Archive for December, 2014

A final wander around the canals in Bruges

Hello!

Firstly, I’d like to apologise to everyone if this post looks in any way different. WordPress has sprung and update on me and it took me a few minutes to get my bearings! All the buttons are here, there and everywhere when I thought that the previous version was perfectly acceptable. Onward and upwards I guess…I do a get this for free I suppose. However, I’d love the option of UK spell-check, I don’t like automatic corrections to the wrong spelling. Apologise does not have a Z in.

Enough grizzling. This is yuletide! In advance, just in case I forget, I shall just wish you all a Happy Christmas and peaceful New Year. Has everyone bought way too much stuff that they or the recipient doesn’t strictly need? Good. That’s how it should be. I plan to buy a new bike in the new Year as my cheap “let’s see if I can still ride” bike has travelled nigh on 1000 miles now and is beginning to creak a little….literally. It’s off to be fettled over the Christmas period then Mr Gumtree will assist me in selling it. Unless anyone’s in the market? I will give you “mates rates” if you mention the blog!

On to the pictures. as the title above alludes to, this was one of the final few trips I took around Bruges indulging in people watching, the odd museum, the occasional beer, a waffle or two and such. I don’t think that I have ever had a holiday where I don’t wander…I must have itchy feet. I remember a holiday once to Tenerife, a hulking great volcano in the Atlantic disguised as an island. Surrounded by such natural wonder and all that goes with it, what did my mother opt to do? Sit on the beach. Because, of course, she had been in the proximity of a live volcano that may one day wipe out the eastern sea-board of the US. I forgot.

Firstly, a bit of a random picture. I like stuff like this. I glanced over along the canal and what did I see? Why, a relaxing dog lying in the window of a 18th century house of course…bless.

Guard dog. Belgian style

Guard dog. Belgian style

Talking of dogs, I was in a shop this morning where I made a fan. A springer spaniel who would not leave me be. Mind you, she was a fantastically obedient and well-trained gun dog but she was so affectionate…kept staring at me whilst pretty much climbing up my leg. It must be my aura. I did actually say to the owner that she probably wouldn’t fuss if I put her in the boot of my car! This may well have been the case but apparently as soon as the “work” switch was thrown she was a very focussed gun dog. Amazing. My kind of dog…not like the lazy one above!

Moving on, I was taking advantage of the beautiful sunny weather to take a few wide building shots with lovely natural light as I walked around. In case you don’t recognise this area, it’s the lagoon where I took some of my night shots…..

One of the most picturesque lagoons I have seen

One of the most picturesque lagoons I have seen

I continued up the side of the canal past all the chocolate shops and sweet smell of roasting coffee to get to the gates of the city and the main canal that is used by the larger traffic nowadays. My first stop was the gate, I believe that this is Gentepoort (the gate from the direction of Ghent)….

Gentepoort...thankfully minus traffic and bikes on this occasion!

Gentepoort…thankfully minus traffic and bikes on this occasion!

As you might be able to see by looking down to the left corner, it’s not used for traffic as the others I posted images of were. In fact, the road passes to the left of the main gateway and the gate itself is used for a cycle path. Watch out for those bikes, they have right of way in most places and they don’t often slow down!

Up through the long narrow park running alongside the canal now and I was just in time to catch a picture of this big old bruiser of a river cruiser. On a recent holiday to Germany (this Summer) I saw more and larger versions of these moored and moving on the Rhine and Mosel. The prices for these are pretty steep and it seemed a shame for the passengers as they never even got out, the cruiser just chugs on through.

An invading cruiser on the main canal. It was so big all the other traffic had to move out of the way!

An invading cruiser on the main canal. It was so big all the other traffic had to move out of the way!

Anyway, I was fortunate enough to be able to review things at a slower pace. Much like this fisherman on the canal just along from the city centre. Not being able to speak Flemish (the most popular language in Bruges) I didn’t dare approach him to ask if he had caught anything, but the hunched shoulder and look of boredom gave me a good guess. I can’t say I would have eaten his catch myself but I suspect he was just there for the sport. Maybe.

Chances he caught anything apart from a boot and a shopping trolley, anyone?

Chances he caught anything apart from a boot and a shopping trolley, anyone?

Back to the main square in town now and look, blue sky! Time for a dizzying upward sky shot including the steeples of the old churches. Hurrah. That and the fact that there are clouds included; you all know my love of clouds by now (more coming on that soon).

Some lovely scenery....oh, yes, the buildings are nice too, I guess :)

Some lovely scenery….oh, yes, the buildings are nice too, I guess 🙂

I had a good wander around the grounds this time too and found that there was a small open museum in the bowels of the building. Alas, the signs were in French and Flemish so i could only glean a bit of information but it appeared that the area and the garden was a reconstruction of the area put aside as a medieval pharmacy that was used by the church for hundreds of years.

The garden outside the old pharmacy (the one that didn't have a security guard in it)

The garden outside the old pharmacy (the one that didn’t have a security guard in it)

Inside there was a sign saying that I wasn’t able to take pictures but, hey, rules are made to be broken aren’t they so I snapped one for you all. What an awesome place. Just imagine all the smells of the herbs and such when they were being measured and mixed by the monks. Even if they didn’t cure your illness, at least you smelt good whilst you lay in bed! There was a security guard sat in front of a small herb garden so I couldn’t push that one; you need to just close your eyes and picture that.

A stolen internal view of the old pharmacy. A bit different nowadays isn't it?

A stolen internal view of the old pharmacy. A bit different nowadays isn’t it?

Well, there we have it. Last post before Christmas. As I said before, have a good Christmas. I hope everyone gets what they wanted and if you don’t….well, you should have been more specific! Not too many mince pies and booze now but, having said that, I will have a bike for sale in the New year for you to lose the weight with, so, feel free 🙂

Happy Christmas. See you in 2015

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Great War memorials and The Menin Gate – Part 2

Hello All,

It’s dark, wet and cold out, so how better spend an evening updating my friends on the interwebby thing. Hope you are all well.

In other news, I have done my month with face fuzz and have grown quite attached to it (this pun wasn’t lost on myself and my father in a cafe yesterday) so, today, I went to a local barber to have a little bit of a trim, so I looked less of a hobo without a whisky bottle and more of manly man (grrrrr). Quick buzz here or there, no questions about where I plan to go on holiday next and the very nice young lady was done. Price for 20 minutes of her time? A whole ÂŁ2.50. Bargain. I shall go back before the office Christmas party if I feel the need. On a large plus side, I estimate near ÂŁ100 in my Poppy Box for this little bet raised by my colleagues, but I will let you know the exact amount shortly.

Anyway, on to the second part of my battlefield tour in Belgium. However, as I said before, please bear in mind that this is a massively edited photographic tour, it really is something you should all do just to see the scale of monuments and such. After our trip to the museum, there was an opportunity to go and see a very small part of the battlefield that was retained as memorial to a large battle here, the battle for Hill 60. If you ever visit, you will notice that not much of the area you see is all that hilly. There are two reasons for this; 1) the geographical area was not all that hilly anyway and 2) the sheer tonnage of high explosive landed in the area had a cumulative effect to flatten most hills in Flanders. It seems outlandish, but that is the truth. For every one square metre of land, it is estimated that one tonne of high explosive was fired in 1915-18. Amazing. Conservative guesses of the actual number of shells fired in this area alone over the entire war rests over the one billion mark.

In the image below, you may be able to see the effect of such a bombardment, albeit very much softened by the passage of time…

Site of the Battle of Hill 60

Site of the Battle of Hill 60

Not a dramatic enough picture? Well, bear in mind that what used to occupy this now roughly flat area was a clay spoil heap from the local railway that was used as an observation point by both armies; this spoil heap used to be 46 metres/150 feet high and 230 metres/750 feet long. Maths was never my strong point, but that’s a crapload of soil which was obliterated over a few months by the sheer weight of explosives thrown at it.

From here, we moved on the memorial at Messines Ridge. Our guide told us that the land on which the cemetery and memorial were constructed had been the site of a mill (the Moulin d’Hospice) belonging to the Institute Royal de Messines (a Belgian orphanage and school). The mill dated from 1445, but was destroyed during the war and the memorial was then erected where the mill once stood.

The memorial at Messines Ridge

The memorial at Messines Ridge

I was left wondering, at many of these places and our stops, “what the region would have looked like had all these destroyed villages and buildings survived?”. The guide pointed out (and you had to have it pointed out) that none of the building were any older that 90-100 years. The simple reason being that everything before this was destroyed or so heavily damaged it had to be rebuilt. To be fair, the buildings that are there now are in the character of the period, but it doesn’t take an architect to see that they are more modern. Such a shame.

From here we moved to the Menin Gate, the part of the tour that most had come for from overseas. I am sure that most, if not all, of you have heard of this place and, if you haven’t, you should make it your business to find out. The Gate is dedicated to the British and Commonwealth soldiers who were killed in the Ypres Salient in World War One and whose graves are unknown – in all there are nearly 55,000 names on the gate.

The Menin Gate, site of the daily Last Post

The Menin Gate, site of the daily Last Post

As I referred to in my previous post, this memorial was discovered upon completion to be too small to listing all the names of the missing and the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing was then constructed with a further 35,000 names on. The inscription inside the archway is a short verse followed by a Latin phrase: “Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam – “Here are recorded names of officers and men who fell in Ypres Salient, but to whom the fortune of war denied the known and honoured burial given to their comrades in death”. The Latin phrase means ‘To the greater glory of God’. Both this inscription and the main overhead inscriptions were composed by Rudyard Kipling.

A bronze of the Menin Gate - I couldn't fit the whole gate in from the ground!

A bronze of the Menin Gate – I couldn’t fit the whole gate in from the ground!

To this day, the remains of missing soldiers are still found in the countryside around the town of Ypres during building or roadwork. Any human remains discovered receive a proper burial in one of the war cemeteries in the region. If the remains can be identified, the relevant name is then removed from the Menin Gate.

To get a sense of what it was like and what a trench system of the period would have looked like, near the Gate is a reconstructed trench system, nicknamed “The Yorkshires” after those who dug it. Obviously, ignore the grass and the neatly laid sandbags, this would have been a mud filled chaotic quagmire in the day.

The reconstructed trench system built by "The Yorkshires"

The reconstructed trench system built by “The Yorkshires”

Unfortunately, this system that was built by volunteers is now suffering from the encroachment of modern society and the environment. The dug out that was excavated is now full of water due to the nearby canal that was recently repaired and then started leaking in. As well as this, the area that was an unofficial war grave has now been built upon by numerous large companies who paid no heed to the voluntary code that applies in the region to do a cursory check of the land for human remains. So, despite the best efforts of these volunteers, there may be some remains here that may never be repatriated which, to the mind of our group, was bordering on scandalous.

Our next stop was to a fairly normal looking building on the main road from Ypres. It looked for all the world to be an old sunken concrete bunker, but it hides a very special piece of history. This bunker is part of the Essex Farm memorial. In the battles, it was a front line dressing station and it was here that Canadian Army surgeon Lt Colonel John “Jimmy” McRae was working. Don’t know the name? Neither did I until I read the plaque that told of what he did after a particularly grim day where he recalled that the fighting was so heavy that, on occasion “men who were shot actually rolled down the bank into the dressing station”.

The Essex Farm dressing station, birthplace of "In Flanders Fields"

The Essex Farm dressing station, birthplace of “In Flanders Fields”

Not only was Dr McRae a doctor and veteran of the war in South Africa, he was a poet. After this bad day, he wrote that world-famous poem “In Flanders Fields”. Unbelievably, the story has it that having written the poem, he crumpled the paper and threw it to one side. A medical orderly recovered it and it would later be published in the popular British magazine Punch. Whether that is true no-one knows for sure.

Finally, it would be very wrong of me and felt wrong of us when we were in the bus, not to pay our respects by visiting a German graveyard in the area. We stopped briefly at the Langemark cemetery. Unbelievably, more than 44,000 soldiers are buried here in a way not used by the Allied powers, a mass grave.

The German cemetery near Ypres

The German cemetery near Ypres

The cemetery, which evolved from a small group of graves from 1915, has seen numerous changes and extensions. There is a mass grave near the entrance and this so-called “comrades grave” contains 24,917 servicemen, including the flying Ace, Werner Voss. Between the oak trees, next to this mass grave, are another 10,143 soldiers (including 2 British soldiers killed in 1918). In addition, there are 3,000 volunteer school students who were killed during the First Battle of Ypres buried in a third part of the cemetery.

The German cemetery near Ypres

The German cemetery near Ypres

Powerful? You bet. It was obvious too that this site doesn’t get the care that the Allied sites. In my opinion, the same amount of respect should be given to these soldiers as to the Allied soldiers. If you look in the ‘net it’s almost as though the German public are happy to forget these places. Although there is an organisation similar to our Commonwealth War Graves Commission, it has less funding and staff to look after places like this, so much so that local volunteers are canvassed to mow grass, prune trees and so on. That’s a crying shame. After all, how does the famous saying go? If you ignore history, you are bound to repeat it.

Well, there we have it. A short tour of the Ypres salient battlefields and cemeteries. Again, I will persuade you wholeheartedly to undertake this tour or one similar if you can. It really is worth it and is a true education you could never get via the TV or in a classroom. However, thanks for just sticking with me on these posts and I hope you have found it as interesting as I, the next posts will be of a lighter note I assure you.

See you soon.

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