After a delay of two years, more adventures and discoveries.
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Friday 30th September 2022
We set off on Friday 30th September for the 10:00 DFDS Sailing to Dunkirk, having not been able to go for the past two years due to the pandemic it was a little like going for the first time again although some aspects, particularly the route down to Ypres from Dunkirk all seemed familiar even with the current roadworks on the A16/E40.
A reasonably uneventful sailing, lovely and calm out at sea and plenty of room in both the car deck for parking and inside the vessel.
A sandwich and a cup of coffee later we had a waddle around outside and watched the plethora of ships sailing up and down the English channel.
The time soon went and at 13:00 continental time we docked at Dunkirk and started travelling towards Ypres.
Apart from a patch of roadworks along the route of the A16/E40 which slowed us down a bit. It was the first time I had driven this particular car abroad, much more modern that the previous one, no need for headlight alterations, spare lamps, or a GB sticker as on previous trips.
The weather was clear and bright too.
The first port of call was Perth Cemetery (China Wall) where Great Grandad Pte George Brown is buried again, I signed the visitors book at the cemetery gate, walked down rows of graves to his.
It never fails to amaze me just how well they look after these cemeteries.
I stood in front of his headstone in silence for a while, put a wooden poppy cross on his grave and a reprinted and laminated letter to him, the same as before. But if you’ve not been following my previous visits, I’ll put it below.
Hello Private George Brown.
You don’t know me, but I am your great Grandson Steve.
Your Son, Thomas George Brown, who was around six years old when you were killed, grew into a fine Man, he married a lady called Doris May Bliss and they had one Daughter called Olive Jean Brown, My Mother who married Dennis Monk the Grandson of Arthur (Jessie) Monk who was out here with you somewhere, but he returned and lived to 93 years old.
Your Son Thomas was a very highly regarded man in Rolvenden but he sadly died in 1983, his wife, Doris, my Gran died in 1994 and my Mother Olive, your Granddaughter Died in 1999.
Thomas, your son, told me bits and pieces about you but it wasn’t until recently that I realised just what you must have gone through.
Olive, my Mum, your granddaughter did a lot of research into you but sadly died before coming out here to find you. This is part of the reason I’m here, to complete all the work she had done and to find my Great Granddad.
It is such an honour to be here today, I want to tell you that we all still think of and thank all of you that made the sacrifice so that we could live freely today.
I have shed bucket loads of tears researching and planning to come and find you, but sitting here now I feel it was so worthwhile.
The World is still a screwed up place, we haven’t learnt, the world is still full of idiots hell bent on power.
I’m just going to sit in silence for a few moments and think of you.
Thank you and although I have never met you, I feel a lot of love for you, for what you did, for what you are, and for giving me the best Grandad ever and the best Mum ever.
God Bless you and may you rest in peace Sir.
I had a route planned out for Friday afternoon which would take me to the last area in France where my Great Grandad Pte George Brown would have been up until May 1915 and where the East Kent Regiment (The Buffs) 1st Battalion were engaged in some heavy fighting, Rue Du Bois, Grand Flamengrie Farm, Radinghem and Chateau Du Flandres (Beaucamps Ligny) At some point around this time May 1915 Pte George Brown wrote his last postcard home, address to my Grandad Tom Brown who was living with his Mum in Lambsland Cottages in Rolvenden Layne. I have this postcard.
I wandered around the area for a while just trying to imagine what is must have been like, but of course none of us can, on Friday it was quiet and tranquil, far from what it was like in 1915.
From here we made our way back to Ypres centre entering the city via the Lille gate which is on the southern side of town unlike the Menin gate which is on the East of town. Both gates are at different parts of the ramparts that encase the city and through which thousands of brave men would have left but not returned, although the Menin gate wasn’t built as it was unveiled until 1927 it stands where the road to the battlefields was originally.
I drove up to the Market square to the Cloth Hall and Flanders museum, around the square and off to minneplein to park the car and walk the short distance to the Old Tom Hotel where we made our base.
In the evening we went out for a walk to the Menin Gate for the 8pm ceremony via a pub or two, well when in Belgium, drink the beer and eat the chocolates then worry about it later.
I was looking for another relative I had recently discovered died in WW1 but his body was never found. His name was James William Monk (1882 – 1914) and he is commemorated on the Menin Gate, I managed to find his name and a photo of it will be in amongst the photos below.
Saturday 1st October 2022
Today we were going somewhere different, Bruges.
Having never been there before and after hearing from locals how beautiful it is we went. It was a reasonable drive at just over an hour, mostly nice motorways until you get to the outskirts of the city. Oh, how much I love a good Satnav, only went wrong once, I got off a roundabout at the wrong exit, but the Satnav got be back on the right route and right where I wanted to park, The main railway station.
It was about a twenty-minute walk from here through some beautiful streets to Bruges Market Square, the centre with some stunning buildings. It was a bit crowded for us, still trying to dodge the Covid bullet, we had a walk around and then made our way out of the main square down towards a canal. This area was very picturesque with boats taking passengers on little trips, we walked along and found a tea shop and stopped for coffee. There is so much to see, many museums and some fabulous architecture but we felt uncomfortable in large crowds so walked back to the car after a while. I think we were there for about three hours or so.
The one-hour journey back to Ypres went well, we called in to see Great Grandad Browns grave again. When I placed my letter to him in front of his headstone on Friday, I had placed it to the right-hand side of centre, today when we went it had been moved to the centre. I found that rather moving as it meant that someone had very probably picked it up and read it before placing it back. After the visit we headed back into Ypres centre.
Once again parked up in Minneplein (It’s free to park there) it was then time to visit the chocolate shops, oh what a joy that is, kid in a sweet shop comes to mind, and they give you a few extras if you buy enough, which I usually do Ha!
Back to base (The Old Tom) for a while before getting ready for another evening out at The Menin Gate for the 8pm ceremony again and via a few more pubs.
Sunday 2nd October 2022
A slight change in the weather conditions this morning, it’s raining …
It was Sue’s Mums birthday today and she wanted to “Facetime” her so not being one to sit in on two deaf persons conversation I went off downstairs to the bar for some coffee, I had a couple of cups and then the rain eased a bit so I went across the square to another bar and had two more cups of coffee and just sat taking in the Market square in all it glory, the Cathedral bells were ringing and worshippers were making their way for the Sunday morning service.
We then went to visit a couple of museums, and the Canadian memorial at Mount Sorrel and Hill 62 Sanctuary Wood first of all. We first visited this museum in 2018 when it was rather busy, this time we almost had the place to ourselves.
I sat at some of the old vintage wooden image viewers, you turn a handle and different images shot during WW1 flick up, some of these were really gruesome showing the brutality of war, horses blown apart, soldiers with half their face missing, bodies blown in half or worse. You need a strong stomach to view some of them, it brings it all home.
We strolled around the small museum rooms looking at various bit of kit found in the locality and put on display, guns, bullets, doctors’ kits, tin hats, shells and many tools and bits of military kit for just about every function required to fight a war.
Then out to the trenches, left virtually untouched, this visit I videoed my walk along them, it was raining and so adding to the effect of misery that living in these dugouts would have been.
Many of the surrounding trees have been replanted, but a few of the original stumps are still there, splintered and split by shells, there are shell holes yards from the trenches, it really is a place of horrors. In this day and age, it is beautiful and tranquil, but you can only imagine the hell it once was.
The video is one of the links above.
I visited the Canadian Memorial at Mount Sorrel alone, it was raining quite persistently but as it was part of the area that Great Uncle Robert J Bliss (Gran Browns brother) would have been I had to visit it being so close (100 yards or so away) This as its name suggests is on a high spot in comparison to most of the area, from here you can look out towards Ypres Town and all around the slightly lower ground to St Eloi, Hooge, Hill 60, Messines, this whole area was fought over and changed hands frequently during the war as it gave an advantage to the occupants seeing out for quite a distance.
We then went to the Hooge crater museum, again we visited this back in 2018 but again it was so interesting, and you see things that you missed the first time around. This area was where Great Grandad George Brown was heading to with the East Kent regiment (The Buffs) 1st Battalion when he was killed by a wayward German shell at Brielen.
As the day progressed it brightened up and we went to the Perth Cemetery (China Wall) again to see Great Grandad Brown for the last time on this trip.
From here back to The Old Tom for a breather and to get ready for the evening. This evening we took a walk from the Menin gate down the ramparts towards the Lille gate, it’s a nice walk through a wooded park alongside a watercourse or canal that partially surround the Town this year it is full of art, not what most people would call art, but modern things, not my cup of tea but interesting none the less. Eventually reaching The Lille gate we crossed the road to the Lille gate cemetery which is such a beautiful location right by the water, the stones in this cemetery are quite spaced out unlike most. Almost every road and around almost every corner there is a cemetery.
We then walked back up the road on which we arrived in Ypres up to the market square and from there to the Menin gate again for the 8pm ceremony. After which a couple of pints and an early night as it was home day on Monday.
Monday 3rd October 2022
After a reasonably early rise we gather our chattels and packed them in the car ready for home, waited until the rush hour had passed and set off in the direction of Dunkirk for the return sailing at Midday.
A fairly uneventful drive, I’m getting familiar with the quirks of this route, there are a couple, mainly joining and leaving the E40/A16, it’s just all wrong and opposite to driving as we do on the left.
Arriving at Dunkirk port we headed to the check in where we were welcomed and spoken to very nicely by the DFDS representative checking passports and issuing tickets.
We moved on to the French border control where I had the misfortune of coming up against the most miserable French border guard, I think I have had the misfortune to meet.
His little window opened, I said “Bonjour” he grabbed the passports out of my hand and slammed his window shut. Made me wait for a few minutes, I heard a thump, thump, he was stamping the passports. The window then opened he thrust the passports back at me, I said “Merci” and he slammed his window shut again. Not a smile, an acknowledgement, or a word of speech despite me trying to be friendly, what a horrible man.
Next on to the British border control where although not over friendly he was a lot less abrupt and didn’t slam any windows. Then on to customs where a young French lady wanted to look in the back and the boot of the car, she then said thank you, you can go, have a safe journey with a smile, much better and it didn’t cost her anything.
A cup of coffee in the Dunkirk terminal whilst waiting for loading and a look at the duty-free shop but avoided buying anything I had already eyed up my stash on the way out, to buy on the boat on the way back, which I did.
We landed back in Dover right on time and the journey back to Ashford was fine.
So the end of another emotional and memorable trip to Flanders fields complete. Now the research begins again. I think I have just about covered all I can with my research of Great Grandad Brown and have possibly gone further than either my Mum or my Grandad would ever imagined I would do and accomplish. They have been the driving force behind these trips, I only wish they were both still here so that they knew I had done it.
I will return as something new will pop up at some point in my research about one of my relatives I’m sure, that’s the nature of the beast. If it doesn’t, I will still go back to see my Great Grandad as I will never forget what those thousands of young men did to give use our freedom, a freedom that too many take for granted.
R.I.P L/7824 Pte George Brown I will never forget you.
Thank you for reading, thank you for your interest