ST GEORGE’S, IEPER

Baptismal font at St George’s Church Ieper

St George’s is an Anglican Church within the Church of England’s Diocese in Europe. The Diocesan Bishop is the Lord Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe who shares his responsibilities with the Suffragan Bishop in Europe.

St George’s is a Pilgrimage Church for the many thousands of people who visit the World War One sites of the Ypres Salient Battlefields. There is a small resident congregation who live in Ypres and surrounding area of Belgium and Lille in northern France.

St George’s Church Ieper

Figure of a ‘Tommy’ among the pews

Here the congregation offer Christian worship and prayer in the Anglican tradition to be ‘still in the presence of the Lord’ in a place filled with the memorials of stained glass, brass and stone, to those who fought for peace and justice, who gave their lives for their country in two World Wars.

The Church welcomes tourists. pilgrims and school students from many countries, churches and world faiths. The pastors are committed to ecumenical partnerships working together with fellow Christians.

Exterior wall of St George’s Church Ieper

Memorial for British Army 1914 commander Field Marshal French

The team minister to the British Community, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and to all who enter the Church.

Memorial crosses and wreaths at St George’s Church Ieper

The Church gives Christian burial to the recovered remains of soldiers of the Great War (1914—1918), some known. others known only to God. The Church is a house of God and a place of remembrance.

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

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

POELKAPELLE CEMETERY

Poelkapelle Military Cemetery

Poelkapelle cemetery is the third largest Commonwealth Graves Commission cemetery in the Westhoek area near Ieper in Belgium.

New Zealand soldiers are buried at Poelkapelle

Among the soldiers buried there are some from New Zealand.

The great majority of the graves in this cemetery date from the last five months of 1917, and in particular October, but certain plots contain many graves of 1914 and 1915.

There are now 7,479 Commonwealth servicemen of the First World War buried or commemorated in Poelkapelle British Cemetery. Of the burials, 6230 are unidentified but special memorials commemorate eight casualties known or believed to be buried among them.

Other special memorials commemorate 24 servicemen buried by the Germans in other burial grounds in the area whose graves could not be located. There is also one burial dating from the Second World War.

The cemetery was designed by Charles Holden. Among those buried in the cemetery is Private John Condon of the Royal Irish Regiment, who at 14 is thought to be the youngest battle casualty of the First World War commemorated by the Commonwealth Graves Commission.

FRANCIS LEDWIDGE

Francis Ledwidge (museum picture)

Visited the grave of Lance Corporal Francis Ledwidge, the poet from Slane, Co. Meath.

Visiting the grave of Lance Cpl Francis Ledwidge

The cottage outside Slane where Ledwidge lived is now a museum

Francis Ledwidge was fatally wounded in 1917 at Boezinge near Ieper in Flanders. We also saw his grave nearby. Ledwidge was also known as a poet and came from Slane, Co. Meath.

Grave of Lance Corporal Francis Ledwidge

Ledwidge seems to have fitted into Army life well, and rapidly achieved promotion to Lance Corporal. In 1915, he saw action at Suvla Bay in the Dardanelles, where he suffered severe rheumatism. Having survived huge losses sustained by his company in the Battle of Gallilopoli, he became ill after a back injury on a tough mountain journey in Serbia (December 1915), a locale which inspired a number of poems.

Ledwidge was dismayed by the news of the Easter Rising, and was court-martialled and demoted for overstaying his home leave and being drunk in uniform (May 1916). He gained and lost stripes over a period in Derry (he was a corporal when the introduction to his first book was written), and then, returned to the front, received back his lance corporal’s stripe one last time in January 1917 when posted to the Western Front joining the 1st Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, part of the 29th Division.

A memorial with an Irish flag marks the spot where Ledwidge died

On 31 July 1917, a group from Ledwidge’s battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers were road-laying in preparation for an assault during the Third Battle of Ypres, near the village of Boezinge, northwest of Ieper. While Ledwidge was drinking tea in a mud hole with his comrades, a shell exploded alongside, killing the poet and five others. A chaplain who knew him, Father Devas, arrived soon after, and recorded “Ledwidge killed, blown to bits.”

The poems Ledwidge wrote on active service revealed his pride at being a soldier, as he believed, in the service of Ireland. He wondered whether he would find a soldier’s death. The dead were buried at Carrefour de Rose, and later re-interred in the nearby Artillery Wood Cemetery (CWGC), Boezinge, (where the Welsh poet, Hedd Wyn, killed on the same day, is also buried). A stone tablet commemorates him in the Island of Ireland Peace Park, Messines (Mesen) in Belgium.

LIVERPOOL PALS

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Liverpool Pals Memorial

The Liverpool Pals were battalions of Pals who joined the British Army togerher and formed up during the First World War as part of the King’s (Liverpool) Regiment. Along with the Manchester Pals, they are commemorated at a small memorial at Montauban in France. They captured the village on 1st July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

Liverpool Pals Memorial

The Liverpool Pals consisted of:

    • 17th (Service) Battalion – 1st City, formed at Liverpool by Lord Derby on 29th August 1914;
    • 18th (Service) Battalion – 2nd City, formed at Liverpool, 29th August 1914 by Lord Derby;
    • 19th (Service) Battalion – 3rd City, formed at Liverpool, 29th August 1914 by Lord Derby;
    • 20th (Service) Battalion – 4th City, formed at Liverpool, 16th October 1914 by Lord Derby;
    • 21st (Reserve) Battalion – formed at Knowsley Park, August 1915 from depot companies of 17th and 18th Battalions;
    • 22nd (Reserve) Battalion – formed at Knowsley Park, August 1915 from depot companies of 19th and 20th Battalions.                        Further information on the Liverpool Pals can be found on this website:          http://thebignote.com/2016/07/03/a-brief-stop-in-montauban-the-liverpool-manchester-pals-memorial/

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      Jersey Pals Memorial near Guillemont

Ian Ronayne’s story of the 326 volunteers known as the Jersey Pals can be found here.

  • Countryside around Ginchy

    “The Pals battalions began in a communal spirit of patriotism and camaraderie. They left behind communities saturated with loss.” See Andrew Knighton’s article in War History Online.

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    Jersey Pals Memorial near Guillemont

MAJOR WILLIE REDMOND

Major Willie Redmond of the Royal Irish Regiment was killed on the first day of the Battle of Messiness on 7th June 1917. He is buried at Locre (Loker) but in a separate grave alongside the British military cemetery at Locre Hospice.

The grave is marked by a stone cross, paid for by his family from Wexford. Someone has left a Wexford flag at the foot of the memorial as a reminder of the county of his birth.

Beside the grave there is a wooden structure containing a statue of Our Lady and a repository where the visitors’ book is kept.

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Locre Hospice Cemetery(CWGC) is beside the site where Major Redmond is buried

The following details about Major Redmond are taken from an article in Irish Legal News 05/04/19 by Seosamh Gráinséir:

“A famous Irish nationalist, William Hoey Kearney Redmond came from a (Catholic gentry) family of parliamentarians. His father, William Archer Redmond, was a Member of Parliament in Westminster for the Home Rule Party. His older brother, John Edward Redmond, was a Member of Parliament and leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party.

On 24th March 1884, Willie himself was sworn in as a new MP for his father’s old constituency, Wexford Borough, at the age of twenty-two. During his thirty-three years as an MP, Willie went on to represent Fermanagh North for seven years after the Wexford Borough constituency was abolished, and then East Clare for 25 years. Willie was succeeded in that constituency by Éamon de Valera, who won the by-election triggered by Willie’s death.

Like his father and brother, Willie was a passionate supporter of Home Rule, which he said was necessary because the Union “has depopulated our country, has fostered sectarian strife, has destroyed our industries and ruined our liberties”. An ardent opponent to landlords, Willie had been imprisoned a number of times for his work with the Land League agitation (Denman 1995).

Having served with the Royal Irish Regiment for a couple of years after finishing school, Willie was described as having always been a “soldier at heart”, the “spirit of comradeship and discipline” having appealed to him. When the Great War broke out in August 1914, he had already been involved with the Irish Volunteers. But he believed that if Germany won the war, Ireland was endangered too. Intent on joining the Royal Irish Regiment again and troubled by the idea of recruiting for the war effort without joining the fight himself, he wrote: “I can’t stand asking fellows to go and not offer myself”.

In this vein, Willie told the Irish Volunteers assembled outside the Imperial Hotel in Cork in November 1914: ‘I speak as a man who bears the name of a relation who was hanged in Wexford in ‘98 – William Kearney. I speak as a man with all the poor ability at his command has fought the battle for self-government for Ireland. Since the time – now thirty-two years ago – when I lay in Kilmainham Prison with Parnell. No man who is honest can doubt the single-minded desire of myself and men like me to do what is right for Ireland. And when it comes to the question – as it may come – of asking young Irishmen to go abroad and fight this battle, when I am personally convinced that the battle of Ireland is to be fought where many Irishmen now are – in Flanders and France – old as I am, and grey as are my hairs, I will say: ‘Don’t go, but come with me!’”

(Terence Denman, A Lonely Grave: The Life and Death of William Redmond, Irish Academic Press 1995).

House of Commons WWI Memorial with name of Major W. Redmond MP

Redmond is commemorated on Panel 8 of the Parliamentary War Memorial in Westminster Hall, one of 22 MPs who died during World War I to be named there. He is one of 19 MPs who fell in the war who are commemorated by heraldic shields in the Commons Chamber. A further act of commemoration came with the unveiling in 1932 of a manuscript-style illuminated book of remembrance for the House of Commons, which includes a short biographical account of the life and death of Redmond.

The people of Loker continue to attend to his symbolic grave with great respect, organising Commemorations, the last in 1967 (organised by a Catholic priest Father Debevere) and in 1997 (organised by Erwin Ureel), refusing to allow the grave to be moved. Redmond’s Bar, an Irish pub in nearby Loker, is named after him. I enjoyed a nice bottle of local Belgian beer (Hommelbier from Poperinge) that went down well with a mackerel salad and chips.

In Wexford town there is a bust of him by Oliver Sheppard in Redmond Park which was formally opened as a memorial to him in 1931 in the presence of a large crowd including many of his old friends and comrades and political representatives from all parts of Ireland. It was re-launched by the Wexford Borough Council in 2002.

An official wreath laying ceremony took place at Redmond’s grave on 19th December 2013, when the Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD and British Prime Minister David Cameron MP paid tribute to him. Enda Kenny reflected: “The thought crossed my mind standing at the grave of Willie Redmond, that was why we have a European Union and why I’m attending a European Council” (Lise Hand, The Irish Independent 19/12/2013).