WWII TEXEL MEMORIAL

Texel memorial for USAF B-17 crew

I cycled past this stone today on the Dutch island of Texel. I discovered that it was a memorial in memory of a group of US Air Force men who were killed when their B-17 bomber crashed on April 1945. A plaque beside the stone records the names of the eight crew members who were killed. Two others survived.

The stone is located beside a cycle path (6) at Watermolenweg, Den Hoorn, en route to the ferry port for Den Helder at ‘t Horntje.

Information via website tracesofwar.com F. Wibbeke.

POPERINGE

Poperinge war memorial

Poperinge or simply ‘Pop’ as the Tommies referred to it is a village about eight miles west of Ieper in West Flanders. The region is famous for growing hops.

Sint Bertinuskerk tower with carillon

During World War One the town was one of only two in Belgium not under German occupation. It was used to billet British troops and also provided a safe area for field hospitals. Known familiarly as “Pop”, it was just behind the front line and formed an important link for the soldiers and their families, especially through the rest house known as Talbot House (or “Toc-H“). A grim reminder of that time remains within the town hall, where two death cells are preserved, and outside in the courtyard, where there is a public execution post used by firing squads.

Another reminder is the location of a number of military cemeteries on the outskirts of the town with the graves of Canadian, British, Australian, French, German, US servicemen and men of the Chinese Labour Corps. One of these is Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery for soldiers who had been wounded near Ypres and later died in the large Allied casualty clearing stations located in the area.

Ginger sculpture in Market Square Poperinge

A new statue on the market place brings Eliane Cossey or “Ginger” back to Poperinge. Ginger was a red haired girl that worked at the La Poupée café and had a mesmerising effect on many soldiers. An initiative that bring “Little Paris” back to life.

Poperinge Town Hall

Willie Redmond MP wrote in his war diary about Ginger’s: “A cheery spot it is, bedecked with the flags of the Allied nations. All the appointments of the place ara good: clean cloths upon the little tea-tables, little bunches of flowers here and there, and altogether an air of brightness and comfort about. Very grateful indeed to eyes weary of the drab dismalness of trench and hut. In the hours of the afternoon the tea-room is crowded with officers from various units, and it is of interest to observe that they represent very often branches of the army in the field from almost every corner of the Empire.

ALL THE FINE YOUNG MEN

Turning back to the huge Tyne Cot CWGC memorial. My friend Noeleen Berry from Dublin went there on a similar visit to mine in April this year. She immediately thought of Mary Black’s version of the Eric Bogle song ‘All the Fine Young Men’ and this video is the result. The song starts a few seconds into the video.

ALL THE FINE YOUNG MEN

Eric Bogle / Munro
They told all the fine young men,
“Ah, when this war is over,
There will be peace,
And the peace will last forever.”
In Flanders Fields,
At Lone Pine and Bersheeba,
For king and country,
Honour and for duty,
The young men fought and cursed and wept and died.They told all the fine young men,
“Ah, when this war is over,
In your country’s grateful heart
We will cherish you forever.”
Tobruk and Alamein,
Bhuna and Kokoda,
In a world mad with war,
Like their fathers before,
The young men fought and cursed and wept and died.For many of those fine young men
All the wars are over,
They’ve found their peace,
It’s the peace that lasts forever.
When the call comes again,
They will not answer,
They’re just forgotten bones,
Lying far from their homes,
Forgotten as the cause for which they died.
Ah, Bluey, can you see now why they lied?

ST MARTIN’S CATHEDRAL

St Martin’s Cathedral, Ieper

St Martin’s Cathedral (Flemish: Sint-Maartenskathedraal), also called St Martin’s Church (Sint-Maartenskerk), is a church and former cathedral in the city of Ypres. It was a cathedral and the seat of the former diocese of Ypres from 1561 to 1801, and is still commonly referred to as such. It is among the tallest buildings in Belgium at 102m (335ft) tall.

Corner of Square leading to the Cloth Hall, Ieper

Construction started on the church in 1230, and was finished in 1370. There had previously been a Romanesque church in the area, dating from the 10th or 11th century.

Side of Cathedral

After the 1801 Concordat between Napoléon and Pope Pius VII, Ypres was incorporated into the diocese of Ghent and Saint Martin’s lost its status as a cathedral. As with many former cathedrals (pro-Cathedrals), it is often still referred to as a cathedral by locals.

Main entrance to St Martin’s Cathedral, Ieper

It suffered heavy damage during the Great War. Subsequently (1922–1930) the ruin was cleared and the church was entirely rebuilt following the original plans, although the tower was built with a higher spire than the original.

St Martin’s Cathedral

Cornelius Jansen, the father of the theological movement Jansenism, was Bishop of Ypres from 1635 to 1638. He is buried in the cathedral. Count Robert III of Flanders, popularly known as The Lion of Flanders, is also buried there.

St Martin’s Cathedral, Ieper

Because a funeral Mass was about to start and the bell was tolling as we arrived at the church, it was not officially open for visits. But joining a short queue at the main entrance and going into the Cathedral we paid our respects to the deceased whose remains were resting in a coffin at the back of the church, then remained standing at the doors to say a few prayers whilst taking in the vast interior. This seems to be a local custom. The mourners and undertaker must have wondered who we were gatecrashing a funeral….!

ST GEORGE’S: IRISH LINKS

Campbell College plaque

Seat covers with badges of different Regiments including Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers

Window with Campbell College plaque alongside

Memorial window North Irish Horse

Memorial window with regimental badges

Wreath for Royal Dublin Fusiliers

Memorial window Capt Thomas O’Donel MC from Newport Co. Mayo

FLANDERS DAY FIVE

Ieper Cloth Hall

Day five, the final day of our visit to Flanders. After an exhausting fourth day that turned out to be a record heatwave, we started exploring some places near the centre of Ieper where we were staying.

Ieper St George’s Church

St George’s Church which I will cover in a separate article is a Church of England (Anglican) place of worship. It contains several interesting memorials, some with Irish connections.

St George’s Church, Ieper (Ypres)

Close to St Martin’s Catholic Church (former Cathedral) where there was once a monastery, there was a building site where the façade was being carefully preserved. Large steel girders propped up the beautiful brickwork. It made me think of how the shell of Castleblayney Market House was being treated. In Belgium much more attention seemed to be given to preserving the old alongside the new.

Ieper building site

At the rear of the Cathedral, where a funeral Mass was being held, we came across a Celtic cross with a tricolour flying. This is a memorial for the Royal Munster Fusiliers (more later).

Memorial for the Royal Munster Fusiliers in Ieper

We moved on to the village of Poperinge where the TOC-H house is situated.

Poperinge

Our final stop on the way back to Brussels Airport at Zaventem was in Ghent. Unfortunately we did not have time to stop at the site of the Battle of Waterloo (Westerlo) as planned. But it is a site I have visited before.

Canal at Ghent

FLANDERS DAY ONE

Visit to WWI graves in Flanders. First and last shots of the Great War. Our group of six left Brussels Airport and headed for Mons. At this spot at Casteau, the British Expeditionary Force engaged with the Germans, firing the first shots on 22nd August 1914.

The memorial near Mons where the first shots were fired in August 1914

Major Tom Bridges, commander of C Squadron, 4th Battalion of the Royal Irish Dragoon Guards was on reconnaissance near Mons when he saw a German advance mounted guard and gave chase with his horsemen. During the pursuit Corporal Thomas became the first British soldier to fire a shot in anger in continental Europe since the battle of Waterloo (near Brussels) 100 years earlier.

This stone monument was unveiled on 20th August 1939 at the spot where Thomas had set off to chase four German cavalrymen. Thomas was a career soldier who had enlisted at the age of 14. He survived the war and was awarded the Military Medal.

Opposite this memorial is a bronze plaque marking the spot where troops of the 116th Canadian Infantry Battalion stopped on Armistice Day, 11th November 1918, during the liberation of Mons. The plaque was unveiled on 7th July 1956. For the British Empire, the War had ended at the precise spot where it had started four years earlier.

At a crossroads at La Bascule outside Mons there is a Celtic cross. The limestone monument, five metres high, is dedicated to the 2nd battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment, which recruited in the south-east counties of Wexford, Waterford, Tipperary and Kilkenny.

The inscription at the base reads: “To the glory of God and to the memory of the men and officers of the Royal Irish Regiment (18th Foot) who fell during the Great War 1914-1918. Near this spot the 2nd Battalion commenced operations on 23rd August 1914 and finished on 11th November 1918 after being decimated on four occasions.”

The cross is located at exactly the point where a motley outfit of cooks, store men, drivers and dispatch riders, about 50 in all, from the 2nd Royal Irish Regiment, held up the German advance for several hours. Machen had read newspaper reports of the battle and set his story in the Mons salient where the battalion made its gallant stand.

The soldier who inspired the story of the angels of Mons was Quartermaster Sergeant Thomas William Fitzpatrick from Enniscorthy, Co Wexford. Sensing the danger, it was he who gathered together the little band of Irish brothers to man a trench were the cross now stands. From there, they held up the German advance for hours.

He wrote his own gripping account of events that day more than 40 years later. “I saw no Mons angels,” he wrote in The Old Contemptible journal in 1955. “I honestly think that not one of my men had the faintest idea what they were fighting for. In fact, I was not sure myself – which illustrates the unconquerable spirit of the British soldier of that day – the Irish soldier in our case.” (Ronan McGreevy, The Irish Times, August 2016).

Celtic Cross at La Bascule near Mons