After a fabulous breakfast in Talbot House we picked up a few lunch bits in the local Spar and hit the road. The 10th valuable “member” of our little group was Seán the SatNav who was a great time saver, he never set us wrong. You can download a free Points of Interest file for your SatNav from the internet giving the location of every CWGC cemetery and memorial worldwide so you don’t even need to add them manually.
Our first visit of the morning was to Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery. The village here was one of the main lines of communications between the front line at Yprès and the Allied military bases in the rear. Out of the range of gunfire it was a safe place to set up casualty clearing stations. Lisjssenthoek is the 2nd largest Commonwealth cemetery. Although just a little smaller than Tyne Cot cemetery where 70% of burials were unidentified soldiers, in complete contrast almost every grave here is named. All but 41 of the 10,755 burials here were of casualties who died whilst being treated here for their injuries.
There is a newly built visitor centre here at Lijssenthoek and visitors are invited to e-mail photographs or other information they may have about their relatives buried here to be added to their photo wall and databases.
On the 7th June 1917 men from the 16th Irish and 36th Ulster Divisions fought side by side in the Battle of Messines Ridge. Our next stop was to visit the grave of 56 year old Major Willie Redmond MP, brother of John Redmond, who died from injuries sustained while leading his men in the 6th Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment. Maj. Redmond’s grave is just outside the Locre Hospice Cemetery. Following his injuries he was brought to the casualty clearing station at the local Convent where he died from his injuries and was buried in the Convent garden near their Grotto. Although the Convent has since gone his burial place was left alone at the request of his wife. We were lucky enough to meet a local man there who works nearby and has done a lot of research over the years about Maj. Redmond and was happy to chat to us and impart some of his knowledge.
Next we headed to the Kemmel Tourism Centre to see the 20 min long documentary “Zero Hour”. This short film was a very interesting overview of the planning, preparation and implementation that went into the plan to explode multiple mines beneath the unsuspecting German Army at Messines Ridge. The aerial views in the documentary really help you link the locations involved. It is well worth seeing. We then visited the graves of 6 more of our Kilkenny fallen in Kemmel Chateau Military Cemetery which was within walking distance of the Tourism Centre.
Our next stop was at nearby Spanbroekmolen, also known Lone Tree Crater and now as the ‘Pool of Peace’. This was the site of the largest of the 19 mines, with 91,000 lbs of explosives being set off here on the morning of 7th June 1917.
The one and only time we thought that “Seán” led us astray was on our next visit to Pond Farm Cemetery as he literally led us into a farmyard. We shouldn’t have doubted him. This cemetery is not easily seen from the road but there is a 400m grass footpath leading from the road up to the cemetery which is located just behind a local farmhouse. We visited the grave of 4 more of our local soldiers here.
Many of you will have heard of the “Christmas Truce” of 1914 when weapons were laid down, some British and German troops called an unofficial truce on Christmas Eve and emerged from their trenches, crossed no-man’s land, shook hands and even played a few short games of football. In December 2014 UEFA President Michel Platini unveiled a new Memorial to commemorate the Christmas Truce in Ploegsteert beside Prowse Point Cemetery.
We then visited the Island of Ireland Peace Park at Messines. This was officially opened by President McAleese, Queen Elizabeth and the Belgian King Albert on 11th November 1998 and is dedicated to the memory of all the people of Ireland, of all political and religious beliefs, who fought in the Great War.
The Ploegsteert Memorial commemorates 11,386 missing soldiers from the British and South African armies with no known grave and is located at the Berks Cemetery Extension. The names of 10 Kilkenny soldiers are amongst them including Michael Burke from Kilkenny the grand uncle of our of our committee members. One soldier, Michael McGrath from Kilmoganny, is buried near the Memorial in the Berks Cemetery Extension.
Beside Wytschaete Military Cemetery is a memorial in the design of a Celtic cross dedicated to the 16th (Irish) Division commemorating their capture of Wytschaete on the opening day of the Battle of Messines 7th June 1917. Buried in the cemetery next door is Pte. James Conway from Windgap, one of 4 soldiers from Kilkenny who lost their lives that day.
Just outside Yprès (Ieper) is Bedford House Cemetery where two Kilkenny men are buried. This is a particularly beautiful cemetery if that isn’t an odd thing to say about a cemetery. This is another large cemetery and is quite a distance from entrance to the end of the cemetery where one of the two graves we sought was. You can see Ieper as it’s quite close. Some 60% of those buried here are also unknown. Each time we visited a cemetery with so many unknown graves “A Soldier of the Great War – Known Unto God” I wondered if any of them were the 338 Kilkenny fallen with no known grave.
The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing in Yprès contains the names of 54,389 men, with no known graves, who lost their lives in the Yprès-Salient area up to 16th August 1917. The Last Post has been played here every night at 8pm since 1928. Tonight was the 30,275th such ceremony and 4 of us had the honour of laying a wreath and temporary plaque here to the memory of the 89 men from our county whose names are amongst those remembered here.