6th March 1919

We tried to make an eight o’clock start, for we had a long distance to travel on Wednesday.

The Menin round to Ypres impressed us tremendously. The indescribable wrack of war was to be seen as nowhere else. The remnants of tanks lay everywhere in shell-holes. We could see eight from one point of view.

Tank

Wrecked tank on the Menin Road, 1919. This image is from a negative in our collection which was originally to overexposed for Edis to make a print from. Our curator, Alistair Murphy, scanned the negative and developed the image digitally, making him the first person to see it since Edis took the photo in 1919.

Cartridges, bombs, grenades of every kind lay strewn upon the ground. Once could pick up “trophies” by the hundred had one cared, accoutrements, helmets, bayonets, shell cases. The sun was beginning to gleam after a long morning of rain and I found several fine pictures of the historic road against the light.

Ypres

Battlefield at Ypres (Cromer Museum)

The camp at Hooge was a swamp, on a sloping ground, the tiny white crosses packed close together, two men in every grave, and a path of duck boards to slide on, one’s boots coated with slimy yellow mud… To some of the crosses clung the label with a blue line across it – ‘Unidentified British soldier’; on some a tin hat, a scrap of clothing, on one a pair of the man’s boots; but many were named. A tiny hut at the top of the field tempted me to look inside – A pile of spades – two stretchers with long

large_cr09156a

The Cloth Hall, Ypres (Cromer Museum)

suggestive forms swathed in sacking mats – a pair of boots at one end – and one realised that the salvage workers had had a “find” in some shell-hole, and had brought the poor remnants of humanity here to give them burial. A label tied to one read ‘Unknown British Soldier, West Yorkshire Regiment. Identified by badge’ – and that was all. But the sun and wind had done their work – the mud was hardly needed – for dust had already turned to dust.

…But it was Ypres that had drawn us all day long – and nothing more striking could be imagined. It is a beautiful town – with the Cloth Hall still beautiful in its tragic ruin – a monument to be left for ever of the Hun and his ambitions. I longed to stay and wander about but time pressed, and it was all I could do to get two plates of it.

On we sped till we reached Poperinghe – shattered and miserable – but still inhabited. We crossed the frontier near Watow – with no trouble – and on to Cassel, where Lady Norman’s son was at the Signal Headquarters of the Brigade. We had a cheery reception and were at once shown the big guns which were Nigel’s special charge. Nigel’s hut was most comfortably arranged with two beds and two ‘lounges’ and many little comforts, to say nothing of about 20 pairs of boots and a large collection of pistols.

We were to spend the night with the Fanys in their camp. We were put up in real Fany cubicles in Mission Huts – rows of zinc corrugated tunnels – most comfortably fitted up… My changing of [photographic] plates was accomplished with enormous precautions not to disturb the snores of the Fany in the next cubicle.

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