First of all, many thanks to Mark of Soverign Battlefield Tours. The trip was organised brilliantly. Once the party was in his care, everything was sorted. There was nothing more to worry about – just relax and let Mark take the strain.
Most impressive was the real-time research that was done on the ground to try to locate the people and places that Harry would have known. We needed a lot of careful work, some inspiration and not a little luck, to enjoy the success we had.
I needed to visit the battlefields. The work on the blog for the last two years had left an enormous gap that could only be filled by a visit to the place where the terrible events took place.
What was the aim? I wanted to see the places where Harry fought. I wanted to visit the locations where the battles took place and to try to picture something of what he experienced 90 years ago.
Please refer to the folders of pictures to illustrate the account. Click to access the albums.
We visited the cemeteries. The row upon row of young men’s graves gave off a powerful message. Many times in the three days I felt the tears welling up as I thought of the sorrow that was there. Each stone marked one man’s death but signaled the grief, the tragedy for his wife, children, mother, lover, brothers, sisters and friends (delete where not applicable.)
We started to focus on Harry’s letters, the War Diaries and the maps, to try to extract details.
We tried to find the grave of the Battalion Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Bowes-Wilson, who was reported killed on the morning of June 7th 1917 – the Battle of Messines Ridge. The Commonweath War Graves Commission provide a computer database at the Tyne Cot Cemetery Visitor Centre that was easy to search.
Lieutenant-Colonel J.H.Bowes-Wilson was buried at the
Once we located the small cemetery, it was quite simple to follow the date sequences on the stones to find him. See photo Our first success, a very nice feeling.
Careful work with the “Operation Order” for the Messines attack (Actually written by Colonel Bowes-Wilson) led us to “
The defensive action on the 30th September was a little harder to sort out. We started looking a few hundred yards adrift until “Bedford House” – from the war diaries - was spotted. Bedford House was named as the location Harry’s Company was to move from to relieve the troops in the front line trench. The house was destroyed but “Bedford House” was now the name of a war cemetery. If we found it on the ground, maybe that would help us with the location of the front line trenches for that day.
“the Captain got killed” writes Harry of the defensive action on September 30th 1917.
We went to the
There were over a thousand graves in the beautiful Cemetery, but luck was on our side. As soon as we located the date area for September 1917, there he was, Captain A. W. Sykes Age 42. “The dearly loved husband of Mary Sykes Netherleigh Huddersfield” Photo
“A jolly good fellow too” adds Harry in his letter.
This was powerful. Here was someone that Harry knew. Captain Sykes was in charge of C Company. He would have known each of the 100 or so men under his command personally. He would have known Harry.
We couldn’t really go much further with this one. It was only possible to guess the rough route that Harry would have taken from the assembly point to the front line trench.
We did many of the popular tourist sites. We experienced the Ceremony at the Menin Gate,
We visited Poperinge, a sensible distance behind the lines, for Talbot House - a haven for off-duty solders - and the "Shot at Dawn" site.
The whole experience was rewarding and emotional for me. Tears flowed. I felt such sorrow that men could cause this horror and carnage. A purely personal view – I realise that I am no different from the men responsible, yet cannot conceive circumstances where, given the responsibility, I could allow it to happen.
Yet, I am the same.
I must be far from understanding how it really took place.
Several readers have commented that this version is fine. Reading it, I don't think that I can improve it, however much time I spend. This is no longer a draft! BL