(Sorry about the wonky placeholders again but the video works fine!)
Wednesday 1st August 2018 – well it is our last full day and we took ourselves off to Sanctuary Wood and Hooge Crater first. Not particularly linked to James Archibald McPhee but we wanted to visit anyway.
The museum was quaint but the glass 3-D slide machines were really harrowing as they didn’t hold back on their subject matter and due to the 3-D effect felt very real. At the back are some trenches and from the pock-marked terrain you did really get a feel for what it might have been like (although we visited in a very dry heat wave).
Sadly, the Hooge Crater has been filled in and is now part of a theme park but there is a good museum and a lovely walk which really gives you an idea as to the size of some of the craters that remain even today and how close the front lines were to each other.
In the afternoon we decided to look again for where James died. Armed with maps and Sat Nav off we set.
We drove up and down the St Julian to Ypres road but it was too busy and hot to step out but at least we’d solved the puzzle.
In the evening we returned to the Menin Gate in plenty of time and it was worth the wait. With a front row spot we had a clear view of the events, which were very moving.
All in all it was a throughly worthwhile trip and I would recommend anyone thinking about doing it to just do it! As many of our ancestors found out the hard way…life’s too short! Please contact me if you need any information or advice.
Tuesday 31st July 2018 – Hopefully we will have a much better day today! We are heading off to Track X cemetery first to find James Archibald McPhee’s final resting place and to lay our wreath. Before our trip I had not appreciated the sheer number of cemeteries that are around…many of which only contain a few graves and often in out of the way places. If you are visiting I would recommend you buy a decent cemetery map in advance of your trip!
We did find the cemetery and were touched but its small size and how well-kept it was. It was a really moving experience to stand at his headstone after all these years. It was very emotional and didn’t want to leave, instead we spent some time walking around and looking at the landscape. My thoughts are that he must have died within sight of this spot and I finally came to terms with the fact that we will never know for sure where and when he died. His headstone says 3 August but other records just state 31 July – 3 August.
Before leaving we signed the cemetery register and left in a sombre but satisfied mood heading for Poperinghe. This town was relatively untouched by the bombing and retains a lovely charm about it. We had coffee in the famous La Poupee cafe where the legendary ‘Ginger’ waitress was known for cheering up the soldiers while they rested before the next onslaught.
We visited Talbot House which was a real gem of a place with a lovely calm atmosphere. Here hundreds if not thousands of soldiers of all ranks came for a little piece of ‘normality’. One thing that really touched me was the film recreating the sort of concert party they held. James was a great singer and as not a Nottinghamshire or Derbyshire man I have always thought he might well have been one of the Cuckoos who were the Sherwood Forester’s concert party. It was really moving and the whole house had a lovely atmosphere that must have meant so much to so many.
Once we returned to Ypres we then visited the In Flanders Field Museum in Ypres. Located in the grand cloth hall itself it was a good museum albeit a bit hot to be comfortable. One highlight for me was the audio-visual show they had which really did bring the progress, landscape and timeline to life.
(Sorry for the odd placeholder – the video works fine!)
(Sorry about the odd placeholder – the video is fine!)
Monday 30th July – On the first day of our pilgrimage we decided to start with the Passchendaele museum in Zonnebeke. It was a great museum with a useful audio guide included in the price. The Chateau is set in pretty grounds with paths to other areas of interest.
We decided to walk to Tyne Cot from here but after a while we realised that the wather was a bit too warm for such adventures so returned to the car. We drove to Tyne Cot armed with my wreath and the cemetery map I had had for some time.
One of the first things we spotted was a memorial to the Sherwood Foresters which I didn’t realise was there.
The visitor centre was nice but not what I expected. It would have been nice to understand more about how the cemetery was created and the wonderful work of the CWGC. Our first hurdle was trying to get into the cemetery – we nearly had to resort to jumping the small surrounding wall but resorted to going in though the exit instead!
It is a breathtaking sight once you enter the cemetery. However, the experience was marred by two further issues: the numbering of the rows is somewhat random and neither of us could figure it out, the second challenge was that we could not get our bearings as to where the map I had related to the arrangement of headstones. Somewhat hot and bothered I then looked at the map with fresh eyes. Oh dear! because I had grown up always believing James was in Tyne Cot it had blinded me to the very clear title of the plan I had….he was in Track X cemetery which is not part of Tyne Cot at all…it is somewhere completely different!
Our next stop was to find where he fell…but that was not straight forward either! A kind person had done some research for me on where and exactly when he died and gave us a location which we visited today. however, looking at the landscpe, maps and other information we had this turned out not to be correct.
Hopefully a more successful day tomorrow!
Sunday 29th August 2018 – After an early start we are on our way across the channel. We had booked with AFerry and somehow along the way had picked up an extra passenger in the form of a pet. I have no idea how the additional passenger got on the booking but as I was not going to pay £10 to alter the booking I was prepared to live with the consequences. Luckily DFDS were not expecting us to have a pet so I am now suspicious that it was a ruse to gain an extra £10 off us!
We arrived at hotel Ariane in Ypres about 4pm and were impressed by the hotel and its close proximity to the centre. Ypres itself is a really pretty city which has somehow retained its medieval feel despite being pretty much obliterated in WWI.
We went early to the Menin Gate (so we thought) and were really surprised at the amount of crowds gathering so early! It was very moving but sadly we didn’t get the best view so will try again another night.
(sorry for the odd formatting of the video again!)
28 July 2018 – Since a small girl I have always been aware of our very own war hero, James Archibald McPhee, my great grandfather. I grew up knowing he had fought in Ypres and lost his life in the battle of Passchendaele with his final resting place in the huge Tyne Cot cemetery.
Since starting my own family tree in 2000 I have often returned to this character to find out more. Luckily his military records survived providing lots of useful information to help bring him alive. I have his dead man’s penny and various anecdotal details about him: he was a signwriter by trade but was well-known locally in Glasgow for his singing prowess.
A few years ago my mum booked to go on her own on an organised tour to visit his final resting place at Tyne Cot. Sadly she broke her ankle and couldn’t go. She never did make the journey due to illness so I have felt a really strong desire to visit on both our behalfs.
In this and the following blogs are my video diaries, thoughts and tips.
(sorry the video placeholder is the wrong format – the video itself runs fine!)