On the 16th May 2016, 5 veteran Fusiliers; Ray Cunningham, Dave Prince, Des Sinclair, Allan Stott and Me, set off on a 5 day trip to see where, in 1914, the British Expeditionary Force first encountered the German Army.
Our trip began when the 5 set off from their respective home locations, Cambridge, Manchester, Leicester, Salisbury and a place somewhere in deepest Wales.
The aim was to marry up at Dover, having transferred to our tour coach at the transfer station on the M20, to travel by ferry to Calais and onwards to our Hotel in the centre of Ypres, (a brilliant choice as we were only about 500 yards from the Menin Gate). Like many great plans, it did not survive contact with reality, and Dave ended up going to Dover by train then joining our coach, just 500 yards from the Ferry!
The system on the coach was to purchase tickets costing £1 each, which could then be exchanged for drinks. It caused quite a ripple when I purchased £75 worth, just to get us started! Ray wishes me to point out that the £75 was a rebate from the tour Company, of course!
We were perhaps unfortunate in having probably the most miserable group of fellow travellers, this is one of the downsides to coach trips, you are in the lap of the Gods as to who else is travelling with you. I guess they will be saying the same about us!
We decided to simply enjoy the journey and to get stuck into the £75 which we did until arriving at our hotel.
Not much can be recalled after that, it seems we had a good night with plenty of sherbet and even some food, which most of us cannot recall ordering or eating!
Day two saw us at Nimy, the railway bridge over the canal where the first 2 Victoria Crosses of WW1 were won by LT Maurice James Dease and Private Sidney Godley of the Royal Fusiliers. (See pics).
Lancashire readers will note that Maurice Dease VC was a Stonyhurst pupil.
We then continued visiting many of the places where the British Expeditionary Force fought such a magnificent fighting withdrawal in contact with overwhelming numbers of the enemy, recognised as one of the most difficult Infantry manoeuvers to achieve.
Into Mons for lunch (after a long up-hill walk to the Square), where we eventually had a tasty but very sparse chicken salad (sparse amount of very dry chicken)[some had burger and chips...Des] after going to a café in the square that didn’t serve food!
After lunch, one of the highlights of the tour was the visit to the quite splendid combined German and Allied Cemetery at St Symphorien Military Cem 2 Km south east of Mons, where some of the Regimental numbers on gravestones left us with some research to do on our return to UK, mainly to do with Letter prefixes.
We had decided to revisit the Menin Gate ceremony at 2000 hrs and we were again fortunate in being invited to lead the ceremony, this time it fell to Allan Stott to speak the famous and moving words of Laurence Binyon, “They shall grow not old” etc.
Allan of course did the Fusiliers proud.
Allan delivering “They shall grow not old”
Allan saluting on behalf of us all
Day 3, Wednesday and we had a rather tedious day of long journeys and
hours spent on the coach (much waffle about 1 and 2 Corps during the retreat
from Mons, consequently much travelling to and fro), this time with no
hot water for tea/coffee (someone forgot to fill the tank and when they
did, during lunch, they filled the wrong one!! Don’t remember
much about the day except a long discussion about our guide’s ability
to judge/estimate distance!! 1/2 mile walk was much more,
and too much for some.
Evening (another drunken one for some!!) met Graham the Aussie in the
Ypres Inn, of which more later, but we found ourselves promising that
we would do what we could to have him lead the Menin gate ceremony on
Day 4 was Thursday and we decided to give the coach itinerary a miss and
spent the day doing our own thing, much more enjoyable. We bought our
own packed lunch from a delightful Patisserie, at a fraction of the tour
organisers rip off price, and it was enjoyed on the huge square outside
Ypres Cathedral. We earlier toured St George’s Chapel, which is
a “must” for anyone reading this and considering going to
Ypres. The highlight perhaps of this day was discovering that the café
where we had drinks had a private museum , located in the
huge cellars under the café. Easily the most atmospheric museum
In the evening, we did indeed manage to convince the authorities that
our new Ozzie pal should be allowed to lead the ceremony, which he duly
did very well. His sartorial elegance was typically Ozzie, I will say
no more. Sadly, even at the Menin Gate, we had the usual Walt wearing
purchased medals, how shameful at such a place, he even had the nerve
to lay a wreath.
Friday saw us on our way home, easy for some, more eventful for others!
Due to a combination of circumstance, Allan did not get home until 0230
hrs on Saturday!
8th May 2017 will see 4 of us going for 12 days to Monte Cassino and surrounding
battles (David cares for his mum and cannot leave her for such a lengthy
period), respect Dave.
There are many more pics than can be placed on this report, they will
be on the LF and Association sites shortly.
Captain( retd) Joe Eastwood BEM CQSW.
Ray and Joe about to lay wreaths at Menin Gate
David Prince took most of these photos but some are Ray Cunningham's but David failed to get on his photos