On Friday 21September, a Paviors’ party of eight set off for a three-day tour of battlefields to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. Led by Chis and Anne Plant’s beautifully restored MGB, the destination was Ypres in Belgium. However, the first stop on emerging from the Channel Tunnel, was at Dunkirk to hear described the desperate evacuation of 340,000 troops of the British Expeditionary Force from the beaches between 26 May and 4 June 1940.
After a short journey from here, the group arrived in the rather attractive town of Ypres and settled in at the comfortable Ariane Hotel. Ypres looks as if little has changed since the middle ages, with an imposing cloth hall and cathedral at its cobbled centre. But, of course, the devastation of the war has ensured that there is nothing over 90 years old left in the entire region, and the town has in fact been completely and lovingly recreated. The Paviors’ group attended the nearby Menin Gate ‘Last Post’ ceremony that evening, participating in the brief ceremony of remembrance that has taken place every evening since the memorial was completed in 1927 (barring the period during the Second World War). This proves to be an emotional experience for many of those attending.
On Saturday morning, the group climbed into its hired minibus, with guide Rodger, to start a full day tour. First stop was the Advanced Dressing Station at Essex Farm, where details were given about the realities of 10 doctors attempting to cope with up to 3,000 casualties a day. Essex Farm is where John McCrae served as a Brigade Surgeon, writing In Flanders’ Fields, a poem that gave rise to the poppy being recognized as a symbol of remembrance. The day progressed with visits to Hill 60, the place of much of the fiercest fighting in both wars, the Canadian Cemetery, the Irish Peace Park, and the site of the Christmas football match. This was followed by the eerie experience of walking through the re-constructed Yorkshire trenches, and hearing of the brutal battle underground, before visiting the vast and beautifully maintained cemetery at Tyne Cot.
Sunday saw the Paviors’ group departing in convoy to visit the nearby town of Poperinge, a place of rare retreat for troops between duty on the front line, and then back into France to visit La Coupole, a massive WW2 V2 rocket base, thankfully destroyed by the RAF just before becoming operational.
The group heard some harrowing stories, but you cannot come away from contact with the enormity of the Ypres battlefield experience feeling anything other than extremely lucky. Perhaps as a result, whilst ‘off duty’, the Paviors’ group of Wilsons, Plants, Kremises and Ashleys had a wonderful time, benefiting from the simply brilliant restaurants, a sufficiency of local wine, and plentiful Armagnac to ensure a remarkably convivial weekend. The Royal Marines challenge themselves to be ‘cheerful in the face of adversity’ … and the Paviors did not let them down.