History of the Town of Schaghticoke

the results of research about the history of the town of Schaghticoke

Tag Archives: Ypres

More Battlefields of World War I

 

 

Near Ypres is the Essex Farm Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery.  Naturally, British and French cemeteries in Belgium and France were located next to hospitals and first aid stations. This site was at the aid station where Dr. John McCrae worked during the second battle of Ypres in 1915. Dr or Lt. Col.  McCrae was a Canadian who served in the war as a doctor until he died of pneumonia in January 1918. He was buried in a different British cemetery in France. He is far more well-known as the author of the poem “In Flanders Fields”, written after the death of a close friend near this aid station in 1915. This is probably the most famous poem of the war. Some of the devastated fields of Flanders sprouted with wild poppies in the springs of 1915, inspiring McCrae.

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Col. John McCrae

                  ‘In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead, short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

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Aid station where Dr. McCrae worked

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Essex Farm Cemetery- typical of the hundreds of British cemeteries in France and Belgium- beautifully tended and planted with perennials.

The Essex Farm cemetery is a small one, but visited by many tourists due to also being the site honoring Dr. McCrae. As it was so close to the front lines, it was much bombed after its creation, so that once-interred remains were disturbed, and known graves became unknown. Probably the most decorated grave here is that of a soldier who lied about his age when he was enlisted and was killed before he turned sixteen.

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Battlefields of World War I

 

 

In September 2017, my husband and I spent two weeks touring World War I battlefields in Belgium and France, a tour run by Road Scholar.  Of course, we are in the midst of the Centennial of the Great War, an opportune time to visit. We were fortunate to have as our tour guide in Europe a retired British Army Major, who has been a battlefield guide for twenty years.

I’ve had a hard time processing everything we learned and saw during our trip. We had done a lot of preparatory reading, but the reality of the death and devastation caused by the war was stunning. Thankfully we stayed in lovely places and ate fabulous French food, which mitigated the somber places we visited. Rather than give you a travelogue, I thought I would highlight a few of the places.

I would just like to remind you that after some initial advances by the Allies- Britain and France- and the Axis- Germany and Austria-Hungary- the war settled to a stalemate reaching from Belgium at the north through France, ending in the mountains at the border of France and Switzerland at the south. Opposing lines of trenches faced each other and the same ground was fought over for four years.

We visited the city of Ypres (Ieper) in Belgium, a medieval city which was almost totally destroyed by the Germans during the war. The medieval cloth hall, constructed about 1300, was one of the largest commercial buildings anywhere when built and a rare survival- until the Germans bombed it. After the war, it was totally rebuilt as it had been, and is now a huge museum about the war. The day we were there, an international fife and drum corps convention was going on in the large open square in front of it, and we met the corps from Macedon, NY, near Rochester!

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Ypres was a walled city and after the war the Menin Gate- the gate for the road leading to the city of Menin- was rebuilt as a war memorial. It is inscribed with the names of 55,000 British soldiers who died in the area during the war and whose whereabouts are unknown. Every once in a while, another soldier’s body is discovered. 100 years later, and buried locally. If he can be identified, the name is removed from the wall.

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The Cloth Hall in 1917

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The Cloth Hall rebuilt. It houses the In Flanders Fields Museum

Every night at 8 since its completion in 1928 there has been a Last Post ceremony conducted to honor the sacrifice of British soldiers, organized by the local fire brigade, except for a period during World War II. The night we were there, buglers from a British Army unit participated. During the ceremony, anyone who wishes may lay a wreath to honor the soldiers. My husband and I asked to participate and laid a traditional poppy wreath. Behind us in the line of those laying wreaths were members of a teenaged rugby team from Australia. A large crowd of people watched.

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The Menin Gate..looking into the city of Ypres. After the Last Post Ceremony in which we participated

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We went back to take a picture the next day- this rack houses the wreaths placed the night before. You can see a few of the names of missing soldiers engraved on the walls of the gate.

 

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