Ypres Salient 2018: Day Five - Kathryn's history blog

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Ypres Salient 2018: Day Five


All too soon, we have come to our last day in Belgium. After a final chocolate from the breakfast buffet, we packed up our room and then went for a look around the Talbot House museum before leaving. They had some interesting drawings of the YMCA as well as a funny quote from Tubby Clayton, the chaplain of Talbot House which read:

The museum gives a good representation of the activities of the House during the war, which must have been a hive of activity when filled with soldiers. The rooms which are now the bedrooms of the B&B were individually a library, a games room, a writing room, a space for ping-pong, the list goes on! We also watched the "Happy Hoppers" concert party video, which I've seen several times before but is still entertaining. It has, however, been given a new introduction starring a soldier who talked directly at the camera about his time in Poperinge, but in the past tense, hinting that he was dead. It was odd to say the least.

From here, we walked across the sunny Grote Markt (town square) to the town hall to visit the Shot at Dawn memorial and prison cell. I last visited here in 2009 and it has been turned into more of an exhibition since. I think this has made it less authentic and less emotional, although it does now tell the stories of the four men who are known to have been killed in that site and their 'offences' which included shell-shock and falling asleep.

As we left the town, we stopped on the ring road to visit Poperinge New Military Cemetery which has both French and British burials, as well as two Belgian. It contains the bodies of men who died at the Casualty Clearing Stations and Field Ambulances that were in Poperinge between 1915 and 1918. As the largest town behind the lines in the Salient, this was a centre for both the British and the French, which can be seen with the two halves of this cemetery.

We then drove out of Poperinge to Lijssenthoek, the second largest Commonwealth cemetery in the Ypres Salient, where a large establishment of clearing stations had been based during the war, with rail access to Ypres and the front. A small visitor centre gives its history and is well worth a look, particularly as it explains the presence of American and Chinese graves in the cemetery.
We stopped at the grave of Rev. Hopkins, a chaplain who had died in 1920. It was in this year that the last medical centre at Lijssenthoek was dissolved, its use in the time after the Armistice being to treat sickness and accidental injury in those who had stayed after the war to clear and rebuild the Salient. I don't know how Hopkins died, but it is likely to have been from an illness, perhaps Spanish Flu which swept through Western Europe after the war.

Continuing our 'behind the lines' theme, our final stop was at Dozinghem Military Cemetery, north-west of Poperinge. The name was part of a joke by the British troops who named three casualty clearing stations Dozinghem, Mendenghem and Bandaghem, in a play on the Belgian place names.  The landscape here is pan flat and no ridges are visible on the horizon, unlike closer to Ypres, where even the mere 60m hills seem high.

This cemetery is also notable for having two rows of Second World War graves from the 1940 retreat to Dunkirk. One of these men had a particularly long inscription on his headstone, meaning there was no room for the cross. It made me wonder if the character limit for inscriptions had been increased by 1945, but I don't have any information on this.

The Dunkirk graves were fitting as this was our next destination, in order to catch our ferry home. I have really enjoyed our trip to the Salient, and walking the front lines has really made me appreciate the terrain and landscape in a way that even cycling here in 2014 did not.

If I had to pick highlights, or must visit places, it would be the cemeteries near The Bluff from Day Three, the views from Douve Farm towards the Messines Ridge from Day Four, and the climb up to Hill 63 from Day One. That being said, I have found it all really interesting and I have left, as ever, with a thirst to know more, understand more, and to visit again.

Thank you to all who have read my daily blogs and especially to those who have left comments and twitter messages. My blogs from my 2016 trip to the Somme and 2017 to Arras can also be read on this site, as well as many other articles from my research.

Kathryn

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