Paris and the Battlefields Tour of Flanders and the Somme
09.11.2014 10 °C
Thursday, 7 November we flew from Dublin to Paris. After leaving most of our luggage at our Paris hotel we took the fast train to Amiens for a two night stay for a private tour of the battlefields.
The Western Front in Flanders around Ypres
The Western Front on the Somme in Northern France
Casualties of the Great War - Australia had 62 000 killed with many more wounded and missing out of a total number of 331 000 in uniform. Australia's total population was 4.86 million.
Amiens and the First World War
At the start of the war, in August 1914, Amiens had been the Advance Base for the British Expeditionary Force. It was captured by the German Army on 31 August 1914, but recaptured by the French on 28 September. The proximity of Amiens to the Western Front and its importance as a rail hub, made it a vital British logistic centre, especially during the Battle of the Somme in 1916.
Amiens was one of the key objectives of the German Spring Offensive which was launched on 27 March 1918. The German 2nd Army pushed back the British 5th Army, who fought a series of defensive actions. Eventually, on 4 April, the Germans succeeded in capturing Villers-Bretonneux which overlooked Amiens, only for it to be retaken by an Australian counterattack that night. During the fighting, Amiens was bombarded by German artillery and aircraft; more than 2,000 buildings were destroyed. On 8 August 1918, a successful Allied counter strike,, the Battle of Amiens, was the opening phase of the Hundred Days Offensive, which led directly to the Armistice with Germany that ended the war.
On Friday 7 November, we met our guide Brian who picked us up from our hotel at 9.30 am. We headed north into Belgium to tour the Western Front battlefields around Ypres and then to stay for dinner in Ypres so we could attend the daily event of the Last Post at Mennen Gate. This ceremony is held every night of the year except Christmas night. We went on a quiet night with only about 1500 people present. We were advised to get there early (an hour and a half before the event) so we could get a good vantage point. The Mennen Gate has the names of 55 000 soldiers from the Commonwealth who are missing and therefore have no known grave.
The Notre Dame D'Amiens is the largest cathedral in France and was built between 1226 to 1232. The Cathedral is so big that the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris would fit twice inside this cathedral.
Notice to commemorate the Australian Imperial Forces is mounted inside the cathedral.
The War Memorial at Fromelles was opened in 2010.
Signage at the Fromelles Memorial
The land was a gift from the French people. The remains of some Australian soldiers were found in mass graves across the road from the Memorial.
Colleen and our guide Brian, standing near some of the graves. Some of the graves have the inscription - An Australian Soldier with the words 'Known Unto God' at the bottom of the headstone.
Headstone of one of the many soldiers who have been identified in recent times.
One of the displays in the Messines Museum
The New Zealand Memorial in Messines
The Town Hall with Clock Tower at Ypres
Note the destruction of the Town Hall and Cathedral in Ypres and then how it looked at 1919 at the end of the Great War
The five Australians Divisons served along the Western Front. The Museum at Paschendale provides a comprehensive collection of items and photos from that time.
The Cemetery called Tyne Cot is beside the Museum.
The glass wall of the Museum looks out over what was once the battlefield
German Pillbox fortifications in the Smelters at Tyne Cot have been left
The Monument at Tyne Cot has been built over the top of one of the German Pill Boxes at the suggestion of the King of England
The glass window shows part of the German Pillbox under the Monument.
Some of the many graves at Tyne Cot
This is the grave of a 23 year old Captain C S Jeffries, Victoria Cross who died here on 12 October 1917. There are 11 954 burials in this cemetery.
There are four German soldiers buried with 11 950 Commonwealth soldiers.
The Memorial at Polygon Wood
These five soldiers were found in 2007 and three have been identified through DNA.
The Memorial at Polygon Wood was designed by Major General Sir John Joseph Talbot Hobbs, Divisional Commander of the Fifth Division who was an Architect in his previous life.
Signage at Hill 60
The Crater at Hill 60. This site was immortalised in the movie of the same name. The Hill 60 was tunnelled under by Sustralian tunnellers who set off a massive explosion that killed 650 German soldiers and wounded many more.
A German Pill Box that survived the explosion.
Mennen Gate in Ypres has 11 000 names of soldiers missing with no known grave.
The Last Post ceremony is held 364 days of the year. We came on a quiet night with only about 1500 people present. The man standing next to Colleen said he came the night before and was back again that night as he had only found out 7 months ago that his grandfather died exactly 100 years ago to that night. He said his mother was only two years old at the time and she never knew about it as her mother had never told her.
Five buglers sounded the Last Post. Remarkably there was more than five minutes silence as varied people laid wreaths amid dead silence.
After getting back to our hotel around 11.30 pm we set off early the next day, Saturday, 8 November, to visit the Somme battlefields.
Our first stop was at the Victoria School at Villers Bretonneaux where the school was built in the 1920's from funds raised by school children in Victoria, Australia.
Plaque on the front wall of the school
The covered area in the school has Aboriginal Australian murals
This is a photograph taken at the time of the capture of the German tank named Mephisto by the 18th Batallion of the 2nd Division AIF. Colonel John Robinson, Batallion Commader of the 18th, is shown in the photograph. He brought Mephisto back to Queenslandand for many years, it was on display at the Queensland Museum. Colonel Robinson was the first Principal of Rockhampton State High School when the school was opened in 1919. My father, Frank Curran, attended Rockhampton State High School in 1927 as student number 720 and I became Principal there in 1989.
A model of Mephisto. The tank had a crew of eighteen.
The Memorial at Villers Bretonneaux
The cemetery at Villers Brettoneaux
I keep finding relatives in many of these places
This lone bag piper turned up and walked up to the Memorial playing Australian songs.
This notice is near Lachnagar, one of the largest of the bombs set under the German Lines.
The crater at Lochnagar is approximately 90 metres across and 30 metres deep.
The cemetery and Memorial at Thiephal is the largest of the memorial ceremonies.
This Memorial was designed by Sir Edwin Lutjens and built in 1938.
Looking from the back of the a memorial
The Irish Memorial was the very first memorial built and was completed in 1922.
The Newfoundland Memorial has the Moose as the Monument. Newfoundland contributed two Battalions during the Great War.
The front lines are preserved in this area built on a part of the battlefield where the Newfoundlanders served.
Wise words at the Newfoundland Memorial