This was our last day on the Battlefields. It has been a moving time for some and very much so for others. Those who had family finally recognised at Fromelles and were able to stand there at last knowing where there loved one was finally resting, must have been overpowering indeed.
In the conduct of that day, 94 years on, and their private time in the cemetery, was a moment that I cannot explain in these few words. They will tell their stories. For the rest of us, it was just being there in support of those brave lads. Now found, they will never be forgotten or alone again.
We headed north again but this time to the Ieper Salient and the battles of 1917 Campaign. Our first stop being at the Irish Peace Park where one can obtain a view of the Messines Battlefield as it affected the Australians in their sector. This of course was where the 19 mines were blown, not all detonated, and turned the top of the Messines Ridge to dust.
The attack was well planned by Plummer and was a victory, however, due to bunching in the exploitation phase German machine guns caused too many casualties as our men were sky lighted on the rear side of the ridge. Without that last issue, the victory would have been better received by our Force.
The group then moved on to Hill 60 and the Tunnelling Company's tireless efforts to protect those mines. All the actions on the Western Front were horrendous enough but to fight underground, where 6 months at the site was all that any man could stand, must have been something again. Fighting underground, the stress of listening to the sound of the Germans digging, wondering if their mine was to be detonated, cave ins that buried men alive, a dreadful way to serve. But serve they did, extraordinary men were those tunnelers.
Polygon Wood, another victory at a fearful cost. This is a special place for the 5th Division and also where the Zonnebeke 5 are buried. 3 have be named and DNA research is moving well and we may have the last 2 finally named.
This is a special place for Gary Barnsley as he has family interred here and Gary read a poem to our group and laid a small tribute of Wattle and Eucalyptus leaves that his wife prepared for him before he left home. It is always very moving when we have direct family to the fallen traveling with us and today we were able to be there to support Scott McKay at Bancourt, Sandra Cord & Yvonne McPherson at Tancrez Farm Cemetery and we will have a number of missing on the Menin Gate Memorial that we will visit this evening.
Another Southern Highlander, Denis Horton will be laying a wreath at the Menin Gate Memorial. To do so is indeed an honour for any and we know how he will feel at that special moment.
Prior to the Menin Gate we visited Tyne Cot Cemetery. A visit to Tyne Cot explains the horror of that campaign in the mud, so much so that a British General said when he returned from the front, "how could we send men into this". The more than 11,000 graves relates the story of what happened when they did send men into that mud.
We will have an early dinner at the Novotel Hotel in Ieper and then on to the service at the Menin Gate Memorial. We expect that service to be a fitting finale to our visit to the Western Front. However, we will have one more family visit to the Maubeuge Cemetery which we will visit on our way back to Assevillers.
Tomorrow we head to Paris. We will then go our separate ways having experienced some very memorable moments indeed.
Colonel Graham Fleeton