‘Remember the courage and bravery of the men who fought here’

July 31, 2017

WASTE OF LIFE: ‘The Last Surviving Tommy’ as he was known, Harry Patch, of Wells, made these comments on his experiences with the Somerset Light Infantry in the Battle of Passchendaele: “To me, it’s a licence to go out and murder. Why should the British Government call me up and take me to a battlefield to shoot a man I never knew, whose language I couldn’t speak?” Picture by Jim Ross.

 

CANADIAN SACRIFICE: This is the Guedecourt Memorial that remembers the efforts of the Newfoundland Regiment for the Battle of Le Transloy, a sub-battle of the Battle of the Somme in 1916. They played a decisive role in the capture and holding of a German strong-point.

FOCAL POINT: This picture from seven years ago shows me walking amongst the Commonwealth War Graves where relatives from the fallen congregated alongside political leaders from European and Commonwealth countries this week.

NEVER FORGET: Prince Charles said these words at the commemoration at the CWGC Tyne Cot cemetery: “The Battle we know as Passchendaele would last for a hundred days. We remember it not only for the rain that fell, the mud that weighed down the living and swallowed the dead, but also for the courage and bravery of the men who fought here.”

LOCAL HERO: This man was a Somerset Light Infantry member and his grave lies here in Belgium. For those who are interested, the graves were given a cross on their stone where their religious affiliation was not known.

 

 

 

THIS week has seen the 100th anniversary of one of the bloodiest battles of human history that was fought in the First World War.

The Battle of Passchendaele was known as the Third Battle of Ypres on the Western Front for control of the southern and eastern sides of the Belgian city of Ypres. This was part of strategy decided by the Allies at two conferences in November 1916 and May 1917.

The battle for this village was crucial to the outcome on the Western Front as it lay on the last ridge east of Ypres, five miles from a railway station at Roulers, which was vital to the logistical supply chain of the German 4th Army.

For me it is personal writing about this as I visited the village of Passchendale as part of a tour of war graves seven years ago with my father, nephew and brother-in-law and whilst there, I was aware of a great uncle who served and died during the First World War but saw no reference to him on any comrade memorials.

TyneCot is biggest Commonwealth cemetery

We visited the Tynecot Cemetery where the Prince of Wales, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, British prime minister Theresa May, French president Emmanuel Macron and other dignitaries have been commemorating this solemn moment.

The TyneCot Cemetery is the largest Commonwealth set of war graves of its any kind anywhere in the world and is the cemetery name is said to come from the Northumberland Fusiliers who observed a resemblance between the German concrete pill boxes and Tyneside workers cottages. The cemetery is located outside Passchendaele.

Prince Charles said the ceremony this week, as recorded in the Guardian: “One hundred years ago today the 3rd Battle of Ypres began. At 3.50am, less than five miles from here, thousands of men drawn across France, Britain and the Commonwealth attacked German lines.

‘We remember bravery of those who fought here’

“The Battle we know as Passchendaele would last for a hundred days. We remember it not only for the rain that fell, the mud that weighed down the living and swallowed the dead, but also for the courage and bravery of the men who fought here.”

Whilst reflecting on this occasion and when I was visiting Belgium in 2010, the last surviving Tommy as he was at the time, Harry Patch, was a regular celebrity in the central Somerset area and remember former colleagues of mine that interviewed him whilst I was working at a local newspaper covering that area.

Whilst it is part of human history, we can’t deny the industrial scale of killing that happened and we must vow that this must never happen again and to seek custodial sentences for those who desecrate war graves.

Why was I told to shoot someone I didn’t know?’

“When the war ended, I don’t know if I was more relieved that we’d won or that I didn’t have to go back. Passchendaele was a disastrous battle – thousands and thousands of young lives were lost. It makes me angry. Earlier this year, I went back to Ypres to shake the hand of Charles Kuentz, Germany’s only surviving veteran from the war.

“He is 107. We’ve had 87 years to think what war is. To me, it’s a licence to go out and murder. Why should the British Government call me up and take me to a battlefield to shoot a man I never knew, whose language I couldn’t speak? All those lives lost for a war finished over a table. Now what is the sense in that?”

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