Ypres Salient 2018: Day One

Today is the first of our five days visiting the Ypres Salient. In am travelling with my mum, Clare, and we are hoping to follow a different walk from Paul Reed's 'Walking Ypres' book each day. We will be staying at the wonderful Talbot House in Poperinge, a place which has inspired much of my thinking about religion and religious acts in the First World War.
We set off this morning from the Premier Inn at Dover East so that we could catch the 8am ferry to Dunkirk. Travelling across the night before definitely took the stress and tiredness out of the journey and meant that we could be in Belgium by midday (CET). At the bargain price of £29, the stopover was well worth doing.

Our first destination was Ploegsteert, as was the case for the Fifth Glosters upon their arrival on the Western Front in early 1915. We first visited the Ploegsteert Sector Experience, a recently opened visitor exhibition. This was an interesting introduction to the war and the context of the front lines and army positions, using some films and digital displays. While informative, we felt that it wasn't that specific on Ploegsteert itself and didn't provide us with much new knowledge. That being said, it was probably beneficial for those who don't know so much about the war, and among the few artefacts displayed we did see a YMCA mug from one of the huts in the Salient.

We then stopped for lunch at the Auberge before setting off on the Plugstreet Wood walk from 'Walking Ypres'. Having visited the area before, we didn't linger long at the memorial but set off for Hill 63. Past a very stinky pig farm, we followed a footpath steeply up the hilly. It was very slippy in the mud but we could easily imagine the dugouts built into the bank by the Australian Engineers. At the top, we could instantly see what a commanding viewpoint this was. The view back into Ploegsteert is now obscured by trees but the view was clear across to Messines and beyond.

The fields on top of the hill are still pocked by shell craters and crossing the very squidgy mud one can only imagine how hardgoing the terrain was during the war.
We quickly descended back down to road level and headed in the direction of Plugstreet Wood. We stopped at the cemeteries  (Mud Corner was very apt today) but passed by the Football memorial and trenches: not really our cup of tea!

Inside the wood was very atmospheric, and given the recent rainfall, the old trench lines were visible as sunken lines filled with water. We visited each of the cemeteries in the wood, many of the headstones of which have gone green in the damp. Of particular interest to us was Plugstreet Wood Cemetery as this was where 16 of the 5th Glosters - our local Territorials - are buried following their death in Spring 1915. The war diary's accounts of their deaths reads as a catalogue of mistakes and accidents made by the inexperienced battalion. Lieut Guise was killed having been instructing 11th Platoon in the use of grenades, when he accidentally exploded a jam tin grenade over himself and his men. His error also killed Pte Bates and injured six others.

Next we headed out to Trench 122 and Factory Farm craters, two of the nineteen mines exploded at the Battle of Messines. We stopped to look at Trench 122, now filled with water, but nonetheless a vast hole in the earth.
By now it had started to drizzle with rain, which made the walk a little less fun. The route back along the south of Ploegsteert Wood wasn't too nice as it was along the edge of a noisy road, without the benefit of a pavement. We paid a brief visit to Lancashire Cottage Cemetery where some of the 6th Glosters are buried before continuing on, our legs beginning to tire.

We slowly walked back into Ploegsteert and up to our last stop at Strand Military Cemetery. We had brought with us a RBL wooden cross to place at the grave of 2nd Lieut James Power-Clutterbuck, a man local to home, whose family knew mine. Power-Clutterbuck had been serving in the Royal Flying Corps when he and his pilot, Lieut Leslie Spencer Bowman, were struck down by the Red Baron on 25th June 1917. They had crashed near Plugstreet Wood, Power-Clutterbuck was buried on the edge of the wood but Bowman's body was lost. After the war Power-Clutterbuck’s body was moved to Strand and his original wooden cross marker went home to where it is now displayed in Ozleworth Church. In his memory, his family bought Newark Park, which is now owned by the National Trust.

We returned to the car just as the light began to fade and made our way to Talbot House. The cosy warmth of the house greeted us as soon as we arrived and we were welcomed by the current wardens.
Having settled in, we popped round to Grote Markt where we found a restaurant for steak, chips and beer - Belgian staples! Our faces glowing from the cold rain, we turned in for the night, ready to explore Passchendaele Ridge tomorrow.


1 comment:

  1. My husband grandfather is buried in strand military cemetery Loved this thank you