The penultimate Ypres post - honest!? Another day, another Great War tour! First stop was Kemmel, a very picturesque little village and from its tourist info office you can get tickets for the Bayernwald German Trenches.
The very helpful lady in the office also suggested that we view the 20 minute video (in a cinema room upstairs) which explained some of the Great War history of the area and described the underground warfare that was taking place in the sector south of Ypres.
It was warm sunshine so a coffee at a nearby café was required before we set off for Bayernwald. The site was the property of a Belgian family who, after discovering German counter-mine shafts, uncovered and preserved the adjoining trenches and block houses. This was taken over in the late 90’s by the local authority and substantially restored. Like many German positions the site offers a commanding view of the surrounding countryside.
There are also some useful panoramic picture boards. Ypres can be seen on the horizon just above the ‘bolt’ on the top-right.
Next we headed to Ploegsteert - or ‘Plugstreet’ as the BEF knew it - for lunch and a well-earned glass of Passchendaele beer at one of the local estaminets. New to the site (adjacent to the memorial and cemetery) is the Plugstreet Experience 14-18. This is definitely worth a visit! But do check opening times.
This centre offers a series of films, multimedia displays and interactive information panels that give a very good description of how the war started and the key events throughout the war. It also gives more detail on what happened in the sector south of Ypres using a time-lapse 3D map showing the movement of the front lines during the war. The interactive touch-sensitive TV screens allow the visitor to navigate through a rich vein of mainly pictorial information about all aspects of the war. Plus it’s only 5 Euros!
Next we made a brief stop at the site of the 1914 football match, the info plaque includes a copy of a drawing made by Bruce Bairnsfather. It’s now a rather unassuming corn field but I believe there are plans to hold a commemorative re-match in December 2014.
A little further along the road is a cottage built on the site of a dugout – it was here that Bruce Bairnsfather drew his first ‘fragment’ cartoon and created the character of ‘Old Bill’.
Then we headed toward Mesen (formerly Messines) which stands upon a significant ridge – although this is difficult to see in the pictures.
Outside the church (where a young officer by the name of Adolf Hitler was treated for wounds!) is an outline of New Zealand. This a tribute from the inhabitants to the NZ forces that captured the village in 1917.
Adjacent to the map is a monument to NZ Rifleman Samuel Frickleton VC, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry during the battle.
Rounded the day off with a visit to the NZ Memorial which commemorates the achievements of the NZ division in capturing the ridge and the village as part of the attack on the 7 June 1917.
On this memorial I find the line "from the uttermost ends of the earth" particularly poignant.
I tried out the panorama function on my new phone so hopefully you can get some idea of the hill up which the Kiwis had to attack, plus how clear the view might have been for the German defenders of Messines.