9. Jul, 2016

Text

SATURDAY 09-07-16

The alarm went off at 07:15 and we were up soon afterwards. That way we could be sure of getting scrubbed up and fed, with enough time left for our breakfast to settle. For today was bike day.

We often carry our own folding bikes in the rear garage locker, but for this trip it didn't seem worth dragging them around with us for ten weeks just for the occasional ride out. We intended to hire bikes back at Villeneuve-Loubet near Nice in France and try to cycle in to Nice itself, but the local bike hire company wanted something like €500 deposit for two bikes, which I took exception to. If they don't trust their customers then they could take a print of their credit card or something and take the required amount out at the end of the hire period, a bit like hotels in New York and elsewhere used to do. So because of that we didn't bother. I don't do business with people who don't trust me.

So what a very pleasant surprise to find that our campsite here at Ypres only charges €10 a day per bike with no deposit.

Rather than spend all day out riding we decided to revisit Bedford House Cemetery in the morning, back for lunch and then set out towards Hill 62 and Hooge Crater in the afternoon.

Our hire bikes were conventional large wheeled bikes and so much easier to ride than our 16" wheeled folding bikes (though they went even better in the afternoon after I'd oiled the chains) and we were soon out of town and in to the Salient.

By November 1918 the Ypres Salient was a blasted, desolate wilderness. In four years of concentrated warfare, hundreds of thousands of soldiers had fought doggedly over this cramped corner of the Western Front.

Thousands had suffered and died in four major battles. Daily life in the Salient's hostile environment  claimed the lives of thousands more. By the time the fighting stopped, more than half a million were dead.

At the war's end the Salient was thickly sown with hundreds of small military cemeteries. There were clusters of graves in fields, on canal banks, by the roadside, and countless bodies still lay out on the old battlefields.

Now the grisly painstaking task of bringing order to the dead began. Gradually larger  cemeteries were identified, filled, closed and turned in to permanent memorials. Bedford House was one such cemetery.

BEDFORD HOUSE CEMETERY

'Bedford House'  was the name Commonwealth soldiers gave to Chateau Rosendal, a moated country house set in woodland. It was used as a field station and as brigade headquarters, but eventually both the trees and house were destroyed by shellfire.

Today with more than 5,000 graves, Bedford House is one of the largest and most beautiful cemeteries on the Salient. It was expanded by adding Enclosure 6. This was used to bury the bodies of many more soldiers who continued to be discovered over many years. Nearly all of those buried in Enclosure 6 are unidentified.

There are also nearly seventy graves of WW11, lives lost by the British Expeditionary Force in 1940. 

On the way back for lunch we visited Railway Dugouts Burial Ground.

Lunch was sandwiches made from fresh bread bought from the local 'Spar' shop on the way back. After a bit of a rest we set off again, this time heading off for revisits to Hill 62 and Hooge Crater. Again the bike ride was fairly straightforward, there are so many cemeteries and places of interest within a few kilometres of Ypres.

Hill 62 was high ground held by the Canadians. High ground was always heavily fought over as it gave the occupying force the advantage of guiding artillery fire on to the enemy as well as observing any enemy movement.

After spending time there having it all to ourselves which was a nice surprise, as there is a very popular museum 'Sanctuary Wood' just down the road, we set out for Hooge Crater.

HOOGE CRATER

WW1 was fought on three levels. First there was the earliest of aerial combat. Progress indeed, given that the Wright Brothers only made the first ever manned flight in December 1903. Secondly there was the traditional ground fighting, and finally there was 'Tunnelling' another form of warfare carried out with great bravery by men who were normally drawn from mining communities. Their job was to dig tunnels from the safety of their own trenches, towards the enemy and then right underneath them. They would then pack the end of the tunnels with explosives and try to destroy the enemy from below. Both sides had Tunnellers which meant they all had to work very quietly for fear of being heard by the opposing Tunnellers making their way towards, or past them.

Hooge Crater was one such incident. The Germans held the higher ground at Hooge and enhanced it by building two concrete towers. They were then able to rain accurate artillery and sniper fire down on Allied positions.

Tunnellers got to work digging a tunnel right under the German's position. The next thing, one of the largest explosions of any tunnelling attack took place, destroying one tower, and the earth which fell back to ground mostly covered the second. After the war the remains of the German trenches were excavated and can be seen, right next to the water-filled Hooge Crater. 

Back 'home' we went, with sore bottoms, as although the bikes were great to ride, my word the saddles were uncomfortable.

The Chef sat outside enjoying the sunshine whilst I compiled this rubbish.

We were off back up the road at about 19:30 for our last 20:00 Menin Gate ceremony. I was hoping that it would be better than the one two nights ago. I would video it and pick the best of the two.

We're back - oh dear, short but sweet, so glad we only have a 10-15minute walk to get there. I think if I'd paid through the nose for a coach tour of the area, with this being the grand finale I'd be very disappointed.

Back 'home' we enjoyed a coffee and a cake which The Chef had bought this morning along with the loaf of bread. I will shortly make a start on getting the vehicle prepared for a fairly early getaway tomorrow morning. I was hoping to park up at Cite Europe again and buy some drinkable glug from the large Carrefour supermarket there. But alas, having gone online to check the opening times, it seems the whole complex is closed on a Sunday.

Instead I am hoping to pay another visit to Tyne Cot Cemetery & Memorial on the way out, then make our way to Calais, which is just over an hour's drive away. We'll then park up at Cite Europe and time our run in to the ferry port from there.