Wednesday 8th December Poperinghe and Talbot House.
Today we had a later start as it would be late in the evening when we returned from Talbot House. The day started with Amanda commemorating her relative, Archibald Amber, at the Belgian Battery Corner Cemetery. We then made our way to Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery. This is a hospital cemetery that contains over 9000 graves making it second only to Tyne Cot in size. Unlike most of the others we visit, almost very grave has a name inscribed on the headstone; there are only 24 unknown graves. The size of this place is awe inspiring, and when you look at the dates on the headstones you see a pattern. In many cemeteries there are clusters of dates that coincide with battles that raged in that area, but in this cemetery you can follow the calendar. For every day of the year there are graves that represent deaths on that date. You can walk past headstones from most of 1915, all of 1916 and 1917 and most of 1918 and not miss one day. We had two commemorations there, Rupert Tucker, by Cassie and Theodor Pflaum by Flo. Both were well done and the fact that both of these men were so closely linked with Birdwood and the schools that the two girls attended made them even more poignant.
Today I commemorated Archibald Amber. I didn't realise that his resting place was so close to the hotel, as are many other cemeteries.
I actually felt very nervous today. I’m not sure why! I practised my words many times but still managed to fumble my way through them. Tucker was my last commemoration today; bit sad really. I feel privileged to commemorate a soldier who was awarded the Military Medal. Hits close to home when soldiers you commemorate attended the same school or lived in the same town that you do.
After these commemorations we headed for lunch at In de Leen, and old World War 1 esteminet that still operates today. We were given a nice soup and then the makings of a great sandwich with beautiful bread, meats and salads to help ourselves to. The ham was divine, and when I told the waiter as much, he replied “of course”, a reference to the distinctly porcine odour emanating from the sheds behind the inn. Fully sated we headed for Poperinghe. First stop was the “Death Cells” where men condemned to be shot at dawn spent their last night alive.
When you’re in the middle of some of these experiences thousands of thoughts are running through your mind. Sometimes I think to myself that “Oh I’ve got to write that down” because even though at the time it feels like one of the most unforgettable moments of my life I’ve learned to never underestimate my ability to forget important details. When sitting back in a comfortable hotel room in my PJ’s with the TV going and my mates laughing it’s near impossible to take yourself back to those thoughts and feelings experienced in the freezing battlefields or historic buildings, but I’ll try. Today we had three commemorations, visited the shooting post and had tea at Talbot House. I really didn’t enjoy the cells and the shooting post. Standing in that cell listening to the recording and looking at the photos of those men hit me pretty hard. I tried to imagine spending the night in the cell, knowing it was my last. Some of the crimes that these men committed were so insignificant. Standing at the shooting post gave another aspect to the horrors man inflicted upon man during war. No-one should b e shot, especially for being scared.
We then spent some free time in Poperinghe before heading to Talbot House. This place has been a tonic for us all on all of the three trips so far. This time was even more special as we spent time just sitting around the house playing board games, singing songs and sharing a meal. This was then followed by a musical presentation that included many of the songs that were popular during the First World War woven in to one man’s story that told of the humour and horror of war through a soldier’s eyes. I will not say too much as i don’t want to spoil it for anyone who maybe considering coming over here. If you are, make sure that you drop in to Talbot House and if possible catch this show. It will be worth it.
MOLLY FLANAGAN (cont’d)
Talbot House gave an entirely different feel to the war story. It personalised it. I loved listening to that man talk. He expressed things in such a way that I felt like I really began to connect with the place. He talked of how Talbot House was a real place that had acted as a sanctuary and home for thousands of men. He said that he hoped our time walking the halls of Talbot House, playing cards and music in the rooms could help us to try an imagine what it had been like. This was a place that soldiers came to forget about the war and just be human.
At Talbot House there was no TV, internet or anything like that We played cards, board games, talked and had a sing-a-long with Flo and Hamish. It was fantastic just to be together with the group and not have to worry about anything.
During the day we visited the 2nd largest cemetery where mostly soldiers who died in a nearby Casualty Clearing Station were buried. The rows are like calendars, a name or multiple names for each new day. When you look at all the white headstones lined for thousands of soldiers it gives you a great perspective of what it would look like if all those soldiers with unknown graves were found and place in a cemetery. For the names on the Menin Gate would be about equivalent to 5 of this cemetery. Scary when you think about it. That night we visited Talbot House to have some dinner, have fun and unwind. Exactly what its purpose was in World War 1. Flo and Hamish had a little sing along and everone’s faces lit up with joy. Not a dull expression in the room.
When we were sitting in Talbot House listening to Hamish and Flo sing it made me think, “Did the soldiers sit in this room doing the same things as we did and what did they sing?”
It’s a little bit eerie being able to wonder the halls of Talbot House, thinking tat I or one of the Connecting Spirits members may have commemorated a soldier that had once passed through Talbot House made being there all the more important.
I have a soldier on the Menin Gate so it is all the more likely that he once may have climbed the stairs or walked the halls of Talbot House.
We went into Talbot House a known as a social house for soldiers to kick back and forget about the front lines they have come from. Flo and Hamish played their guitars. I have told Hamish I'm first to buy his CD; a good little Johnny Cash singer.