December 12

Day 16   YPRES-HARELBEKE

The day started in Ieper with a commemoration of Cyril Rigney by Tamika on the Menin Gate Memorial. The gate and the ramparts were covered in snow and the thousands of red paper poppies left at Remembrance Day stood out against the brilliant white backdrop.

We then travelled to Hill 60 and to the Caterpillar before heading to Zonnebeke and walking through the museum there.

As it was Wednesday, school finished early in Belgium so we made our way to Harelbeke and to one of Connecting Spirits’ most significant sites: the burial place of two very special Australians Private Rufus Gordon Rigney (the only Ngarrindjeri man lost in WW1 to have a known grave) and William Leggett (claimed to be the first Australian killed in the defence of Ypres.)

Joining us this today was a local teacher Johan Durnez OAM who has devoted his life to researching, writing about and commemorating many Commonwealth soldiers who lost their lives defending his country of Belgium. Johan was a massive support in the early years of Connecting Spirits, and we owe him and his wife Hilde a great deal. His story is included in the ‘Connecting Spirits’ book published in 2007.

Tamika presented a beautiful commemoration to Rufus Rigney. Following the commemoration to Rufus Rigney, Johan shared the story of Corporal of Horse William Leggett. Killed in action on October 14th 1914, Leggett was in the 1st Life Guards the Household Regiment of the Monarch, a unit usually reserved for those of English society and standing. It was assumed for some time that William was English hence his Australian origins remained a mystery for some time. He is the great uncle of friend of Julie Reece, John Simpson from Adelaide.

On the return to Ypres, we visited the Leggett memorial in Geluwe a remarkable sculpture designed by children in honour of William Leggett.