7. Jul, 2016

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THURSDAY 07-07-16

About 20:30 last night we heard strong words spoken loudly next door, I think one of the neighbours must have sorted things regarding the noise. All was quiet after 22:15 and we enjoyed a peaceful night's sleep.

This morning quite a few of us were leaving the campsite, probably never to return. We were on the road at about 10:00 heading for Ypres. The Satnav told us it was an hour's journey but there were huge holdups on the A19 motorway resulting in it taking 1¾ hours instead. Never mind, we're here at Camping Jeugdstadion (GPS: N50.846893º E2.898102º) and very pleased to be back again.

As I wandered down to the shower block to wash a couple of bits I noticed that the older couple who were parked across from us in their touring caravan and who left the campsite this morning ahead of us, are now parked up here. What are the chances of that happening?

Once we were set up we had lunch and then wandered down in to town for a few bits of shopping in the local 'Spar' supermarket. On our return I noticed that the area around the Menin Gate was fairly quiet, an ideal photo opportunity missed.

Our route back took us through the grounds of the local school. The kids were clearly now on school holiday, but the great thing was they appeared to be encouraged to return to the site and adjacent play park for extra curricula activities. Kids were building dens, playing in the woods on ropes and walks, learning to play chess in the sun shine under a tree, all manner of activities, supervised by who looked to be, older teenage group leader types. Top marks for keeping kids occupied in a positive way.

After we returned to the motorhome I told The Chef I was going to pop down the road and take one or two photographs while it was still fairly quiet. If I didn't, I told her, I somehow knew I would regret it.

SLR in hand I made my way back in to town. A few pictures of the Menin Gate, then in to the town square for a few more.

Performing there were a group of English school kids in their own band led by an adult, presumably their teacher. They were really quite good, though I think they need to look for another lead singer, lovely though she was. But hats off to them all, they were here and giving it their very best.

Back 'home' I downloaded my photographic efforts then proceeded to delete the worst of the dross before enjoying The Chef's creation tonight, stir-fry, and very nice it was too, washed down with a bottle of chilled white wine, just to make sure that any lodged grains of rice would be washed away before I choked on them during the night.... safety first is my motto.

We had decided to wander down to the Menin Gate for the 20:00 ceremony, though we arrived too late for a good view. There were loads and loads of English schoolchildren there, which is nothing unusual. I think it's a great idea to arrange such visits for kids and show them what a debt they owe previous generations, as well as visiting many historical and interesting sites.

I screwed the video camera on to the monopod and carefully extended it up to about four feet to try and get over the heads of all those in front of us. The service changes slightly each day depending on who are laying wreaths and which bands or regiments, if any, attend. I have to say we've seen far better ceremonies than tonight's but you get what you get.

A bit about Ypres then and its surrounding area (maybe I'll give you a little bit each day):

THE YPRES SALIENT

A salient is a military defence line that bulges into enemy territory and is surrounded by them on three sides. The one which developed around the town of Ypres (ieper) during World War 1 was a result of the failure of the German Schlieffen Plan. Their aim was to avoid fighting a war on two fronts by invading France, then capturing its sea ports and Paris, via Belgium, before Russian troops could mobilise on the East German border. The attack relied on speed and the element of surprise. The Germans lost both when they were caught unawares by the Belgian resistance who delayed German troops for over a month until French and British soldiers arrived. Both sides dug in; the Allies (British, French, Canadian and Belgians) defending the coastline with the Germans pushing towards it. Both sides built trenches in the soil that stretched for 400 miles from Nieuwpoort to the French/Swiss border, a line known as the Western Front. The contours of this line were established during the First Battle of Ypres when Allied forces fought the Germans for control of Ypres and won, securing the last major town that stood between the Germans and the coast.

Over the next four years, this line would barely move. Vicious trench warfare ensued with increasingly bloody (and muddy) battles being fought in a bid to reach ridges, like Tyne Cot and Hill 60, that would provide elevated views of the battlefield and enemy lines. Ever more ruthless tactics were employed to weaken the enemy, including the use of chlorine and mustard gases. The casualties soared, culminating in the Third Battle of Ypres which claimed the lives of over half a million soldiers. By the time the Armistice was signed on 11th November 1918, 1.5 billion shells had been fired on the Western Front and an estimated 750,000 soldiers had lost their lives in the Salient. The entire area was a wasteland of death, decay and liquid mud - the only sign of life was the flash of red poppies, whose long-dormant seeds had been brought to the surface. Today, the area is green once more and dotted with cemeteries honouring the fallen soldiers.

MENIN GATE

Erected in July 1927, The Menin Gate marks the spot where soldiers would leave town on their way to the Front Line. Carved into the interior walls are the names of 54,896 British and Commonwealth soldiers killed in World War 1 and whose graves are unknown.

Soldiers who went missing after 16th August 1917 have their names inscribed on the arches at Tyne Cot Cemetery & Memorial ( a few kilometres out of Ypres). As a mark of respect, the road is closed through the Menin Gate every evening at 20:00 and members of the local fire brigade sound their bugles. Known as the 'Last Post', this tribute to the fallen has continued uninterrupted since 2nd July 1928, except under German occupation during World War11 when the ceremony was conducted in Brookwood Military Cemetery in Surrey. A verse from Laurence Binyon's poem 'For the Fallen' is usually read aloud too. On 9th July 2015, the 30,000th 'Last Post' was played.

Tomorrow we are likely to hire bikes at the campsite and revisit one or two locations.