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Home History War Memorial - 1914-1915 wreath-laying expedition

War Memorial - 1914-1915 wreath-laying expedition

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Wreaths were laid at the Landbeach War Memorial in 2015 for the fallen of 1914 and 1915. The wreaths were then carried by Barbara Le Gallez to their final resting-places in France and Belgium.

Flowers by Jackie Ellam, 2015Here is how the wreaths were laid in Landbeach:

Here is a photo-history of the journey of these wreaths carried by Barbara Le Gallez to their final resting-places in France and Belgium. Text also by Barbara Le Gallez.

War Memorial

Wreaths rest at the War Memorial, surmounted by the wreath which the Royal British Legion lay every year.

Wreath in St James

Wreaths temporarily laid up in the Chapel of St James, inside All Saints' Church, before their journey to France.

Waterbeach Station

Wreaths parade at Waterbeach Station before entraining for France.

Listen to the clock of St John's Waterbeach striking eleven while this photo was being taken:

Wreaths and Bearer departed from Waterbeach Station early on the morning of Tuesday 17th November. The photo shows the view of St John’s Church we had as we waited on the Station. We were travelling just a few days after the terrorist massacres in Paris. It was a grim thought that, just as during the Great War, idealistic young people are this very day being deluded into shooting and blowing up other young people.

We arrived in Paris by Eurostar at the Gare du Nord, which is shown here that night lit up with the French flag, in defiance of the atrocities.

Wreath Hatton and Bearer transferred to the Gare de l’Est. France has a lot of sad history to remember from the World Wars - here is the memorial at Gare de l’Est to the French victims of Nazism. The flags, like all the French flags we saw, are furled in memory of the victims of 13th November.

La Ferte sign

In the afternoon of Tuesday 17th Nov, Wreath Hatton and Bearer got out of the train at the station at La Ferté sous Jouarre...

La Marne

... and walked through the delightful small town to the Marne – a massive river across which the Royal Engineers heroically built an emergency bridge while under fire on 9 and 10 September 1914.

La Ferte memorial

And on the other side is the Memorial to the Missing of the Marne. I had dreaded finding the sort of big, aggressive monument which seems to celebrate militarism, but in fact it is quite low-rise and of a gentle orange colour. It looks rather like a giant’s sandcastle.

La Ferte wreath in position

Here’s Harry J Hatton’s wreath underneath the panel bearing his name.

H Hatton name

And here’s the panel with Harry’s rank (Driver) at the top and his name near the bottom.

It was at this point that the Guardian of the Memorial arrived, understandably curious to know what was going on. He was the first of the many local people who were thrilled by the wreath-laying project and who offered every kindness and assistance possible. The guardian helped to tie Harry’s wreath to a stand with the other British and local wreaths that had been laid on Remembrance Day.

La Ferte gardien

Here is the guardian pointing to Harry’s wreath.

View from La Ferte memorial

And here’s the final view from Harry’s memorial, over a little park and children’s play area to the Marne – a nice place to leave Harry.

Gare de Lille

Wreaths Fromant and Mead, and Bearer, then travelled to Lille, arriving at this station. There were shockingly many beggars, accompanied by little children, in Lille. The impression I had of Northern France was that it is an area struggling with enormous social problems.

Armentières sign

Gare d'Armentières

On Wednesday 18th November, Wreaths and Bearer took another train to Armentières, arriving at this station.

At this point a major hitch in the plan became apparent – there were no taxis, and no bus seemed to go anywhere near the cemetery. Wreaths and Bearer set out to walk, but quickly became lost in the town centre. We were saved by the kindness of several people, who directed us to the (rather well-hidden) tourist office, and by the unflappable angel behind the desk, who telephoned for a taxi and located our destination on a map. Possibly this could be described as commandeering local transport.

Rue David Cemetery

Ernest Tom Fromant lies in the pretty little cemetery at Rue David, Fleurbaix, which was being tidied up by employees of the Commonwealth War Graves commission.

Rue David Book of Remembrance

The kind taxi driver helped to find Ernest’s name in the Book of Remembrance (in every cemetery you will find a wall cupboard containing such a book). Here is the book (the hands belong to the taxi driver).

ET Fromant's name

Ernest’s name is at the bottom of the page.

ET Fromant's grave

How exciting it was when we found Ernest’s grave and gave him his wreath!

Rue David view

Then it was time to leave Ernest among his comrades.

Ieper station sign

Ieper station

Wreath Mead and Bearer arrived at Ieper station on the afternoon of Wednesday 18th November.

Menin Gate

Harry Mead’s wreath was laid at the Last Post Cemetery at the Menin Gate that evening. Here’s the Menin Gate, which I have to say is an example of the sort of aggressive monumental architecture that puts me off.

The ceremony was attended by about a hundred people, including two large groups of young children, whose main interest seemed to be destruction testing of the chains that are hung to stop pedestrians wandering into the road. Two lovely men – one English and one Australian – were very interested in hearing about Harry’s wreath and in sharing their own stories as we waited for the ceremony to start. The lines "They shall grow not old ..." were read by a New Zealand Army reservist.

Hotel Regina music

Here is the music of the Last Post written out on the wall of the Hotel Regina in Ieper (curious, but true).

Harry Mead's wreath

By great good luck, the frame where new wreaths are laid was directly under Harry’s name. Harry's wreath is the cross of poppies and his name is near the top of the middle top panel.

Harry Mead's name

Here’s a closeup of the part of the panel showing Harry’s rank and name.

Menin Gate ramparts at night

After the ceremony, people are free to wander around the memorial. Here you can see people standing in the upper gallery reading the names, with a half-moon just visible among the clouds above the memorial.

Menin stairs

There were a very large number of wreaths laid all around the internal staircases of the memorial, remaining from Remembrance Day.

Harry Mead's wreath in its final location

Here’s Harry’s wreath lying in its final resting place among his comrades.

Battlefield plan

Why is the Memorial to the Missing at the Menin Gate in particular? This fine bronze relief map, on the ramparts next to the gate, shows how the front line was only a few kilometres from Ieper in that direction, so it was out of the Menin Gate that the British troops marched to battle.

Indian Memorial, Ieper

Many of these British troops were from other parts of the Empire, and a significant number of them were from the Indian subcontinent. Here is the memorial on the ramparts to the Indian troops.

St George's Memorial Church, Ieper

St George’s Memorial Church in Ieper was set up by the English after the War to commemorate their fallen. Every available space is filled with an inscription to some person or group. Here is a kneeler with the badge of Harry’s regiment.

Lille War Memorial

This detail from a fine war memorial in Lille gives an idea of what WWI soldiers would have looked like.

The Ypra Inn, just within the Menin Gate, displays on its walls a small selection of war-related photographs of Ieper, and this poem, “By a Bier-side” by John Masefield:

This is a sacred city, built of marvellous earth.
Life was lived nobly there, to give such beauty birth.
Beauty was in that heart and in that eager hand.
Death is so blind and dumb; Death does not understand.

Death drifts the brain with dust and soils the young limbs' glory.
Death makes justice a dream and strength a traveller's story.
Death drives the lovely soul to wander under the sky.
Death opens unknown doors. It is most grand to die.

Last Updated on Sunday, 06 December 2015 14:24  

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