The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #104524   Message #2141428
Posted By: Dave Masterson
05-Sep-07 - 09:20 AM
Thread Name: BS: Ypres 90 years on
Subject: BS: Ypres 90 years on
Christopher Masterson was my great-uncle, my grandfather's younger brother. He was a Lieutenant in the 10th Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment. He was killed in action during the Third Battle of Ypres on 2nd September 1917, aged 22, and is buried at Underhill Farm Military Cemetery, south of Ypres.

Last Sunday 2nd September 2007 was the 90th anniversary of his death, and Eileen and I travelled to Belgium to commemorate the occasion. We had originally planned to drive ourselves there, but we managed to find a small tour company running WW1 battlefield tours, who were willing to tailor their itinerary to visit particular sites or cemeteries. This gave us not only the added bonus of a structured tour of the Ypres Salient, but also the services of a tour guide, whose knowledge of events added so much to the day.

To visit the various sites was an emotional experience – Passchendaele, the Messines Ridge, the Menin Road. We visited the site of the Christmas truce of 1914, where Allied and German troops exchanged greetings and played the famous football game. Then criss-crossed with trenches, now returned to a peaceful farmers field. Hill 60, one of the few preserved battle sites, and alongside it by the adjacent railway line a reminder of a later conflict. A memorial to 2 (very) young French resistance workers, captured by the Nazis while trying to destroy an ammunition train, and summarily executed by that railway line. The date… 2nd September 1944. Another anniversary.

And the cemeteries. Almost on every corner another one. Some small, some not so small. Hooge crater, Polygon Wood, Buttes New British Cemetery, Langemark German Cemetery containing a mass grave of 25,000 German soldiers, Essex Farm, and Tyne Cot with its acres and acres of graves, surrounded by a crescent wall with the names of 35,000 men whose bodies were never found. The following quote by an Australian High School student sums it up more eloquently than I ever could.

".... Rows, rows, rows, and more rows. Tyne Cot. I stood in awe. A crowd of faceless names engulfed me as I walked down the centre row. So many sons, husbands, fathers, brothers, friends & lovers. All murdered by war. So many people. It makes life seem so cheap. Disposable men. Such a waste." - Elsa Wynd.

Then on to Underhill Farm, where we laid a wreath on my great-uncles last resting place. I would have liked to have sung a song in his memory but it was out of the question. I could hardly talk, let alone sing. What struck me was the fact that, if he hadn't been killed, we would probably have met when I was a boy. Hopefully we will in a better place.

Returning to Ypres, we had just enough time to grab a quick meal before attending the Last Post ceremony, performed every evening at 8pm at the Menin Gate. When the bugler sounded the last post, surrounded by the names of a further 54,000 men with no grave, I totally lost it, and Eileen had a gibbering idiot on her hands!

What a day, with so many emotions, that I wouldn't have missed for the world.

Christopher Masterson was my great-uncle, my grandfather's younger brother.