Spring Battlefields 2019 Day Four: Gent-Wevelgem and Behind the Lines - Kathryn's history blog

Sunday, 31 March 2019

Spring Battlefields 2019 Day Four: Gent-Wevelgem and Behind the Lines


Today was a day with a bit of a difference on the battlefields. I set off this morning in the direction of Kemmel to go and watch the Gent-Wevelgem cycling race on the Baneberg hill just outside Loker. I spent most of the day on the same stretch of gravelly hill watching the women's, juniors' and men's races go past. Each race passed twice so I got to see plenty of racing throughout the day.

The sun was out again, but today was much colder as there was a strong wind blowing. I definitely wished I'd taken an extra layer with me for while I was stood watching!
The Baneberg itself is quite a short hill and at a little over 10% gradient it isn't too steep, provided you can pick your line up through all the rough patches of road. After lunch I did a couple of laps of it to keep warm and it wasn't that difficult. In the Gent-Wevelgem race, however, when sandwiched between the Kemmelberg and the Monteberg, it is yet another testing stretch for the riders.

In terms of its war history, the Baneberg was behind the British lines throughout the war. Even when the Kemmelberg fell in the Spring of 1918 the Baneberg remained protected. Its village of Loker (previously spelt Locre) was therefore used as a communications headquarters in 1917, from where cables could be laid to connect with the trenches. Those lines closer to the front were repeatedly cut by the shelling, but within Loker they were relatively safe.

After the race I rode back to Poperinge in some really tough cross-winds. As I passed I stopped in at Westoutre British Cemetery. This was used in late 1917 and early 1918 when the fighting was particularly close, less than two miles to the east. It was also part of the sector with Kemmel that had occupation from French soldiers, although these graves were later removed.

I arrived back in Poperinge just as the carnival was parading through the streets! There was loud music and confetti everywhere and everyone was out enjoying the floats. My room at Talbot House gave a great view of the parade in the street below.
After this had died down I decided to head out and do a little bit of battlefields visiting, in part to make the most of the extra daylight there is since the clocks changed last night. I drove along to Vlamertinge, about halfway between Poperinge and Ypres to visit a few of the cemeteries between here and the neighbouring village of Brandhoek. This had been an important place for casualty clearing stations (CCS) during the war, due to its proximity yet relative safety behind Ypres on the railway line.

Vlamertinghe Military Cemetery is a large cemetery containing the graves of many who died of wounds in the area during the first three years of the war. One of the burials is of the unlucky Private N Funicane who, according to Paul Reed in Walking Ypres, survived both the sinking of the Lusitania and service at Gallipoli in 1915, only to die near Ypres on 4th January 1917.

I hopped back in the car to get to Brandhoek and here visited three cemeteries that are in close proximity to one another. These were filled up in turn from those who died at the CCSes around Brandhoek. The first was Brandhoek Military Cemetery which was used from 1915 to July 1917 and contain the first 600 of these burials.

Interestingly, two of them are the bodies of members of the Bermuda Rifle Volunteer Corps. This was an all-white unit which consisted of men who volunteered for service on the Western Front. 88 men and one officer came over to England to train following the outbreak of the war and they were deployed to France in 1915 attached to the 3rd Lincolns, to make up the 1,000 men necessary for a battalion. This photo is of Private F Pawsey who died in October 1915 after three months' service on the Western Front.

Along the residential street, I came to Brandhoek New Military Cemetery, the smallest of the three. This contains burials from just July and August 1917, understandably heavy months for losses at the start of the Third Battle of Ypres.

Here, fourteen members of the Royal Army Medical Corps are buried. The most well-known of these is Captain Noel Godfrey Chavasse, one of only three men to have received the Victoria Cross and bar (aka, was awarded the VC twice). The first had been won on the Somme in August 1916 and the second was awarded posthumously after his bravery near Wieltje on 31st July 1917. Both VCs are engraved on his headstone along with the classic passage of John 15:13 'Greater love hath no man than this...'.

The final cemetery I visited was Brandhoek New Military Cemetery No. 3. This was the largest of the series, with 850 burials, including a large proportion of artillerymen, killed during Third Ypres.

The cemetery also contains a Chaplain, Rev. William D.T. Black. He died of wounds in August 1917. He has a touching epitaph, taken from 1 Corinthians 13:13: 'Faith, hope, love, and the greatest of these is love.'

On that lesson I ended my visits for today and returned to Talbot House. Tomorrow will be a more typical battlefields day, and if the weather holds out I'm hoping to cycle the front from the Second Battle of Ypres, to the north of Poperinge and Ypres.

Kathryn

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