Monday, July 31, 2017

In Flanders field

July 2017 marks the centenary of the Third battle of Ypres  By most definitions one of the bloodiest and controversial of all the dreadful battles of the First world war  By November the battle had gained very little for the allies but had cost the lives of close to a quarter of a million men, with debatably a similar number of German soldiers.

We shall be visiting the Tyne Cot Cemetery this October which is one of the largest of the Ypres salient. It contains the graves of 11,961 British and Commonwealth soldiers including close to 600 Australians, 450 Canadians and close to 200 from New Zealand. There is an astonishing number 8373 graves of men whose names are not known and whose headstone bears the inscription "A soldier of the great war.  Known unto God"   

There were over thirtyfive thousand men who were  never found or identified, most lost in the mud. Their names, including that of our grandfather Frederick Feston, at least are known and  are inscribed on a memorial wall 150 metres long.

War cemeteries like Tyne Cot are never easy to visit. They are not places of possible quiet contemplation like many a village churchyard in England.  The serried rows of stark white headstones appearing to stretch into the distance defy any attempt to view them without emotion even though they record events which occurred a century ago.