Battlefield History Tours

Battlefield History Tours
Incorporating History and Heritage tours

Western Front to Normandy Tour on 19 September 2019


Today's emphasis was on the key battles of the Third Ypres campaign, west of the city, in which the two ANZAC Corps (I & II )across which all five AIF Divisions were spread, and were engaged in the period from the end of July until the end of November 1917

In order to brace ourselves for this campaign, we partook of another Belgian Breakfast before collecting our packed lunches, saddling up and heading out to the east of the city via the Menin Road. 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 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 (the final phase of the Battle of Menin Road) was explained, as was the circumstance of David Llewellyn's demise. Both incidents were actually part of the Menin Road battle which exploited in to the western edge of the wood, from whence the attacks of 26 September that is known as the Battle of Polygon Wood, were mounted.

Around to the car park dropping in to warn 'ANZAC Rest' of our imminent arrival. As we approached the cemetery the resident and very friendly donkey brayed his pleasure at our arrival in return for some apples.

After a Battle Brief on the Buttes cemetery on the battle for Polygon Wood, and inspection of the grounds, it was back to the bus and next stop Johan Vanderwhal's 'ANZAC Rest Café & Bar' which was open for business and a very welcome coffee. Johan regaled us with stories of his battlefield exploration and his key project the Brothers in Arms Memorial and an excellent video on the Third Ypres campaign.

From there we headed for Broodseinde Ridge where Steve Larkins explained the large meeting engagement battle on 4 October which saw the 1st 2nd and 3rd Divisions rout a German attack launched at the same time as their own. He then described 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, with inferences and speculation that the patrol had 'disappeared' or had met with foul play as prisoners of the Germans. Bob Kearney's book, through painstaking primary source research of unit Field Returns, has accounted for every man, none of whom were taken prisoner. Thirty seven of the eighty eight man patrol were killed including newly commissioned 2Lt Albert RAE, a classic example of the 'one pip one stunt' adage.

Then it was on to Dochy Farm and Passchendaele before heading to Tyne Cot Cemetery where we joined with David Llewellyn to commemorate his namesake great uncle David killed in the battle of Menin Road with the 10th Battalion and originally listed as missing; his is a rare case where he is listed on the Menin Gate but now has a grave at Tyne Cot too. We also visited the grave of Sergeant Lewis McGee who won a VC in the storming of the blockhouses in front of Tyne Cot on 4 October only to die at first Passchendaele a bare eight days later. We also commemorated Arthur Jacobs who was killed in the 10th Battalion's position on Broodseinde Ridge on 7 October 1917 by shellfire.

We had an early afternoon and opted for a late in the hotel so we could take part in the Last Post ceremony where our group laid a wreath. Our wreath-laying party comprised David Llewellyn, Geoff Kent, Judy Mills and Mark Evans who acquitted themselves admirably. Steve Larkins was roped in at the last minute to recite the 'exhortation', or as we know it, the Ode. He put his selection down to a soldierly bearing, red pants a hat and medals.

And so concluded the Western Front component of our tour. Tomorrow we head for Normandy and 'Fast Forward' 27 years to 1944. We return to France with the cry "En avant marche".

Steve Larkins


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