BURIAL AT WYTSCHAETE

This article is about the burial today of the remains of 13 British and Commonwealth soldiers from the First World War whose remains were found in Flanders’ fields at Wytschaete near Ieper. We will remember them.

The article is published in The Guardian newspaper.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/oct/10/first-world-wars-pompeii-burial-for-british-soldiers-found-in-flemish-field

ROYAL MUNSTER FUSILIERS

Royal Munster Fusiliers Memorial Ieper

Behind St Martin’s Cathedral in Ieper there is a Celtic cross that forms a memorial for the Royal Munster Fusiliers soldiers who died in World War One.

Royal Munster Fusiliers Memorial Ieper

A tricolour flies from a flagpole alongside the monument to mark its connection with Ireland and Co. Cork in particular. The plaque contains the coat of arms for Munster (the three antique crowns of the medieval lordships).

The symbol of Munster engraved on the memorial in Ieper

It reads: “In memory of those men of Munster who died fighting for freedom. A tribute erected by the people of the province and Cork its capital city.”

A tribute from Cork and Munster

There is also a similar inscription in Irish and one in French, where two wreaths had been laid.

Inscription in French

The Irish version of the English inscription reads as follows:

Irish inscription, Royal Munster Fusiliers Memorial

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

WREATH LAYING, IEPER

Wreath laying by Michael Fisher at Last Post ceremony in Ieper

The highlight of our five day visit to Flanders was to attend the daily Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate memorial in Ieper. Buglers from the local fire brigade sound the Last Post at 8pm. It’s a tradition that was started after the end of WWI in July 1928.

Charles Wills placed a wreath in memory of soldiers from Co. Mayo

One wreath was laid by Charles Wills from Foxford in memory of Irish soldiers in the British Army who were from Co. Mayo.

Laurel wreath in memory of those soldiers from Ireland who died in WWI

I laid a laurel wreath with a tricolour ribbon attached in memory of all those soldiers from the island of Ireland who died in the 1914-18 conflict.

Waiting to lay the wreath

Along with Charles we waited in line behind some former British soldiers and a group from the Orange Order in Scotland for our turn to lay the wreaths at the memorial.

Laying a wreath in memory of those soldiers from Co. Mayo killed in WWI

The wreaths laid at the Last Post ceremony

Placing a wreath at the Menin Gate memorial

Our group at the Menin Gate following the ceremony

It was a fitting end to a very busy day visiting some of the CWGC cemeteries in Flanders around Ieper. We will remember them.

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

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.