4th March 1919

It poured with rain all night and all morning, but we managed before our 9am start to have a look at the Cathedral at Dunkerque. This had been hit by a big shell from twenty-five miles range, and completely ruined. It was the first hit of a long-range gun and caused a great sensation. We could only peep through the cracks of the doors, but could see well enough the ruin within – the roofless columns, and the stone carvings lying in fragments.

We passed through Purvyse, where we found an absolutlely wrecked town – not a single house habitable. It was pitiable. The Church too was an absolute ruin. We visited with great interest a house in which two ladies, Baroness T’Sercles and Miss Chisholm, lived, making it a dressing station, until they were shelled out. They started in Pervyse in 1914 and continued till they were gassed out in March 1918 at the beginning of the big British retreat. I photographed the ruins.

Purvyse

Ruined cottage in Pervyse used as a dressing station by Baroness T’Serclaes and Miss Mairie Chisholm during part of the service there. (IWM)

When we neared the Belgian Front we became intensely interested. We saw isolated little graves marked with a cross, just dotted about where the men had fallen, anywhere in the mud or on the roadside. The mud became deeper and deeper, and our card was up to her axles in seas of water. We stopped at the line… The moment we were over this line we were in the tract of country known as No-man’s land – of dread memory – where men lay and died unable to be reached to bring them in. A straight and shining tract of watery road crossed it, and again we plunged and jolted through lakes and shell holes, till it was a marvel our axles did not break. Great derelict aeroplanes, shot down to lie and rot in the mud, lay like skeletons on either side.

We came upon the once fashionable watering place of Blankenberghe… The first thing we visited here was the graveyard of the Germans, standing round a shattered ruin of a church. Here they had buried the fourteen of our British men who fell in the great fight at Zeebrugge. There was a faded wreath of palm leaves lying on the centre, and above it a fine marble tablet:

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Gravestones in Zeebrugge (Cromer Museum)

I photographed this from two points of view – in pouring rain – with the greatest interest. Lady Norman wrote on her card: – “a tribute from three English women”, which Miss Conway and I signed, and left it on the grave.

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