Battlefields Tour – Ypres area – 2018

The 'Friends of Barham Church' organised a coach tour of the battlefields area of West Flanders around Ypres. The date was Saturday, 15th September 2018, departing 06:30 from the Barham Village Hall and returning around midnight, at an extremely beneficial cost of 50 per head.

Every year thousands of people take battlefield tours, some out of curiosity and a desire to learn more about the conflict and world history, others perhaps to visit the grave of a loved one, but many go to pay their respects to those who gave their lives to protect us and our country. 2018, has a special a significance, being the centenary of the end of that awful conflict.

September, however, marked the centenary of the ‘liberation offensive’ in which Albert, King of the Belgians, led a coalition of forces which finally defeated the Germans in this region of the Western Front. The tour therefore essentially focused on the village of Zonnebeke, a key objective in those 1917 battles, a visit to Tyne Cot Cemetery (the largest Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery in the world), the opportunity to visit the Passchendaele Memorial Museum and gardens of remembrance. There was also be a short guided walking tour around Ypres and the very moving ceremony at the Menin Gate was attended, where, every evening at 8pm precisely, the 'Last Post' has been sounded since 1928 (apart from the short period of Nazi of occupation between 1940-1944). 

We were extremely fortunate to have as our guide, Mark Connelly, Professor of Modern British History at the University of Kent at Canterbury - one of his specialist subjects being the First World War.

On 11th November 1918, the First World War came to an end with a ceasefire coming into effect at 11am.  Earlier that morning, an armistice with Germany had been signed in a railroad carriage at Compiègne - the conflict had lasted for four years, three months and 14 days, and, by the time the armistice had been agreed the total number of military and civilian casualties had reached more than 40 million, making this amongst the deadliest conflicts in the history of the world.

Five great battles were fought in the Ypres area during the course of the First World War, and 1917 especially was dominated by two great offensives:
the Battle of Messines, during which 19 mines were detonated under the Messines Ridge, and the Battle of Passchendaele, an offensive so horrific that it has become one of the most notorious battles of the First World War

PS. You may find this site of interest - http://www.greatwar.co.uk/places/ww1-western-front.htm - click on the Ypre area.  And there are of course many other sites too that provide maps and information relevant to our visit.