After lunch we were back on the road again to the St. Julian Memorial at Vancouver Corner, north-east of Ypres. This was one of the highlights of the day, for here was the famous “brooding soldier” on the site of the memorial dedicated to Canadian troops. This is where Canadians had their baptism of fire in the First World War and where they stood their ground during the first German gas attack of the war in April 1915. Of the 18,000 men in the line that day, over one in three were casualties, and one in nine died.
It wasn’t far from there to the Crest Farm Memorial at Passchendaele. Here on the slopes overlooking the peaceful fields that today carpet the valley sits a large block of Canadian granite with the following inscription:
The Canadian Corps in Oct.- Nov. 1917 advanced across this valley – then a treacherous morass – captured and held the Passchendaele Ridge.
The battle cost the Canadian Corps in excess of 15,000 casualties. Nine Victoria Crosses were awarded Canadian soldiers in this battle, more than any other in Canadian history. It is a place where one feels tremendously proud to be Canadian, but also very sad at the futility of this battle and this war. Sadly, the ridge fell into German hands again during their spring offensive in 1918.
Our next stop was the Tyne Cot Cemetery. It is the largest Commonwealth cemetery in the world with nearly 12,000 graves, and of these over 8,000 are for unknown soldiers. Many of them died taking the ridge where the cemetery now sits. Here one finds several of the original German bunkers, and the Cross of Sacrifice itself was placed on top of one of these at the suggestion of King George V. Tablets on the walls of the cemetery bear the inscribed names of over 34,000 British and New Zealand soldiers whose remains are still missing in the Ypres Salient.
Next up was the German Military Cemetery at Langemarck. While all the headstones in the Commonwealth Cemetery are white, here they are either grey or black, and it gives the place a sombre and brooding feel. This cemetery is dominated by two features. Near the entrance is the Comrades Grave, a mass grave with the remains of 44,061 German soldiers. Along the west wall are the famous Mourning Soldiers that immediately capture the eye of visitors entering the cemetery through the gatehouse. These slightly larger-than-life figures stand solemnly watching over the graves of thousands of their German comrades.
After an excellent supper of local Flanders fare with our Insight group, Sonya and I walked to the Menin Gates in time for the evening Last Post Ceremony. This has been happening every night at 8:00 p.m. in Ypres since 1928. Tonight the R.A.F. and a choir of British school children participated in the ceremony, and there was a large crowd of visitors, mostly British, gathered under the gate by the time we arrived. The traffic through the gate was stopped at 7:30 p.m., and the choir sang songs from the First World War until the buglers arrived by 7:55 p.m. They are from the local volunteer Fire Brigade. At exactly 8:00 p.m. they sounded the “Last Post” bugle call, and it was followed by a minute’s silence. Tonight there was also a wreath-laying ceremony by the R.A.F. which ended with this exhortation:
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.”
The pictures below are part of the Ypres Salient Gallery. The full gallery can be found in the Photo Gallery and here it highlights some of the shots from our afternoon in the Ypres Salient.