And not forgetting.
We decided that, rather than zoom straight down the autobahn into Germany today, we’d take a small detour to Ypres. Though we’ve visited other places connected to WW1, we’d not been here and on this occasion there were family links. On entering the town we couldn’t fail to miss the Menin Gate, standing there right in front of us. We parked the car and got out for a closer look.
We’d read in the guidebook that this memorial lists the names of 55,000 solders killed in the early part of WW1 and we knew that Jack Paddison, the first husband of my hero’s Grandmother, was amongst them.
To begin with, I’d thought it’d be easy to find him, because the gate was a simple arch with names inscribed on each wall. But this was more than a simple gate as can be seen more easily from the model which was there alongside. There were side arches, different levels and every surface was covered with long lists of names.
Thankfully, my hero found the book with the guide to who was named where and soon tracked down Private J Paddison of the Northamptonshire Regiment. With a sigh and a thought of what might have been, we moved on into the centre of the small town, to the market place.
Here, we found the magnificent Cloth Hall. We pottered around a while, taking photos and enjoying the early Sunday morning peace and quiet.
The details of the other buildings around the square appealed to us too, and a little quiet reflection whilst we gazed up at the interesting roof structures was exactly what we needed.
We very much liked the two contemporary figures alongside the more conventional saints in the niches above the Cloth Hall, learning from the staff in the tourist office that the soldier is King Albert I and his female companion is his queen, Elizabeth.
Fortified by a cherry flavoured Kriek beer and a couple of chocolates (we’re following yesterday’s advice about balanced diets) we moved on to Tyne Cot, where the largest Commonwealth War Graves cemetery contains the remains of the thousands of young men who were killed during the battle of Passchendaele in 1917.
Thankfully, my Grandad isn’t amongst them, because although he fought just along the ridge there in Poelcapelle, on October 9th 1917 he was injured and brought home for treatment. I won’t say “lived to tell the tale” because he never told any of it – I only know his war story thanks to the historians at the Lancashire Fusiliers Regimental museum who sent me the records from the diaries when I researched my family history recently, too late to ask him any questions.
But as I walked around the headstones, I stopped by a little group of Lancashire Fusiliers and wondered if they were his friends? It’s a sobering thought that had he not been one of the lucky ones, I’d not be here today on this warm, Sunday morning, to gaze over the fields and try to imagine how it must have been.
Then, just as we’d reached the perimeter of the cemetery, we realised that the whole of that semi-circular wall was also covered with panels of names – 35,000 of them, including many from New Zealand, Canada, Australia and South Africa. Overwhelmed, we took one last look around and left feeling very thankful indeed.