Messines & Ypres 2013

On 5 September, Rye Royal British Legion made a Remembrance visit to Poperinge, Ypres and Messines to consider one of the key battles which took place in the area in June 1917.   Led by Colonel Anthony Kimber, the President of the Rye British Legion, 47 members and friends from Rye District boarded a Rambler Coach at 7am for the journey to Poperinge, Belgium, which was the main base behind Ypres. Throughout WW1, Poperinge was home to around 25,000 support troops in and around the Town. Importantly it was also a railhead through which many of the deploying Allied troops moved on their way to Ypres, a few kilometers to the East.

Although there were plenty of cafes in Poperinge, an Army Chaplain, the Reverend Philip ‘Tubby’ Clayton, sought out a suitable property for a club, where all soldiers, regardless of rank, would be welcome. He founded ‘Talbot House’ in memory of a young officer killed at Hooge in 1915. Talbot House became ‘Toc H’ (Toc was “T” in signal code) and was the first of what would become a worldwide group of clubs for service personnel.  At Talbot House, which has been restored to its original state, some viewed the historical exhibits; others attended a short but moving service in the upper chapel led by Legion Branch Chaplain, the Reverend Hugh Moseley. Hugh explained the origins of the House and the part played by Tubby Clayton.

After Poperinge, we went onto Ypres and lunch in the square. By now the temperature had risen to over 30c which made for a rather warm lunch in the street cafes of the main square.  In such conditions it was hard to imagine the destruction of the Town during WW1 by German shelling and the almost continual movement of troops heading for the Front a few kilometers away.

 In the afternoon, we headed out to the battlefield. Some argue that Messines in June 1917 was one of the most successful battles of WW1. Following extensive preparation and training, General Herbert Plumer’s Second Army attacked the Germans on a low ridge, preceded by the detonation of 19 mines, laid underneath the German front lines.  The objectives were to divert German reserves from the Arras and Aisne fronts further south as well as to seize the dominating ground south of Ypres.  After a preliminary bombardment of around two weeks, the leading Allied infantry, drawn from all over the Commonwealth, supported by tanks, cavalry patrols and aircraft secured a 10 mile front in a few hours.  The success was in large part due to the explosion of huge mines (some ran for 2ooo feet and up to 125 feet deep) which were heard in 10 Downing Street.

After touring the ridge, to visit the remains of part of the German line, the Pool of Peace at the Spanbroekmohlen mine crater, the Irish memorial and Ploegstreet Wood through which the Australians fought, we returned to Ypres to take supper and then attend the Menin Gate evening ceremony. This is organised every day at 8pm by the Town. Rye RBL standard bearer Paul Whiteman paraded the standard as the focus for the event, at which Mayor Shaun Rogers, Legion President Anthony Kimber and Chair Neale East laid wreaths on behalf of Rye, the Rye Legion, Rye man, Frank Ashenden who was fatally wounded at Messines and Sir Reginald Blomfield of London and Rye who designed the Menin Gate.  This was a long but memorable day.