Please note that the dates for these tours may vary from the guide below. No tours will be offered until international borders are open.
Today's emphasis was on the key battles of the Third Ypres campaign in which the two ANZAC Corps (I & II across which all five AIF Divisions were spread) were engaged in the period from the end of July until the end of November 1917.
After Steve Larkins apologised to the hotel staff for not advising then that most of the tour group had elected to eat in Ieper the evening before, we partook of another Belgian Breakfast before saddling up and heading out to the east of the city via the Menin Road. We collected our packed lunches and struck out for the day's visits.
First stop, after passing 'Hellfire Corner', the Hooge Crater British cemetery and adjacent Hooge Crater complex. Guide Steve Larkins provided an orientation and ground brief despite yet another misty start and a description of the Battle of Menin Road fought on 20 Sep 1917. VC winner Paddy Bugden's grave was located and his story outlined. The 'anomaly' of Roy Inwood's VC won 'at Polygon Wood' on 21 September was explained. His action was actually part of the Menin Road battle which exploited in to the western edge of the wood, from whence the attacks of 26 September were mounted.
Because our visits are close but not 'on' the Centenary dates associated with some of the key battles, it was inevitable that sooner or later we would fall foul of administrative preparations and our next stop at Polygon Wood was where our luck ran out. After a Battle Brief in the small Polygon Wood cemetery we headed into the Buttes cemetery. Polygon Wood LINK.
Another DVA extravaganza event was in preparation, and the usually tranquil Polygon Wood Buttes Cemetery was heaving with staging equipment, marquees, sound checks and digeridoos rumbling though the normally peaceful forest, supported by a cast of hundreds. Nowhere to park either. This took the gloss of what is normally a tour highlight, but a few intrepid souls headed into the forest and located several of the bunkers which opposed the Australian advance, while another group searched for a couple of target headstones in spite of the competition. Three more undertook a daylight advance on Johan Vanderwhal's 'ANZAC Rest Café & Bar' only to discover 'mein host' being whipped away for media interviews around the Polygon Wood centenary two days hence. Result - ANZAC Rest did not open so no coffee.
From there we headed for Broodseinde Ridge where Steve Larkins explained the engagement on 4 October (see LINK), and the detail of a subsequent action on 9 October when the 10th Battalion undertook an ill-fated raid on Celtic Wood. This raid has been the subject of great speculation and at least two books, but a third is soon-to-be-released, dispelling persistent myths associated with this action and accounting for the participants. Tour member Susie Nichols explained that her 'adopted' grandfather Solomon William Jacobs had served on this part of the line just metres away in an adjacent trench when his brother Arthur Jacobs, an original member of the 10th Battalion with service number 66, was killed by a shell on 7 October 1017.
Dochy Farm cemetery, past the town of Zonnebeke, next provided a vantage point from which the 1st Battle of Passchendaele (see LINK) was mounted by II ANZAC Corps (of which the 3rd Division was a part together with the NZ Division) supported by the 2nd Division. John and Elaine Paynter's relative Allan Lyle McPherson won a Military Medal here with the 8th Field Artillery Brigade LINK. Allan's story is particularly tragic; he survived the war, returned home and married in 1921, only to be killed just three weeks after his wedding when hit by a car whilst riding his bicycle to work. LINK to Dochy Farm Cemetery.
Then it was on to Tyne Cot Cemetery where tour members joined with Susie Nichols to commemorate Arthur Jacobs who was killed in the 10th Battalion's position on Broodseinde Ridge on 7 October 1917 by shellfire, while the Battalion was preparing for its next phase of operations - see LINK. Susie has published a book on the Jacobs family who sent seven sons to war on two continents (Europe and East Africa) of whom two died.
From there tour group headed to Hill 60, which had to be foregone the previous day due to time constraints.
We had an early afternoon and an early dinner so we could take part in the Last Post ceremony where our group laid a wreath.
The Last Post Ceremony tonight was a big one with a large official party headed up by the Governor of NSW, Lieutenant General David Hurley, with Federal representation in the form of Hon Warren Snowden. Tour members Mark Fairleigh Peter Neuhaus and Guide Steve Larkins met a group of former Army colleagues, General Hurley and members of his staff. Mark Fairleigh had been 2IC to then LtCol Hurley in Somalia.
Our wreath-laying party comprised Joe Verco and his wife Mary-Lou Bishop, Susie Nichols and Peter Zillman each of whom had a direct family connection with the Ypres Battles. Mary-Lou's great uncle Alfred was killed in the preliminary phase of the attack on Broodseinde Ridge, and has no known grave. He is thus commemorated on the Menin Gate. His younger brother Walter had died of wounds at Bolougne just two weeks earlier. As a result their mother wrote to General Birdwood to send her remaining son, Lloyd Alan Bishop, home to help their ailing father on the family farm. Which he did - Australia's own 'Saving Private Ryan' story.
And so concluded the Western Front component of our tour. Tomorrow we head for Normandy and 'Fast Forward' 27 years to 1944. All we have to do is negotiate the perils of the General Strike that is threatening to block roads and deny fuel supplies in France.