In April 2005, a coach trip went from Gislingham to visit the fields of Ypres (Ieper) where several of the village’s residents are commemorated. Roy Buttle of the Six Bells who, with wife Margaret, organised the trip has written his personal reflections and record of this trip.
Each year near Remembrance Day I write something that I hope will stir you to part with your pennies for the Poppy Appeal. A couple of years ago I wrote:
All too long ago? Then come with me to the little town of Ieper in Belgium and I will show you something I promise you will NEVER FORGET.
On Friday 1st April, 49 souls braved the Channel train crossing to go and see. Many found for themselves that they had someone to visit, and hopefully this stirred an interest that maybe they’d never had before.
Our first stop was just an hour from Calais where we were to lay a wreath on the grave of Private J. Ellinor, one of three Gislingham men that we found and honoured on this Salient. So here we were at Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, which was a casualty clearing station from 1915. The first thing that strikes one is the enormity of this cemetery; a total of over 10,000 graves are marked here, including that of Staff Nurse Spindler, killed whilst tending the wounded – and of those 233 were Germans.
Just down the road we stopped in the small town of Poperinghe (the home of Poplin cloth) where we had lunch. It is possible here to visit the now-famous Talbot House. It was ‘Tommy’ who shortened this to Toc H. Started by Padre Philip Byard (Tubby) Clayton as a rest house, it soon became known as everyman’s club and it was Tubby who first coined the phrase “abandon rank all who enter here!”
Whilst here we also had the opportunity to visit some condemned cells and the last remaining original execution post. After lunch we left what ‘Tommy’ described as “the last stop before hell” for a short drive to the town of Ieper, home to the now-famous but then infamous Menin Gate from where many thousands would have marched off to their fate, many with a song on their lips.
The first thing you notice is how slow the pace is here; how clean, proud and dignified the town and its people stand. How can one imagine the horrors that took place here such a short time ago when it was destroyed by shell fire. Many of the buildings have markers to show the height of what was left. You can touch every one with your hand.
After a chance to freshen up in our hotel we met up for a trip to Ploegsteert (Plug Street to Tommy), which is further down the Salient just close to the French border. Here the famous Christmas Truce of 1914 took place and on the first Friday of the month a Last Post Ceremony takes place to honour the dead and the missing. This is of particular importance to me (my Uncle is honoured here) and we were to be guests of honour at the wreath laying. Thus after this moving and memorable experience it was back to the pub where Phillipe and Fabianne fed and watered us – and we were entertained by Gerald Prior and Chris Tutin on their guitars. We had a good old sing-song, singing many of Tommy’s old songs before it was off to bed.