII PEOPLE’S WAR

Examining a UK Military Police Land Rover at Wimbledon Common

A recent stay in Wimbledon and visit to Wimbledon Common along with a visit to Gap Road cemetery made me think about what the area was like during the Second World War. One description emerges from the contents of a BBC website.

Military Land Rover

WW2 People’s War is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar’

John Ingham WW2 People’s War 6th November 2003.

The Canadian soldier in uniform paused from pushing his bike as we left Ann’s Pantry with our meagre ration of boiled sweets. “I’m on holiday. Do you know where I can stay?” he asked, cheerfully enough.

It was a sunny day in September 1940 and we were in West Place the row of old-world cottages on Wimbledon Common. Besides the sweet shop, the boss of the Roman Well Laundry lived there, and there was the yard of Hill’s, the builders, where I sometimes used to play. I accepted the soldier’s gum, “You could live in the bush house we’ve built on the Common” I answered.
He agreed without hesitation and for several mornings I would walk from my home at 4 Northview with a bowl of porridge and some apples. In return the soldier would show our gang how to make a sling tough enough to bring down wildlife for food, like he said he did in open country in Canada. He’d make whistles from a fresh sapling branch by first slipping off the bark, cutting the nicks and then sliding the bark back in place. And he’d tell us wondrous stories.

It was an idyllic time for an eight-year old boy. As yet there were no bombs. But it couldn’t last, though not because of Hitler. One morning as I carried out breakfast a policeman with two Canadian soldiers, who turned out to be armed Military Police men, asked me the question I can hear to this day. “Certainly, I’ve seen a soldier. We are looking after him in our bush house.”

They took him away and as he left escorted by the three in uniform, he gave me a glance. Only later, overhearing my parents whisper the word Deserter, did I realise what I had done. And I remember crying.

Not long afterwards my parents decided we should be evacuated and my mother hired an open lorry driven by a man named Slim. We children sat on a settee among beds and clothes. Thankfully it did not rain and the German bombers steered clear too!

We returned before the war ended, in time to shelter from incendiary bombs on the Common. The ack-ack gun by the windmill brought down a Heinkel which burned to pieces on the Royal Wimbledon Golf Course and our front window was blown in.

When the war ended our Northview gang built the biggest-ever bonfire. I still live half a mile from the actual place of this tale, and I might even find the actual bush!

ARNHEM VICTIM

Continuing the stories of servicemen buried in Wimbledon. Flight Lieutenant Douglas Buckie service no. 134731 is buried in the Netherlands. The RAF Volunteer Reserve Pilot from no.2 squadron died in an operation over Arnhem in December 1944 a few months after the Battle.

According to the Royal Canadian Air Force RCAF Aylmer website, he went to the No. 14 Service Flying Training School at Aylmer, Ontario. It was one of many built across Canada under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan during World War II.

Buckie was awarded a ‘mentioned in dispatches’ in November 1942.  I am grateful to the RCAF Aylmer source for pointing out that this information was part of their research, and not part of a Dutch WWII website where I originally accessed the information and the CWGC picture below. Further information can be found at: http://rcafaylmer.blogspot.com/

Grave of Flight Lt Douglas Buckie.  Source: CWGC Website

At Gap Road cemetery in Wimbledon, London his grandmother paid for a memorial to be erected to commemorate him, so he must have had a connection with the area.

Memorial for Flt Lt Douglas Buckie

TROOPER WILLIAM REID, GEEL

Trooper William Reid. Pic. Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry.

Remembering Trooper William Reid aged 21 from Inchicore in Dublin.

Regimental badge

A member of the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry, he was killed 75 years ago on Sunday 10th September 1944 when his C Squadron tank was hit at the Doornboom crossroads during the battle to secure the bridgehead over the Albert Canal at Geel in Belgium.

Captain John E. Mann MC

The rest of the crew, the commander Captain John E. Mann MC, Trooper Ernest Winchester and Trooper John Saunders, were also killed. All were buried by the unit’s chaplain Reverend Leslie Skinner in St Apollonia’s churchyard at Stelen two days later, where they still lie.

CWGC Cemetery Stelen Pic. Ricky van Dyck (ww2talk.com)

The padre was the first chaplain to land on the Normandy beaches on D-Day in June 1944 with the unit.
Geel is twinned with Tydavnet and Monaghan.

Grave of Trooper William Reid (ww2talk.com)

Name: REID, WILLIAM ANTHONY
Rank: Trooper
Regiment/Service: Royal Armoured Corps
Unit Text: Nottinghamshire Yeomanry
Age: 21
Date of Death: 10/09/1944
Service No: 14427894
Additional information: Son of John and Annie Reid; husband of Kathleen Reid, of Inchicore, Dublin, Ireland.
Grave/Memorial Reference: Brit. Plot, grave 15.
Cemetery: GEEL (Stelen) Churchyard

A tank of the Sherwood Foresters Yeomanry at Stationstraat Geel on 10th September 1944. Pic. Willem van Broeckhoven in ‘September Helden’ (Geerings G).

75th anniversary of Battle of Geel is marked by the Belgian Defence Forces

BRITISH CEMETERY GEEL

On the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Geel we remember those members of the Irish Guards and others buried in the CWGC cemetery in Geel.

They were killed in the advance across Belgium (following D-day in June 1944) establishing a bridgehead across the Albert and the Meuse canals in Geel in September 1944. Fourteen are buried at the CWGC British cemetery in Geel. Twelve headstones are pictured here. They include a Guardsman Simpson from Portadown Co. Armagh. Thanks for the pictures Leo Haeseldonckx We will remember them.

Guardsman E. Shearer

21 yr old Guardsman Edward Shearer (no family details) died on 14/09/44 3rd Battalion Irish Guards.

Guardsman William Simpson from Portadown

Guardsman William Simpson aged 20 from Portadown 3rd Bn Irish Guards died 07/09/44.

Guardsman J. Barlow

24 yr old Guardsman Jack Barlow from Macclesfield 3rd Bn Irish Guards died 07/09/44.

Guardsman E. J. Breslin

28 yr old Guardsman Edward Joseph Breslin 3rd Bn Irish Guards (a Donegal name).

Captain William R.R. Bruce, aged 32, 3rd Bn Irish Guards died 07/09/44.

Lance Serjeant T. Davidson

Lance Serjeant Thomas Davidson aged 29 from Nottingham 3rd Bn Irish Guards died 07/09/44.

Lance Corporal W. Houghton

Lance Corporal Wilfred Houghton, aged 24, 3rd Bn Irish Guards died 14/09/44.

Guardsman L. Hutchman

Guardsman Lawrence Hutchman aged 35 from Pontypridd 3rd Bn Irish Guards died 14/09/44.

Sgt Tom Johns aged 28 3rd Bn Irish Guards died 07/09/44.

Lt Humphrey O. C. Kennard

Lt Humphrey Oscar Coleridge Kennard from Chelsea, London 3rd Bn Irish Guards died 14/09/44.

Lance Corporal JJ O’Neill

Lance Corporal John James O’Neill aged 22 from Liverpool 3rd Bn Irish Guards died 14/09/44.

Guardsman Alan Parsons aged 22 3rd Bn Irish Guards of Tydd St Giles Cambridgeshire died 07/09/44.

Lance Serjeant John Proe

Lance Serjeant John Proe of Whiston, Lancashire aged 23 died 07/09/44 3rd Bn Irish Guards buried in Geel.

Guardsman Rudolph Edwin John Stone died 3rd Bn Irish Guards (no age or family details) died 07/09/44. We will never forget them.

BATTLE OF GEEL

Moving away from WWI to WWII but staying in Belgium, this is the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Geel. A number of commemorative events are taking place, including a weekend of re-enactments and other activities.

Belgium Remembers

The Battle of Geel occurred on 10th and 11th September 1944. Many of the British soldiers who fought in the Sherwood Rangers and other regiments such as the Irish Guards are buried in the CWGC cemetery in Geel. This town in Belgium is twinned with Tydavnet and Monaghan. I notice that one of the casualties was a Trooper Reid from Dublin. He is buried at Stelen churchyard.

Trooper William Reid from Dublin

From the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry 1939-45 page:

Remembering today….Trooper William Reid

Tpr. Reid, aged 21 from Dublin, Ireland, was killed on Sunday 10th September 1944 when his B Squadron tank was hit at the Doornboom crossroads during the battle to secure the bridgehead over the Albert Canal at Geel, Belgium.
The rest of the crew, Capt. John Mann MC, Tpr. Ernest Winchester and Tpr. John Saunders, were also killed and all were buried by Padre Leslie Skinner in Stelen churchyard two days later, where they still lie.

Geel commemoration for WWII

‘They are here!’ Remembering the liberation of Flanders by the Allies 1944/45