Saturday, June 16, 2007

Back in Blelgium

The Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate

Sombre statues overlook Langemarck German Cemetery

A poppy in Flanders Fields! Outside Langemarck



A New Zealand soldier at Tyne Cot Cemetery


Graves stretching into the distance

Tyne Cot is full of roses


It's hard to convey how many graves there are at Tyne Cot in a single frame...

More graves as far as the eye can see



Today it was up and out back to the Ypres Salient for a very long day. The day began at Sanctuary Wood, then Tyne Cot Cemetery, then Langemark Cemetery... Stop me if you're getting a spot of déjà vu here... I didn't go in to Sanctuary Wood, but felt I had to make an appearance at the cemeteries in order to justify my inclusion on the tour (this is actually a double group and they only let one of us come out with them, and almost said that neither of us should come "take a day off", they said - I had to subtly hint that there IS NO SUCH THING AS A DAY OFF at the Chateau!!).

After lunch on the coach in the pouring rain (lovely) at least we got to go somewhere I hadn't been before, Talbot House, which was a club for soldiers behind the lines in Poperinge, the only town that remained free (i.e. not in German hands) in the region for the duration of WWI. As the lovely man who gave us a little talk about the history of the house explained, Poperinge in WWI was rife with snooty officers' clubs, brothels and bars, and so Talbot House was set up as a place devoid of all those entertainments. "So," the guide explained "you can see why it was so popular". Um... no, I can't actually... But it would appear that some of the Tommies did indeed prefer chapel and song without the wine and women part.

After that, we headed for Ypres, where the kids had about an hour's free time to do some shopping, while the teachers sat in a cafe, nice. It was actually some sort of a special day in Ypres, the streets around the main square were shut off to traffic and there were crazy scary clowns on stilts, a market, and a beach volleyball tournament going on in the square, much fun had by all. Then half the teachers and all the kids went to the In Flanders Field museum, where I also was last week, so I stayed out with the rest of the teachers only to be caught in a massive downpour :(

Next up was dinner - my first non-Chateau meal in 5 weeks, hallelujah! It was chicken and chips and pretty decent stuff it was too, in a quite pretty restaurant called 'T Zweed, which I was informed was Flemish for The Sword. Pleasant as dinner was, it provided one of many of the day's opportunities to illustrate the truism that, if you want your blood pressure to skyrocket, all you have to do is try to move 95 kids and 12 adults around the landscape with reasonable speed. Seriously, disembarking and (especially) re-embarking on the coach takes 5 mins minimum every time, more like 15 if you add the time it takes to gather the kids up from the 4 corners of, say, a huge cemetery, count them, and get them seated and buckled up. Grrrr!!! On attempting to leave the restaurant we ended up in a human traffic jam for at least 5 minutes, when for reasons which were never made clear to me, we got halfway out of the restaurant and then were ordered back to our seats for about 1 minute before all getting up again and finally stampeding the exits.

Last stop of the evening was the Menin Gate - yes, I've been here before, too, but this time it was for the Last Post ceremony, held nightly at the Menin Gate since the 1920s. The only time it hasn't been held was under Nazi occupation, but the very day the town was freed, the Last Post was heard again at the Menin Gate. The crowds that turned out were incredible when you consider this happens not once a yaer, but every day - we were a hundred strong, but only really a drop in the bucket. I'm awful at estimation, but I wouldn't be surprised if you told me there were 1000 people there tonight. The ceremony was quite moving, especially the part when they read the lines of the poem:

They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them

at which point I had to put my sunglasses on lest I start crying (luckily I did not, but seriously, I'm going to be a mess at Auschwitz people).

And of course you're all wondering "what about the chocolate shop, Gwan?" (that's right, OF COURSE!) It turned out to be a bit of a non-issue since the teachers, lovely as they were, faffed about saying that they wanted to go to a different chocolate shop, then that there was no time for a chocolate shop, then letting the kids go off for free time (during which most of them bought chocolate anyway) then deciding to go to the chocolate shop after all. Probably about half the kids wound up buying from this chocolate shop, others bought from a rival establishment, which must have been duly noted because although I got free chocs, this time there was no tip...

And so ends another 13 hour long, tiring, but pretty fun working day. Tomorrow it's touring around the Somme, none of which I have done before, so should be interesting. Laters!

1 comment:

  1. The "age shall not weary them" poem is also recited in the RSA's every night to a captive audience. The person who wrote it is a Lancaster man. However he wrote contemn not condemn. I'll leave you to find out what it means.

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