Six of our committee members, along with three other friends, recently went on a long weekend trip to the Yprès-Salient area in Belgium. During our trip we visited as many graves and memorials of our Kilkenny fallen as possible and also had the opportunity to lay a wreath during the nightly Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate to honour the memory of those from our county remembered amongst the 54,000 missing on the panels of the Memorial.
After an early morning flight to Brussels Charleroi airport, we picked up our hire car and made our way to Talbot House in Poperinge, our accommodation for the weekend. Talbot House is a very special location as it was used by many thousands of soldiers during the war as a place of rest during brief breaks from the front line. Rank was left at the door and entry was just your cap. Today it is a living museum and also provides B&B accommodation for visitors to the area. We can highly recommend it & will definitely return.
We first headed out to the Borry Farm/Vampire Dugout area where the grandfather of one of our committee members was shot in this area during the 3rd Battle of Passchendaele in August 1917. Thankfully he survived his injury but so many of his friends and colleagues did not.
Our next port of call was to the Passchendaele Museum in Zonnebeke. The museum concentrates on the 3rd Battle of Passchendaele in which half a million soldiers lost their lives over the 100 days of the battle – 30 men per yard gained. The museum is very interesting and well worth a visit, you could easily spend a few hours there. Outside your can walk through reconstructions of various trench systems in use on both sides of the war. I didn’t realise there were so many different types of trenches depending on their location and purpose. As well as historical artefacts inside (uniforms, weapons, gas masks, medical implements, personal items, etc.) they also have recreations of tunnel systems that you can wander through if you are not claustrophobic, I can’t imagine what the real tunnels must have felt like.
In the afternoon we visited the nearby Tyne Cot Cemetery which is the largest Commonwealth cemetery in the World. Some 70% of the 11,954 graves here are of unknown soldiers, while the Memorial panels on the back wall of the cemetery record the names of 34,957 missing soldiers who died after 15th August 1917. There are 2 Kilkenny soldiers buried here and a further 18 with no known grave remembered on the Memorial. Once the trip report blogs are finished I will put up separate blogs showing the graves and memorials that we visited of the Kilkenny Fallen. During our trip we were very concious of the fact in many cases it is likely that we were the first visitor ever to many of those grave. For this reason we also stopped for a moment at the graves of many other Irish dead that we came across in the cemeteries and there are so many of them that it is quite heartbreaking.
After Tyne Cot we headed to St Juliaan to see the Brooding Soldier Canadian Memorial. This area was the scene of the first gas attack by the German Army on 22<sup>nd</sup> April 1915. They released 168 tons of chlorine gas during the 2nd Battle of Passchendaele and 21,000 Canadians lost their lives as the green gas mist rolled towards them, with no protection the men ran to the rear in the effort to escape. It was after this that the first gas masks, seen in the Passchendaele Museum, started to be used, their effectiveness improving as the war progressed.
Our last visit of the day was to the German cemetery at Langemark where the remains of 44,304 soldiers lie, 24,917 of them in a mass grave. This is one of only 4 remaining German cemeteries in the area, many of those buried here were moved here from smaller cemeteries in the 1950s.
Having left Kilkenny at 2:30 am we were glad to return to Poperinge where we had a lovely meal in the local Irish pub and then had an early night, ready for an early start tomorrow.