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A wild and windy day greeted us as we ventured out from our hotels in Ieper. Our group resides in 2 hotels while up here in Ieper, Belgium as we are not able to be accommodated in the one, but when we reach the Somme on Sunday we shall all be together. Did the rain and windy conditions stop us, no, out and about for what was an excellent and memorable day.
The Band started the day in their uniforms as they headed out to Polygon Wood for a recital and Service. Steve then led discussion re the famous battle there and they were able to walk the ground and in moving through the forest they saw the remains of one of the German Command Posts. The Germans poured so much concrete into all their positions as we feel they thought that they were impregnable and would be there for a long time, but history has proved them wrong, thanks to those brave fellows who, against all the odds defeated the invader.
Our history group started their day on the windy slopes of Hill 63 which was the jumping off place for the 3rd Divisions assault on Messines. This was a huge battle and had been in the planning since 1916 when the Tunnelling Companies of Australia, New Zealand, Britain, Canada and Belgium had been digging the tunnels through the blue clay towards the Germans lines where they filled the end chamber with explosives and on the 7 June 1917 at 0310 all 19 tunnels were blown. They say the noise was heard in London. This then was the start of the battle as much of the German front line disintegrated. Only 17 exploded and it was not till 1955 that another "went up", the only casualty at the time was one poor cow. The crater left by one of those explosions has been preserved and known as the Pool of Peace as it has over the years filled with water. The site was purchased by Talbot House, a wartime famous refuge for those on leave located at Poperinge to the West of Ieper, ensuring that the site remains forever protected.
From the front of the site and then on the slopes of Hill 63 both Ron and Steve were able to take their respective groups through the phases of the battle that won the day and cleared the Germans from the Messines Ridge. Following his presentation Ron took the History group out to Polygon Wood and then on to Hill 60, another famous site that recently had a movie made showing the hardship of fighting a War beneath the surface.
Following their time at Messines, with lunch in the Irish Peace Park, the Band proceeded to Ploegsteert Wood for coffee and woosies! Following that nice break we proceeded to the area where the Christmas Truce of 1914 took place near Prowse Point Cemetery. We had a visit to complete for Gwennyth and Jackson at Mud Corner Cemetery where a relative of Gwennyth's was buried. A moving service followed and as the relative was a New Zealander, Jackson played the NZ Anthem on his bagpipes and Gwennyth places a NZ Flag and some Eucalyptus branches on the grave. This was the first time anyone from the family had visited the grave. It was a moving moment.
As we were close to the Toronto Cemetery, the only cemetery that had only Australians buried therein, I decided that we should head into the forest and pay our respects by our visit. We conducted a small Service and our Pipe Major, Frank, played a lament for those lost in June 1917.
We then headed back up to our coach and back home. Tomorrow more to see but first there will be the Markets in the Square at Ieper.