First stop of the day was at Langemarck German Cemetery.
The graves are a mix of named soldiers or sometimes just a marker for 10, 15 or 20 unknown Germans. The concrete blocks show the names of divisions or brigades. There are also a couple of restored block houses – I assume they are restored as they show little signs of damage.
Spookily, the trees outside had very recently been given a Spring pruning but I couldn’t help but be reminded of the blasted woodlands from war time photos.
There is also a large mass grave containing almost 25,000 soldiers, of whom nearly 8,000 are unknown. The stones around the edge list the names of the known in tiny engraving.
As with all such places it’s very sombre but also very tidily maintained. The main entrance building contains a monument to the ‘student’ soldiers killed in the First Battle of Ypres, 1914. Worth a visit to pay our respects to the former “enemy”.
Next, Poelecapelle CWGC cemetery.
The youngest known soldier to be killed in action is buried here, Pte J Condon of the Royal Irish Regiment.
Aged just 14. Yes, you read that correctly.
Inside there are displays about uniforms, artefacts, descriptions of the various actions in the area, the tunnelling campaign, organisation of the forces, etc. Very visual and ideal for a variety of interest levels as you could read more detail if required, or not.
Quite why the British officer is shown with a picnic basket at his feet is not clear? Anyway, here’s a geophone – used to listen in tunnels for sounds of enemy mining.
Outside they have some re-constructed trenches.
The purpose of these is to demonstrate the various techniques used to build the trenches – very informative. All in all, a very good museum and well worth a visit.
Final stop of the day was at Tyne Cot Cemetery.
Since our last visit in ’97 a new visitors centre has been added and it’s superb. Within, the audio-visual displays (along with real artefacts such as letters, school reports and other papers) tell the stories of a number of individuals buried there. It’s quite emotional, especially reading the personal correspondence. When you read about battles saying that x-thousand men died it is awful but impersonal, when you read letters from loved ones enquiring about what happened – often long afterwards – it is very moving indeed. They really are just like us.
This is the memorial at Tyne Cot to the New Zealand soldiers who fell in the battles of Broodseinde and First Passchedaele but have no known graves.