This town became an army ‘hub’ for the Ypres salient with all of the men and supplies taking the road east to Ypres. Hundreds of thousands of men passed through here but around a quarter would not make the return journey. Although within range of the larger German guns Poperinge was a relief for many men offering as it did a chance to get clean, enjoy a meal and maybe enjoy "more" besides!
However, Poperinge of 1914-18 had a darker side too. It was here that soldiers awaiting the firing squad were held. The ‘death cells’ can be visited and include an some rather moving information about a few of the poor souls that spent their last night there. The walls of one of the cells still show some of the graffiti left by those awaiting execution. In the adjacent courtyard is a post against which soldiers were stood.
It was all rather chilling and to be honest I was glad to be back out in the sunshine!
Next on the agenda was Talbot House.
This astonishing place was opened in 1915 by Army Chaplain Philip ‘Tubby’ Clayton with the aim of a being a home from home for all ranks; an “Everyman’s Club” as they described it. It was a place where rank was set aside and men could simply be friends, drink tea (it was a ‘dry’ house), sing, relax in the garden away from the front line. Tubby also held church services in the loft which was converted in to a chapel. The ‘guide’ was very welcoming and even offers cups of tea to visitors!
The first part of the tour is very much like a traditional museum with plenty of very interesting information about the lives of the soldiers who visited the house, extracts from diaries and letters, etc. Some of this is even quite amusing at times! Note – visitors can make use of an iPad which senses your location and gives you a guided tour.
Some of the extracts from the ‘Wipers Times’ really made me chuckle
Here’s Tubby’s room much as it would have looked at the time.
The original piano!!
Toc H as it was also known (‘Toc’ being the Great War era radio sign for the letter ‘T’) must have been a lifeline for many soldiers in an age when psychiatric health was poorly understood and usually ignored. Talbot House is definitely well worth a visit.
After a spot lunch the warm sunshine bathing the town square we headed to the Hop Museum. As you may know Belgium is rightly famous for its high quality beers so the growing of hops is regarded with some importance. Here’s the display of a wide range of beers from across Belgium.
Now, to be honest, the museum is packed with more information about hop farming than you can possibly take in, and it was actually rather … er … boring! Best avoided. There wasn’t even any beer you could have a taste of!!
Next went headed out to Lijssenthoek, site of a very large army hospital, or Casualty Clearing Station. The hospital became a centre of expertise in the gruesome business of patching up broken bodies, pioneering new medical techniques. During the war it treated approx. 300,000 soldiers but around 3% did not survive and were buried in the adjacent cemetery; that’s more than 10,700 burials.
It has a new visitors centre which is well worth seeing as it gives some details of how the site developed, what went on from a medical point of view, how casualties were managed, etc.
It also has a ‘timeline’ display that shows how many soldiers it treated throughout the war. Naturally the peaks are associated with major actions in the Ypres sector.
One of the displays gave details of some of the soldiers who had died on that particular day of the year. We visited on the 17th April. Printing out the details showed the following.
So we decided to find this chap’s grave.
Finally, the last post at the Menin Gate. It’s always very crowded so get there early.
That’s for my series of posts on Ypres. I hope you found them interesting.
Lest we forget.