December 14

Our last day of commemorations and visits for this tour! We headed north from Ieper and visited Essex Farm Cemetery. This where John McCrae wrote his poem, “In Flanders’ Fields” after one of his friends was killed nearby. He was stationed here at the dressing station as a medical officer at the time. There a number of memorials to him at the site and the original concrete dugouts that were used for the medical facility are still there today. In the nearby cemetery there is an oft visited grave belonging to Valentine Joe Strudwick, who, if you look closely at the photo you will see, died at the age of 15, three years lower than the minimum age to enlist. He is believed to be one of the youngest military casualties of World War 1, certainly in the British Army, although there are records of boys as young as 12 enlisting and fighting at the front before they were discovered and sent home.

We continued north and crossed the Ypres Canal at Boezinge, heading east to Langemark. There is a German Cemetery here with over 40000 German soldiers buried in it, including many who fell in the Battle of Langemark in November 1914. This is known as the “Massacre of the Innocents” as a number of those who fell in this attack were young, patriotic students, making up about 15% of the attacking forces. In all 3000 young students were among those killed here. Langemark was also a focus of the attack in April 1915 when the German Army first used gas as an offensive weapon.

From here it was further east to Tyne Cot, which is the largest Commonwealth War Grave Commission’s largest cemetery with 11968 burials there, of which only 3606 are identified. There are also the names of 34948 soldiers who were killed but who have no known grave. These are mostly British soldiers but there are a number of New Zealanders remembered here as well.

Among the 582 identified Australians buried here are two VC winners, Sgt. Lewis McGee from Tasmania, and Captain Clarence Jeffries from New South Wales. Also amongst the Australians who lie here is Oscar Wallins, after whom the Oscar W, a paddle steamer now based in Goolwa, was named.

As we move further east we get closer to the furthest point that Australians advanced toward the infamous village of Passchendaele. An attack by the 47th and 48th Battalions on the 12th October failed and as the 48th withdrew it left behind a large number of wounded including Rufus Rigney who was captured by the Germans and treated but who unfortunately died of his wounds 4 days later. A photo below shows Tamika and Charlotte standing in front of the area over which these two battalions attacked on that day.

We turned south and made our way to Polygon Wood. Our first visit there was to the inn of our good friend Johan Vandewalle where we enjoyed lunch and a look at the “Brothers in Arms” Memorial that he is building close by.

We then walked through Polygon Wood where Tamika commemorated her relative, Bernard Clarke. In the middle of the wood is the Buttes New British Cemetery where Julie’s Great Uncle Marty is buried. Julie grew up hearing about her mother’s favourite uncle and how he died in the First World War. These stories fired her love of history and drove the passion that lead to the formation of Connecting Spirits. Julie told the story of her uncle’s service and the impact that his death had on her family that continues to this day. She left a photo of her mother at the grave.

We then found the area where the Raid of Celtic Wood took place. This was a large raid by the 10th Battalion on the 8th October 1917, in which a large number of man were lost. Among these were Frank John Scott, a Lieutenant in charge of the raid. He was a brother to Cleve Scott, who Mel and Charlotte had commemorated the day before. His remains were never recovered, and he is commemorated on the wall of the Menin Gate.

That night was our last together as a group before we parted ways, some to return to Australia and others to go on to further adventures. We shared a meal together with Johan , Anny and Marie Claire and, of course, Guler was the very generous host at her restaurant, Captain Cook. A great meal to end a wonderful tour.