Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Diksmuide to Ieper (Ypres)

Wednesday 20 and Thursday 21 May

The journey upstream down (south) to Ieper (only Ypres if you are French or Wipers if you are a Pom) was uneventful and once we turned off the River IJzer and onto the IJzer Ieper canal we were between avenues of Linden trees and deep into countryside marred only by the sounds of paintball guns going off in order to frighten the birds from the fruit and seed – considering the area we were travelling through, it was a trifle jarring. But a charming, slow motion cruise on a mild and sunny day it was.

Ieper marina has what one needs by way of mooring, showers (€2 for 8 minutes)and toilets but it is not in a very salubrious part of town and the havenmeester, with his toothless smile and habit of always positioning himself where he could see down the hatch into the boat or, if that was closed, through our back saloon window, we found to be a bit odd…

Every year since 1928, with an interruption from 1940 to 1944 during the German occupation, buglers have played the Last Post at the Menin Gate in remembrance of the fallen Empire soldiers of the Great War – the names of 54,896 soldiers are inscribed on the walls including those of South Africans who served in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Regiments, South African Infantry as well as a few from the South African Heavy Artillery Regiment.

So after a visit to the rather moving Essex Farm Cemetery and field hospital where John McCrae was supposed to have composed his poem “In Flanders Field”

The grave of one of the youngest soldiers to have died on the Allies side - 15 year old Rfn Valentine Strudwick

A field hospital ward.

we set off to watch the ceremony at Menin Gate

– and very moving it was, with four buglers playing the Last Post in perfect time and the Colour being drooped despite the efforts of the abjectly rude 'picture whore' (professional photographer) who, despite being politely requested and then almost warned by officials to back off, continued to block others’ view including almost interrupting the solemn dedication with his crass behaviour.

Colour Sergeant representing the British Legion

Even the UN peacekeepers were there.
Wreath laying.

But there were many a tearful eye...

The next day we took bikes to Hill 62/The Sanctuary Wood Museum

and the Crater Museum; the collection of old 3D photographs at Sanctuary Wood graphically depicting battlefield conditions moved us more than words can describe and after this we were emotionally ‘warred out’.

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame, all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! — An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams before my helpless sight
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin,
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
Bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, —
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Wilfred Owen - Thought to have been written between 8 October 1917 and March 1918

Coffee at the Crater Museum was the only highlight of tht institution being in the mood we were.

From here on we will put WWI behind us and move on to ‘joie de vie’.


Monday 18 & Tuesday 19 May

With bad weather in the offing we decided to sit out the rain and wind for the next two days in this delightful town. With rain, sleet, hail, wind and sunshine we did not much although we went to the Museum aan de Izer where Lynn took the lift to the 22nd floor of the tower, shaped like a battlefield cross, and photographed the town with Elle on the river in the foreground.

Sculpture to children killed, maimed or missing in war

The best thing was that Kuurne have agreed to refund us our summer mooring fee and now we will be in berth #5 at Diksmuide with a great 10m finger to moor up against and with minimal passing commercial traffic.

'Our' mooring will be 5th along from the grey havenmeester's office.

So, later that evening, the occasion was celebrated...

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Nieuwpoort to Diksmuide via the Dodengang

Sunday 17 May 2015

The sun shone brightly even although the air was decidedly cool and we bade goodbye to the excellent Westhoek marina

and set off down the Ijzer river to visit the historical town of Diksmuide and its surrounds, less well known to those of us brought up on Empire history where 'facts' about towns like Ypres (Ieper) and Verdun, being more associated with Commonwealth army battles, were taught us, but of special significance to the Belgium people
-          As a center of Flemish nationalism, and because
-          This is where they stopped the German advance in WWI thereby creating the start of the Western Front

A most pleasant cruise through pretty countryside once again

until, some 11 kilometres later we come to the ‘Dodengang’ (Death Trenches) site where part of the Belgian redoubt has been preserved. Passing some battlefield ruins we moored right outside the museum building

and went about trying to understand the horrors of what the soldiers on both sides must have undergone for the next four years while their generals experimented with various forms of trench warfare tactics including the use of poison gas. Quite a sobering experience indeed!

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Major John MaCrae - May 1915

After that we needed a beer at the nearby Dodengang pub

and then it was back to the boats and off to Diksmuide where we tied up at De Ijzervaardes marina with the huge Izertoring and Paxpoort looming above us.

Our havenmeester and Club secretary Willy plied us with maps and information about Diksmuide so after a delicious lunch of golden bream on fresh asparagus and endives smothered with mousseline sauce

we carried the bikes up to the road level and rode the suggested cycle route around and through the town, visiting the old Vismarkt

  the Papegaei brewery outlet for a tasting (and a purchase...)

The Beginhof, most of which is now a sanatorium, with its adjoining chapel ,

the park with its memorial to the French Naval Fusiliers (Marines?)

and the Grote Markt with the The City Hall and neighbouring Saint Nicolas Church both of which were completely rebuilt after World War I in the Gothic style of the 14th and 15th centuries.

One of a pair which used to top the spire, it bears the wounds of war.

An excellent and informative day! We might even leave our boat here over summer if Kuurne will agree to refund our money.