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BS: Ypres 90 years on

05 Sep 07 - 09:20 AM (#2141428)
Subject: BS: Ypres 90 years on
From: Dave Masterson

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.

05 Sep 07 - 09:36 AM (#2141452)
Subject: RE: BS: Ypres 90 years on
From: skipy

Just last night we went to see the stageplay "Voices" from one of the books by Max Arthur, well worth a look.

05 Sep 07 - 11:03 AM (#2141545)
Subject: RE: BS: Ypres 90 years on
From: Wolfgang

Thanks for sharing that experience. Moving to read.


05 Sep 07 - 12:20 PM (#2141616)
Subject: RE: BS: Ypres 90 years on
From: alanabit

I have often come across evidence of the "smaller" tragedies - of which there were thousands - which altogether comprised the bigger tragedy. Even the leaders and participents could not really take in the whole scale of it. It is only really the personal memories and associations, which make it tangible.
Thanks for that post Dave.

05 Sep 07 - 11:02 PM (#2142073)
Subject: RE: BS: Ypres 90 years on
From: diesel

I'm coincidently in the middle of reading a book (titled 1918) on the final year of the war, full of accounts from the lines. Constantly amazed and appalled at the slaughter. The voices of the ordinary soldier ring out loud through the pages. Some time ago - another book brought a whole new literary perspective - Sebastian Faulk's 'Birdsong'. If ever a book could bring alive the hardship and terror of war - I recommend this.

I keep trying to get across to my eldest the scale of what happened, hoping we never have to live it.

Thanks for sharing the feelings and emotions.


06 Sep 07 - 02:27 AM (#2142157)
Subject: RE: BS: Ypres 90 years on
From: alanabit

A couple of weeks back, I was at the Imperial War Museum. I went through the exhibit, which tried to recreate, "The Trench Experience". Of course, there was no way to include the noise, the filth, the screams, the boredom, the terror and all the other things the men were expected to endure. Yet somehow, just the smell of the rubber took you that little bit closer. Hand written letters. Real men writing about the normal mundane aspects of life - pretending they were on holiday... I bet there are still letters like that coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. No wonder those men sincerely hoped that their war would end all wars.

06 Sep 07 - 03:30 AM (#2142169)
Subject: RE: BS: Ypres 90 years on
From: Ruth Archer

Lester Simpson has created a lovely stage show called "Standing in Line" - you may know the song through June Tabor's cover of it on her latest album. He's written this and a number of other songs commemorating the life and death of his great uncle, Albert Scrimshaw, who was also killed at Ypres. Through telling one man's story, he brings the Great War to life.

The show contains live music, images, and contributions from the director of the "In Flanders Fields" museum in Ypres:

In Flanders Fields Museum

It's touring this autumn to commemorate the 90th anniversary of Passchendale. It comes to Loughborough Town Hall on 5 November.

06 Sep 07 - 04:23 AM (#2142205)
Subject: RE: BS: Ypres 90 years on
From: Keith A of Hertford

I have never met anyone who regretted visiting those fields, or who was not moved by the experience.
If you have not been and were planning a city break weekend, give it a thought.

06 Sep 07 - 07:37 AM (#2142284)
Subject: RE: BS: Ypres 90 years on
From: Brakn

My wife and I went about five years ago to Bruges and also got on a small tour bus; the tour guide was excellent. We found her great uncle's name on the Menin Gates. We went to Hill 60 where another great uncle lost one of his legs. (we couldn't find it ;-( )

Without doubt a very moving place to go and every school should sent their kids there at least once.

I would also recommend Sebastian Faulk's 'Birdsong'. Great book.

06 Sep 07 - 10:13 AM (#2142388)
Subject: RE: BS: Ypres 90 years on
From: Scooby Doo

Dave i was in Ypres last year and i want back in my thoughts to how those poor men fought.I also saw the gate in Ypres with all who had died.It was a very humble feeling to be there where all those men and boys lost their lives.


06 Sep 07 - 10:54 AM (#2142422)
Subject: RE: BS: Ypres 90 years on
From: GUEST,Ralphie

Just an aside, but an eery one.
My partner and I go annually to Ypres for a music weekend with "The Belgiums" (Trommelfute, Kadrilj etc)
And on one of our first trips, we attended the Menin gate Last Post ceremony.
As the last post was being played, I scanned the thousands of names engraved on the wall.
They are listed in terms of regiments, and alphabetically,
My surname is Jordan, My partners surname is Kelly, and as the strains of the Last Post died away, I noticed a Jordan, and a Kelly listed underneath.
Obviously, these poor guys were not related to either of us, but, I felt a distinct chill, and it brought home the enormity of what must have happened all those years ago.
And, I'm always amazed that the town still appears to be hundreds of years old, but was in fact completely rebuilt after the Great War.
I would thoroughly reccommend if you're in that part of the world, to visit the town.
And, as Ruth A has said, check out Coope Boyes and Simpson products for more contextual songs and tunes. They have been intimately involved in the whole Flemish scene for many a year.
Regards Ralphie

06 Sep 07 - 10:55 AM (#2142423)
Subject: RE: BS: Ypres 90 years on
From: van lingle

A few years back Winston Groom produced "A Storm in Flanders: The Ypres Salient 1914-18" which I thought was a very readable and moving account of that whole tragic experience.
Thanks for you post, Dave and thanks to all for the other book recommendations here.

06 Sep 07 - 01:50 PM (#2142570)
Subject: RE: BS: Ypres 90 years on
From: Gulliver

I'd like to go there one day. Read quite a bit on WW1, from the likes of Henry Williamson
among others. My grandfather survived the Dardanelles and Passchendaele, his father
survived the Crimean War, my other grandfather survived Colenso, Tugela, etc. in the Boer War.
Other family members were killed. Time to end all that...


06 Sep 07 - 03:54 PM (#2142677)
Subject: RE: BS: Ypres 90 years on
From: Blindlemonsteve

Last year, I had to deliver some furniture from Valencia to Blackpool, I decided that it was probably easier to drive to Zeebrugge and get an overnight ferry to Hull, then drive across the U.K, it was August, so i took my 14 year old son with me, we made good progress and as we arrived in the Ypres region we were well ahead of schedule, i decided this would be a great time to stop and let him see a ww1 cemetry, we found a beautiful little cemetry, the sun was shining, people were working in a factory behind us, as we walked around, my son went by himself, he stopped at 2 graves, they were 2 young lads who had died on May 19th, his birthday, 1 was 17, the other 19, just a few years older than himself, its hard to explain the look on his face and the realisation of what they gave, i had tears in my eyes as we walked out, i put my arm around him and told him there was no greater time to let him know how much he was loved..... probably one of the greatest days in my life....

06 Sep 07 - 06:40 PM (#2142819)
Subject: RE: BS: Ypres 90 years on
From: skipy

Tears! for last post, not a pun,

07 Sep 07 - 02:03 AM (#2143054)
Subject: RE: BS: Ypres 90 years on
From: Gurney

My mother's father was 'lucky' in that engagement, he caught 'a blighty one' and lost half his hand. There would have been so many people who would have been glad to get 29/30ths of their man back.

He'd never talk about the war.

07 Sep 07 - 04:00 AM (#2143100)
Subject: RE: BS: Ypres 90 years on
From: Brakn

Lovely post Blindlemonsteve.

07 Sep 07 - 05:46 AM (#2143137)
Subject: RE: BS: Ypres 90 years on
From: GUEST, Sminky

There was a fascinating (UK) TV documentary recently in which a forensic lip-reader was asked to analyse what was being said on those grainy, monochrome snippets of film taken at the time.

In one particular scene, a group of Lancastrians were huddled in a ditch, ready to go over the top on what was the first day of the Somme.

One soldier turned to his mate and, according to the lip-reader, said "I hope I'm not in the wrong place at the wrong time".

07 Sep 07 - 05:58 AM (#2143144)
Subject: RE: BS: Ypres 90 years on
From: GUEST, Sminky

On a personal note, my grandfather made it, though poison gas left him permanently deaf. My grandmother's nephew, Norman Fowler Wilson, was not so lucky.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

RIP Norman. And thanks.

You can search for your relatives here.

07 Sep 07 - 09:17 AM (#2143234)
Subject: RE: BS: Ypres 90 years on
From: Rumncoke

My mother's mother was married twice, had two children by her first husband, who died at the Somme.

She married again and had had a baby when her husband was shot in the right arm and then gassed at the first aid post.

He survived because he was naturally left handed and could unpack, put on and fix his gas mask in time, whilst other men died around him. The medics tended to group men with similar wounds together - in this case not a good idea.

The two younger children died of diptheria, but her husband returned home after recouperating, and they had seven more children, but he did not see the last one as he died of pneumonia shortly before she was born.

Just to put things in context - the influenza epidemic after the war killed more people than the fighting - and it was a strain which tended to kill the younger, stronger people rather than the older generation.

If, at the time of The Great War, there had been vaccines and antibiotics available many many more people would have survived. That so many did die was not just due to gas, bombs and bullets.