A Sombre Day

Today, Thursday 27th March, was the move to Dunkirk, ready for the ferry home tomorrow after the last overnight stay in la belle France. The route was to take the D950 out of Arras to meet the A1 to Lille. From Lille I would take the A25 to Dunkirk, but a look at the map showed the A25 passes within a few miles of Armentières – the “Armenteers” of the famous World War 1 song. So that’s what I did.

Armentieres

Again, a look at the map showed that Ypres (known to the Tommies as “Wipers”) was a few miles further on, so – why not? It was here that the day took on a darker tone.

Driving up the N58 to pick up the N365 I entered Belgium, and here’s a still from Megan’s dashcam on crossing the border:

Entering Belgium

Again, as we found on the Monte Carlo trip, there was no customs post, passport check or anything. It’s a completely open border.

At some point in the journey I glanced up a side road and caught a glimpse of a graveyard. Not much later I passed the Strand Military Cemetery. Shortly afterwards, near the village of Ploegsteert (named, inevitably, “Plug Street” by the soldiers) I came across this:

Berks extension 1

Berks extension 2

Berks extension 3

This is the Berks Cemetery Extension, which now contains 876 First World War burials. It is called an extension because the original cemetery is on the opposite side of the road to it – Hyde Park Corner (Royal Berks) Cemetery.

HPC 1

HPC 2

HPC 3

I then drove on to Ypres (Ieper) itself, arriving at the Lille Gate.

Lille Gate

Immediately to the left is the Ramparts Cemetery.

Ramparts Cemetery

Plaques on the inside wall of the gate point to other cemeteries in the locality.

Plaques

Here in England, every city, town and village has its memorial to the dead of the two World Wars. Often, their names are engraved there. But standing here, in Ypres, in Flanders, seeing the graves row upon row in cemetery after cemetery, the reality of the carnage is far more apparent. All these young men on both sides, the flower of the nations involved, cut down often before they had even reached maturity. What a tragedy! What a waste!

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae

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