29.04.2014 - 02.05.2014 15 °C
After saying goodbye to Germany it was time to head to Belgium – the land of beer, chocolate, waffles and fries. It was also the beginning of the WWI Western Front, a journey we would be taking over the next few days.
First stop in Belgium was Brugge. After a hearty lunch of soup we explored the beautiful village. Ancient buildings lined the canal; colourful buildings surrounded the square, the smell of chocolate wafting from every second store and a peaceful monastery made this village special. Unfortunately we were only here for the afternoon so to cheer ourselves up we indulged in some waffles with chocolate sauce and banana. Yum.
Our accommodation for the next two nights was at a B&B, recommended by our good friends the Hawthorne’s. It is situated on the edge of a major battlefield of WW1, Passchendaele. In 1917, within 100 days, 500 000 causalities fell for only 8km’s of gained ground. The land now consists mainly of farms and the owners of this property had a collection of guns and grenades and other artefacts that had been collected over the years, often when ploughing the fields.
The following day we headed to Tyne Cot Cemetery, the largest Commonwealth war cemetery. The Commonwealth War Grave Commission do a wonderful job in maintaining the Cemetery's and Memorials.
Next was a visit to the Passchendaele Memorial Museum, which provided a complete history lesson on the battle as well as a trench and dugout experience. Over the coming days we would all learn so much about the Great War, being here certainly drums home the sacrifice these brave people made.
We also visited Hill 60, where bullet holes still exist in the memorial situated there from WWII.
A highlight of our stay was attending the last post at the Menin Gate in Ypres. At 8pm every night the local Fire Brigade perform the last post. The only time it did not go ahead was when the Germans occupied Ypres in WWII. Having missed ANZAC Day at home it was very moving. Also, having been away from home for so long it was comforting to see and hear so many Australians making the pilgrimage to Ypres for this event. ANZAC Day wreaths and flags were aplenty.
As we headed south into France to Amiens we followed the Australian WW1 Remembrance Trail. This would take us through locations of some of the fiercest battles Australians would fight in. We travelled through and paid our respects to soldiers who fought at Fromelles, Bullecourt, and Pozieres.
The Windmill site at Pozieres, a small memorial by the roadside is said to mark a ridge more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any other place on earth. Soil from the site was cast over the coffin of Australia’s Unknown Soldier during the funeral at the War Memorial in Canberra.
We also visited the Thiepval memorial, an Anglo – French Cemetery and the Canadian Vimy Memorial Park. The Vimy Memorial Park is spectacular. A lot of the land still remains as it was at the end of the War, electric fences keep animals and humans from entering as bombs and mines fill the area.
Our final stop was to the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux.
We had hoped to be there for ANZAC Day but were unable to. The memorial is well kept and fitting to the soldiers who gave their lives for our country. After leaving a poppy for the only Parkinson (no relation) we found amongst the 10,000 names listed at the memorial it was time to head to our home for the night. Lest we Forget.
Next stop Normandy