Ypres trip part 2

More from Missy (see also Ypres trip part 1):

One thing that I found interesting was why there are predominantly Commonwealth cemeteries in Belgium and so few others, and part has to do with what each country decided to do with the bodies of their fallen soldiers. Here is a quick summary:

The known Belgian soldiers that fell were re-patriated to their home parishes.

In general the French re-patriated most of their fallen soldiers that were known, some were not re-patriated and there are a few French cemeteries on land that has been gifted by Belgium in perpetuity.

For the late arriving Americans, their fallen soldiers were mostly re-patriated back to the States, so (as far as I could gather) there are no cemeteries specifically for Americans.

The Germans had a number of wartime and battlefield cemeteries during WWI, at the end of the war as part of the Treaty of Versailles they were able to keep that land for 30 years, and then the bodies had to be re-patriated, or moved, especially as their cemeteries were mostly on farm land. There was a feeling after a while that the Germans may get to keep the land with their cemeteries, and the Belgians would not enforce the Treaty conditions, however, when Germany invaded in WWII this changed. After the WWII invasion Belgium, specifically Flanders locals, said they would enforce the Treaty of Versailles, and forced Germany to re-patriate as many of the bodies as they were able, the ones that were not re-patriated were moved and consolidated in 4 cemeteries in the Ypres Salient.

There were many commonwealth battlefield cemeteries, some official, some not. The Belgian Government gifted land on, or near to, major battlefields for the Commonwealth to bury their dead. The land has been granted in perpetuity, and will always remain the final resting place of the Commonwealth soldiers. The British were offered the opportunity of re-patriating their soldiers if they wished, but apparently it was decided that the known British soldiers would remain with their comrades in Belgium. The soldiers of Britain’s dominions and colonies also declined re-patriating their soldiers due to the logistical problems of transporting so many so far, and the fact many were unknown.

There are many memorials around Ypres, and of course the most well known is the Menin Gate which stands on the main road out of Ypres towards Menin, that many (if not all) of the soldiers would have travelled along to reach the front.

Menin Gate Dawn

Menin Gate

This contains the name of 55,000 missing Commonwealth soldiers from the battlefields in the Ypres Salient – with the exception of NZ soldiers. NZ decided not to have their missing on the Menin Gate, but rather erected their own memorials to the missing. The main two NZ memorials are at Tyne Cot, (Paschendaele)…

NZ Memorial Tyne Cot Cemetery

New Zealand Tyne Cot Cemetery, Paschendaele

…and Buttes New British Cemetery in Polygon Wood.

NZ Memorial Buttes New British Cemetery

New Zealand Memorial, Buttes New British Cemetery

There are also NZ memorials in Messines and at Gravenstafel.

NZ Memorial Messines

New Zealand Memorial, Messines

NZ Memorial Gravenstafel

New Zealand Memorial, Gravenstafel

Messines especially has a connection to NZ, as it was NZ soldiers in June 1917 that liberated the village. In the town square there is a statue of a NZ soldier, I was privileged enough to be able to talk to a couple from another part of Belgium about it, and explain the lemon squeezer.

NZ Soldier Statue Messines

There is also a street called Nieuw Zealanderstraat (New Zealander Street) just on the edge of Messiness, which is the street the memorial is on, and outside the main church they have a map of NZ inlaid into the footpath – our sacrifice there is forever remembered by the locals.

NZ Map Messines

New Zealand Map, Messines

Samuel Frickleton VC memorial Messines

Samuel Frickleston memorial – “I just thought that was another good example of how the people of Messiness are remembering NZ” – Missy

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  1. Missy

     /  August 7, 2016

    Within the Ypres Salient, and in Flanders in general, there are still a number of incidences (up to 40 or 50 a year) where either live munitions or remains are found by farmers or developers/builders.

    The Belgian authorities make all attempts to try and establish, at the very least, the nationality of the remains, if not the full identity. The remains that are found are usually re-buried in one of the many military cemeteries around, especially if they are able to identify the nationality/identity of the remains. If they manage to identify the remains of one who is listed on the Menin Gate they remove the name from the gate as they will get an identified grave.

    The most recent case of this was a few months ago when the remains of an Australian soldier were re-buried in one of the CWGC cemeteries.

    Last year reportedly two people suffered injuries as a result of unexploded WWI munitions.

    Even 100 years on the remains of WWI are being found in the fields around Flanders, it is a legacy that will continue.

  2. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I’ve been to Gallipoli and to Montecassino. Awesome experiences. Next year I’m determined to make a pilgrimage to Picardie to visit my great, great uncle’s war grave.

    • Missy

       /  August 7, 2016

      You are welcome traveller. I hope to hear about your travels next year if you manage it. I will say that despite not knowing much about my Great Great Uncle it was very emotional visiting his grave. I hope to go back next year for the centenary of his death and apply to lay a wreath in his memory at the Menin Gate service.

      I will admit I really didn’t expect anyone to be that interested, and am very humbled about the fact that anyone is interested, and that Pete thinks my travel diary is worthy of a post or two of its own.

      • I think that a lot of people have an interest in what happened in WW1, and it’s important to remember not just in respect of those who died but as a continual reminder about the horrors and usually futility of war, especially on this scale.

        Many of us have family connections.

        Both my grandfathers served, one being seriously injured. Two great uncles were killed.

        • Missy

           /  August 7, 2016

          I agree Pete, and WWI – more so than WWII I think – affected and impacted every family in NZ. Two of my Gt Gt Uncles (that I know of) served, one returned, only to die two years later, still a young man.

          I hope that your Great Uncles are amongst those that have a known grave, and are not among the missing, I truly believe it is the missing that have the saddest story, and those one’s are the most heartbreaking.

          • It would have been bad enough for family of those who were known to have died and who have been given marked graves, but I imagine it would have been especially awful for family of those who just disappeared, probably into the mud, but I’m sure many hoped that somehow they would emerge from the mayhem of Western Europe. That may have lasted for years.

            • Missy

               /  August 7, 2016

              True, it is small comfort now, but many of those that did disappear into the mud are now resurfacing through ploughing of fields and development, some are being identified, some are not, but all are getting a burial with full military honours.

  3. Missy

     /  August 7, 2016

    Pete, not sure if it was me or you, but the Buttes New British Cemetery and Tyne Cot memorial photos are named the wrong way around. If it was me, I am very sorry, all I can say is it is late and I have had a couple of wines. 🙂

    • Sorry about that, I think I’ve got it right now.

      • Missy

         /  August 7, 2016

        Yep, all correct. Sorry if it was me – as I said, late and a couple of wines can easily lead to small errors. 🙂

        • I think I just got things muddled up. Must have been the couple of hot chocolates I have had this unusually frosty morning.

          • Missy

             /  August 7, 2016

            Ah… the icy brain freeze combined with sugar – almost as bad as the wine! (though it was NZ wine, so not too bad) 🙂

            Stay warm Pete.

  4. It’s pretty hard to find a Kiwi of more than four generations who didn’t lose anyone in the wars. Judging by the crowds at the ANZAC services and the way children are engaging with the history – new migrants are just as interested.

    • Missy

       /  August 7, 2016

      I think the centenary commemorations are renewing an interest in remembering the war and those that died. In 20+ years it will renew the interest in WWII as well I think.

      From a NZ perspective, one of the best things has been the Nga Tapuwae trail, and the app. It gives a lot of information and makes things seem more real, especially in the locations of the battles, I hope they do the same for WWII. I think they need to extend it from WWI and make it available for all conflicts NZers were involved in, it would be especially good to have something like that for the NZ wars, and the Boer War as well, and would help NZers, especially the younger generation, remember those conflicts as well.