Friday, 31 May 2013
If you are my age you grew up with it. A visible symbol of how the world was divided into free countries and those that were not free.
This is one the preserved sections - the wall facing us is the view from the West. In the middle the 'deadground' watched over by the sinister looking tower. At the back, the wall that would face you from the East.
This is not a wall to keep you out. It is a wall to keep you in.
How morally bankrupt must your government be to have to do this?
So desperate were the citizens of both sides to overcome this barrier they went to incredible lengths to escape or to create a means for escape. This is tunnel 57 - so named for the number of people who managed to get out in it's short lived life before it was betrayed and the East German police ambushed the last set of rescuers and escapees.
Makes you think - especially as this was only just over 20 years ago that the Wall came down.
Keep vigilant - there are always idiots trying to build barriers to keep people out - why?
Thursday, 30 May 2013
Two other great uncles fought in the First World War - it would be interesting to see their stories and follow in their footsteps. Sound like more work for Chris Baker at Fourteen-eighteen!
Verdun - incredible place. So much more to see down there.
Maginot Line - a series of post WW1 fortifications that were meant to deter another invasion (by the Germans) and famously did not. I drove past one the the Forts that is open to the public at certain times (I was driving by when it wasn't). Looked fascinating.
Reims - champagne capital but also right on the frontline for most of the war. Some interesting French and American battles to explore down there.
So there you have it - the beginnings of another series of tours and blogs!
See you in Berlin.
Wednesday, 29 May 2013
Apologies for any formating issues in copying this across from the PDF!
Once again Chris had great maps to go with this text.
Moving ahead to the quarry..
Google Translations of 'Are you the owner of the field with the German Fortifications in it' and other non-standard phrases I tracked down Mdm Philippe, the farmer's wife (or mother - not sure) and asked if I could get in the field to take some close ups.
A remarkable opportunity to in some way recognise the extraordinairy efforts of the people who fought in the Great War.
I took the opportunity to further abuse a rental car by driving around the battlefield and getting up close to a few of the landmarks I mentioned in the fist post.
So straight away here is La Haye Sainte up close and personal - and looking remarkably like the old Airfix kit I had growing up...
Waiting until you could see the whites of theirs eyes (and the smell of the garlic...) you would have given them three volleys of musket shots in a minute and not soon after that they would have turned tail and fled. You pause and then when Wellington waves his hat, off you go, general advance and the end of the battle!
Off in the distance is la Belle Alliance where old Boney himself is directing things.
And finally here is Hougoumont - the key to the Allied right flank.
So there you have it - a bit more on Waterloo and despite the rain (again) it was great to walk the battlefield and see things from the ground.
More to come on the Somme now including some belligerent cows....
Tuesday, 28 May 2013
Thanks again to Chris Baker for all of the detailed research on his record and for being able to provide such precise locations for the action - something that allowed me to stand on the same spot my relative did all those years ago. I'm telling you that really makes you think!
Here is the announcement in the London Gazette confirming his second MC.
consolidating a new line”.
This took place during the last great Allied offensive of the war in 1918 - but was fought back on ground initially won in the Somme offensive of 1916 (at such high cost) and then lost again to the Kaiser's offensive of early 1918. Thus my great uncle was back in the same general location as his initial service in 1916 and 1917.
The attack mentioned in the Gazette was part of a broad effort to push the Germans back from around Albert. My uncle was in charge of a company of machine guns in the machine gun battalion - a group used by Divisional leaders to support other units in the attack. This allowed concentration of resources to support specific tactical objectives.
Now we can put ourselves (to a certain extent!) in my great uncle's shoes...
To get a different perspective I then carried on towards La Boiselle and the Lochnagar crater (see earlier posts)
I said earlier that this was like being in his shoes - but the conditions then were unimaginable. It is a gross simplification to describe it that way. The following picture is from Michael Stedman's book again - Advance to Victory 1918, Somme. Pg 99. It was taken just before the Allied attacks in 1918.
The bottom left of this picture is the same one covered in my pictures in the post.
I have another powerful picture for the Web. Apologies for using without permission.
So that covers one chapter from my great uncle's war time career. Tomorrow I will post on his first Military Cross earnt in 1917 at Irles.
Bruges looks fabulous in the sun, justifying it's reputation as the 'Venice of the North'. Technically Birmingham has many more miles of canals but even the most stout hearted of Anglophiles would have to say it compares poorly to both Bruges and Venice.
Sunday, 26 May 2013
He met his match with Wellington though . You can appreciate Wellington and his eye for good ground to fight on at Waterloo . He set it up in his favour and exploited it brilliantly.
I also took away today more of a sense of how small the battlefield was in comparison to the WW1 and WW2 fields visited earlier. Up on the monuments you can see all the ground fought over and even Napoleon's HQ in the distance.
There are reams and reams written on Waterloo - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Waterloo
So have your fill! It is a visit where you can genuinely still see what the Generals saw and how that influenced their decisions.
Few other points . The allied side really was diverse with Wellington in overall command of Dutch and German forces . The Prussian effort was immense to get forces into the battle late on and finish things off . The key farms of Hougomont and la Haye Sainte are still there and almost like they were 200 years ago .
Great visit . Looks like a new visitors centre in the works for 2015 which will be the bicentennial.
Saturday, 25 May 2013
This is extracted from Chris Baker's outstanding report on my great uncles war record in the First World War. Once I have worked out how to share the whole report I will post on that too!
Amazingly I have stood on the exact spot where this Irles action took place and have seen the same bunkers my great uncle captured way back then!
Friday, 24 May 2013
Thursday, 23 May 2013
Quick update , now fully mobile on the phone too ! Waiting in Brussels for darranda to arrive so drinking a Belgian beer of course . Travel day to day from rheims to lille to Brussels . Not much action today but did find out Eisenhower took the unconditional surrender of the German forces in the west in rheims so champagne all round I'd say !
Wednesday, 22 May 2013
The heights were fought over from early on in the War - from late 1914. There was a village at the top. Completely obliterated. The inhabitants did not leave - they stayed in natural underground caves. Both sides then copied this - and expanded the natural network to an astonishing degree. There are now over 4.5 KM of underground galleries, 184 large rooms and four blockhouses that are safe to visit (so that means a lot is not!). There is a railway under the mountain!
On top it is an incredible landscape - because you could dig so easily there was lots of tunnelling and mine warfare - the gap between the two lines is a series of enormous craters. Once again the two sides are really close - maybe 50 metres at most.
The first mine crate I passed was blown up on 14 May 1916 with sixty tons of explosive! It killed 108 men of the French 46th RI.
The American forces eventually had to attack across this crater riven divide - I have no idea how they did it. It is difficult enough now with narrow tracks across.
I'll start the photo's from the French / American side of the Butte
The village before it was obliterated.
I did find this visit surreal. I was the only one there (and I will post something to prove that in a minute). It was quiet. It was green.
What must it have been like in those years? What kind of hell was it?
Here is the You Tube link