Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Reading Wrap-up: April 2014

Well I've been blogging for over a month now and yet no mention really of the first half of my blog's title. You know the BOOK part. :-) My goodness I'm slacking eh? While no less important to me than the travel part I decided early on to focus mainly on my travels on this blog and then created a separate blog for the book reviews and reading challenges I've gotten in to. Oh you didn't know I had a book blog too? Ah but I do and it's found here.

Generally I'll keep most of the book talk confined to my book blog but at the end of each month on this blog I'm going to post a wrap-up of what I've been reading, progress on my reading challenges, and what I have on the TBR (To Be Read) pile.

Most of my travels are inspired by books I have read or the books I read are inspired by my travels. You'll find I tend to pick books set in different countries or with themes (like WWI and II lately) that tie in to a trip. I love how these types of books let me travel and explore these new places without leaving home as, let's face it, I haven't hit the lottery just yet so I still have to show up at work each day. I also really enjoy learning about different cultures and historical events tied to the places I'm going to visit. I find I appreciate everything so much more and am a little more observant when I know a little bit about what I'm going to see. And then I love reliving great memories of the places I've been when I read about one of those cities in a new novel. Especially London and Paris. I just can't get enough of either city. 

So let's see what I have been up to for the month of April shall we?

Books I've Read 
(Click on the title if you'd like to read my review of the book) 

source: Goodreads

Books In Progress
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling
  • The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomans (audiobook but I'm struggling to finish because I don't really care for the narrator)  
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
  • The New York Times. 36 Hours. 125 Weekends in Europe by Barbara Ireland (LOVE this book!)

Reading Challenge Progress 

  • Somewhere in France: A Novel of the Great War by Jennifer Robson
  • All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
  • The Norman Conquest of England by Janice Hamilton
  • Park Lane by Frances Osborne 
  • Mr Darcy's Guide to Courtship: The Secrets of Seduction from Jane Austen's Most Eligible Bachelor by Emily Brand
  • ...something about the Mayan ruins we'll be visiting in June

"The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page."
~ Augustine of Hippo

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Travel Tuesday: Love, Long For, and Live In...My Three Places

Today I'm participating in the Travel Tuesday link-up by A Compass Rose for the first time. I've seen links to it for a few weeks now but the theme is what finally made me join in the fun today.

The theme for today is Three Places and the prompt is to share three places...the place you have been that you loved the most, the place you cannot wait to visit and something about the place you live in.  

The Place I have Loved the Most

This one is getting tougher and tougher with each visit to England but I'm going to have to say the place I have loved the most is still Paris. Maybe it's because it was the first place I visited outside of North America so it will always have the honour of showing me Europe first. Or maybe it was the challenge of traveling in another language and being reasonably successful at it. Or maybe it is just that there isn't anything to not love about Paris. At least nothing that I have found yet. I know the stereotype is that people are rude in Paris but that's not something I've experienced. In fact quite the opposite which has made for interesting chats with shopkeepers, fellow travelers on the métro, and even policemen. And then of course there are the beautiful buildings, all the history and culture, the scrumptious food, the great memories of the time spent with my Mom and my friends there, and oh the ceilings! I could wander around looking at the ceilings all day.

The Place I have Loved the Most...Paris

The Place I Cannot Wait to Visit

You would think with all the lists of places I want to visit this one would be the hardest to answer but surprisingly it's not. I do read about and daydream about so many places but there is one that I find myself mentioning over and over to anyone that will listen to me because it just looks so amazing to me....the glass igloos at Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort in Finland. From the first moment I saw this picture I have wanted to go there, and I don't even really enjoy trudging around in the snow that much. There is just something that is so ultimately cozy (and yes romantic too, as the kiddo just pointed out to me) about the igloos that I just want to cuddle up, gaze at the stars with L, and if we're really lucky, watch the Northern Lights dance across the sky.

The Place I Cannot Wait to Visit...Finland (photo source)

Something About the Place I Live In

I have lived in Houston for about 15 years now but really it's only been in the past few years that I started to enjoy it a little more as the kiddo and I have started exploring the city. Besides getting to do some fun and interesting things with him I figure I better see and do all that Houston has to offer while I'm still here. We've visited museums, attended sporting events (oh how we miss you Houston Aeros!), gone to concerts, tried foods from different countries, all kinds of things. One of our favourite things to do in the spring is to go to Discovery Green for one of their movie nights. They blow up a big screen, everyone brings their blankets and chairs, and we settle in for a movie with the highrises of downtown Houston as the backdrop.

Something About the Place I Live...Houston

Where are your places in the world? Come join the fun with Bonnie, Tina, and Melanie!!
Monday, April 28, 2014

Postcard from... San Antonio, USA

Mission San José y San Miquel de Aquayo (or the San José Mission for short) is one of the five missions on the Mission Trail in San Antonio, Texas. It was founded in February of 1720 when another neighboring mission became overcrowded. These Spanish missions were not churches, but really communities with the church at the heart of them. Mission San José served the Coahuiltecan Indians and began with buildings made of brush, straw, and mud. These were quickly replaced with large stone structures and a heavy outer wall was built around the main part.

As part of this mission a church was built in 1768 and it is still standing, although most of the mission was restored in the 1930's. Then in 2011 it again underwent a historically accurate renovation whereby the interior domes and walls were repainted to match the original colours and the alter backdrop was also restored.

L and I had the opportunity to visit all five of the missions on the Mission Trail this past January, and while the Alamo is certainly the most famous of them all I'd say this one was my favourite. In addition to a Visitor's Center with some exhibits and a short film about mission life that we watched, we really just strolled around enjoying the architecture and reading about some of the history.
Sunday, April 27, 2014

Day Trips: A Drizzly Day at Dover Castle {Part 1}

Actual date of event: October 13, 2013

Sitting atop the famous white cliffs of Dover since the12th century, overlooking the historic port, is the formidable Dover Castle. It is here that L and I ventured off to on cool and rainy Sunday morning back in October for a little day trip. Besides being on my list of castles to see in England we knew there were also some Secret Wartime Tunnels that were used in WWII for Operation Dynamo (the evacuation of British and Allied troops from Dunkirk) that we wanted to explore. This castle really seemed to have it all, and those were just the things we knew about before we arrived. On our visit we discovered even more treasures!

*All of the photos in this post (except the last two) were taken by L. Unfortunately I only had a camera phone and they just do not take the best pictures. But L sure does!*

Welcome to Dover Castle

Although the castle was started in 1066 the history of this location goes back about a 1000 years before that when the Iron Age inhabitants built a fort here. Along came the Romans who then erected a pharos, or lighthouse, inside their fort in about 125AD. They built a second lighthouse across the Dover harbour but only the one on the grounds at Dover Castle remains. The lighthouse is octagonal in shape and built in five layers out of ragstone and flint with brick archways. The first four layers were from the Romans and the top layer was added around 1430 to act as the bell tower for the St Mary in Castro church beside it. We were pretty impressed at the condition of the lighthouse as it is, after all, almost 2000 years old! Inside it is hollow and you can go in and look around.

Roman Lighthouse

After the Romans moved out the Saxons moved in and around 1000 AD they constructed the church of St Mary in Castro, which was later remodeled in the Victorian period. The church was used by the garrison of Dover Castle and held sacred relics during medieval times. The building was restored in 1582 but then fell into decay again in the 17th century and was little more than a crumbling shell by the 18th century. After being used as a coal store the church was finally restored in 1862 and today the interior includes a mosaic alter and tiled floors.

St Mary in Castro Church

Moving on from the church and the lighthouse you can visit the heart of the fortress- the Great Tower. Begun in 1066, but mainly a product of King Henry II's expansion in 1170, the Great Tower stands 25 m (183 ft) at its tallest with walls as thick as 6.5m (21ft) in places. It was seen as a symbol of "kingly power and authority" as it guarded the gateway to the realm. It was used for royal ceremony and to house King Henry II's traveling court but the most important use was as a military post as the castle was garrisoned uninterruptedly from 1066 until 1958. From 1740 through 1945 the castle's defenses have been updated in response to every European war involving Britain.

The Great Tower
The interior of the Great Tower, or keep, has been renovated but has been set to look like it would have when the castle was in operation and it was SO neat! We spent quite a long time wandering through rooms set up to look like cooking and storage rooms, great dining halls, long damp passageways between rooms that overlooked the grounds, and even cozy bedchambers that had roaring fires going in their fireplaces. That was likely the biggest surprise for us and as we were walking through we thought we could smell smoke and then upon entering one of those bedchambers we saw why. What a treat! It was so well done I felt like I could almost imagine myself back in those times.

Despite it being so nice and toasty inside we couldn't stay inside when there were views of Dover to be had from the top of the castle. So out we went as the wind blew and the rain came down. Yeah, we didn't stay out there too long! Even with the fog and dreary weather the view was still incredible.

After our tour of the Great Tower we decided it was time for some lunch so we headed down to the cafe for a traditional Sunday roast with Yorkshire pudding. And it was delicious! Even the carrots were all right and I really don't like carrots. We also saw that they had cream tea so made a mental note to come back at tea time to enjoy that too. Can't pass up scones, clotted cream, and raspberry jam now can we? Well I can't anyway.

But before tea we had some Secret Wartime Tunnels to visit so that's where we headed after lunch. They were so very different than this medieval castle and so interesting as well. They even made them smell like the roast dinner we had just eaten. Next Sunday I'll finish our day out in Dover and take you on a photo tour of those tunnels.
Friday, April 25, 2014

Exploring Normany and Ypres: Battle Plan Day 2 {Part 1}

Actual date of event: March 11, 2014

The second morning of our trip we awoke bright and early, had a delicious breakfast at our hotel and we were on the road by 9:00 am just as we had planned. We had a very full day ahead of us with lots of history to see and learn about!

Our first stop was the Crisbecq Battery which is also known as the Marcouf Battery. From research before the trip L knew this site wasn't open this time of year but when he looked at it on Google street view he could see that it was close to the road and parking lot so since we'd be able to get a good look at it we kept it in the plan.

This was a WWII artillery battery that was made by the German Todt Organization and formed part of the Atlantic Wall. The site was originally planned to be more armed than it was but due to supply problems it only held three 210-mm navy guns (instead of a total of 11 guns). Two of these three guns were protected by large concrete casements as shown in the picture above. The site also had a command post, shelters for personnel (300 naval personnel to be precise) and ammo, and several defensive machine-gun placements. Except for the batteries at Cherbour and Le Havre, this was the most powerful battery in the Bay of the Seine with a range of more than 30 km (19 miles).

photos by L
Despite many bombings during the spring of 1944 and a large bombing the night before the D-Day landings, two of the guns remained operational and opened fire on Utah Beach on D-Day which aided in sinking the USS Corry. A few other battleships, including the USS Texas (which we recently toured just this past January!), fired against the battery and knocked out both guns. One of the guns was repaired and fired again on June 8th.  The battery was taken the morning of June 12th, without a fight, by the 39th Regiment after the 9th US Infantry Division landed at Utah Beach.

The only thing I wish was different for our visit to this site was that I had learned all of what I just shared before we visited. I did quite a bit of reading before our trip but mainly I focused on the war in general and didn't get too much into the specifics of each place we intended to see. While I'm really enjoying learning more about these places now, next time I think I'll dig a little deeper beforehand.

After a pretty short visit, due in part to not being able to get into the actual site and it being a wee bit chilly and windy (though it was going to get even more so as the day went on), we put the next address into the SatNav and drove off down some of the narrowest roads imaginable. We decided (at many points during this day) that the SatNav must have decided to forgo anything that resembled a real, two-lane, marked road of any kind. We drove down roads that winded through tiny villages where we were mere feet from the houses and then down roads that just criss-crossed us through farmer's fields. We saw very few cars along the way, which was just as well since there wasn't really room on the road to meet oncoming traffic. It was actually very nice and peaceful in this area  and even though we kept saying to each other "Really? Surely this can't be the way"... every time it was the right way and we made our way on to the Azeville Battery.

This battery wasn't fully open either but we were able to wander and climb around in bits of it so we wandered through corridors inside, poked our heads out look-out holes, and for just a moment were tempted to climb down this trap door that wasn't locked. We decided it was likely best to just close the cover and leave well enough alone. Besides would you climb down in there? Kind of surprised actually, that klutz that I am, I didn't drop my camera down there and then one of us (i.e. L) would have had to climb down there to get it.

Also built by the Todt Organization between 1941 and 1944, this battery was another of the key fortifications of the Atlantic Wall. It was built to protect the beaches along the Cotentin Peninsual and had an underground complex in addition to its defense system (4 x 105 mm guns). There were about 170 soldiers that manned this battery but because there weren't any accommodations for them they were billeted in local houses.

Photos by L- Different views inside and around the grounds. Bottom corner picture is a camouflaged pillbox that was made to look like a house but on top was an anti-aircraft emplacement. This was right across the road from the main bunker.

This battery was one of the Allies' prime objectives on June 6th, 1944 but despite an early attack it continued to fire upon Utah Beach for three days. At one point in these three days it even fired upon its neighboring Crisbecq Battery in order to clear the US troops that were on top of those bunkers! Finally after fierce fighting on June 9th it was silenced when it was captured by the 22nd Regimental Combat Team of the US 4th Infantry Division.

Our next stop on the Battleplan was to visit Utah Beach that had been fired upon so much by these two batteries, and the museum that is there. In my next post for this series I'll take you on a little tour of each of those places.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Postcard from... Vik, Iceland

In honour of L's upcoming trip today's postcard comes from Iceland!

The little town of Vik is the southernmost town in Iceland with a population of about 300 people. Despite its small size it is an important service centre for the locals and visitors to this area along the coast.

Its black basalt sand made for the darkest beach I have ever seen and it was just so peaceful to sit and watch the waves crash against the shore last summer. In 1991, Islands Magazine, even rated it as one of the ten most beautiful beaches on Earth. The cliffs on the western end of the beach are home to many seabirds, especially puffins. Also interesting to note is that there is no landmass between this beach and Antarctica!

Vik is right beneath the Mýrdalsjökull glacier which sits atop the Katla volcano. This volcano has not erupted since 1918 (which is longer than its typical rest period) so it's thought an eruption may occur soon. If it erupts there is concern that the eruption could melt enough ice to cause a flash flood that could take out the whole town. The people of Vik practice regular evacuation drills to the town's church which is located high up on a hill right above this beach.

I think you're going to really enjoy Iceland L and hope you have a wonderful trip. And if you hear the rumblings of a volcano about to erupt when you're in Vik, please head for the church!

Photo taken August 5, 2013
Sunday, April 20, 2014

WWII Commonwealth War Cemeteries

Last week I wrote about the WWI Commonwealth cemeteries L and I were able to visit in Belgium and this week I'd like to finish this series of posts with a little tour of the WWII cemeteries we visited in France.

Bayeux War Cemetery

We woke the morning of March 12th to a very foggy day and set off for our first visit of the day- the Bayeux War Cemetery in Bayeux, France.

The Allies began their offensive in this part of Europe with the D-Day landings along the coast of Normandy on June 6, 1944. There wasn't much actual fighting in the city of Bayeux but it was the first French town of importance to be liberated by the 50th British Infantry Division on June 7, 1944. As the troops moved through Bayeux towards the landing beaches they ran into difficulties bringing the heavy equipment through the city. It was dangerous and very slow moving so the British Army's engineering department decided to build a big boulevard around the city. This became known as "the by-pass" and was the first ring road ever in France. The term and the road are still in use today.

The Bayeux War Cemetery is the largest Commonwealth WWII cemetery in France and was completed in 1952. It contains 4,144 burials of Commonwealth soldiers with 338 of those unidentified. There are also 500 war graves of other nationalities with the majority of those being German.

The grounds were given to the United Kingdom in perpetuity by France for the sacrifices made by the British Empire in the defense and liberation of France.

The Bayeux Memorial stands just across the road from the cemetery and commemorates more than 1,800 men from the Commonwealth forces who died early in the fighting after the D-Day landings and have no known grave.

The Latin epitaph along the front of the memorial is in reference to William the Conqueror and the Invasion of England in 1066. It reads: "We, once conquered by William, have now set free the Conqueror's native land."

Bayeux Memorial

Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery

About 20 km to the east of Bayeux is the little town of Reviers and it is here out in the peaceful farmer's fields that you will find the Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery.

This cemetery contains 2,048 WWII burials with the majority of them Canadian and 19 of them unidentified. Many of the 2,048 men buried here were from the 3rd Canadian Division who died either on June 6th or in the few days following it, when the Division engaged in battle with the German 716th Division and the 21st Panzer Division. The cemetery also includes the graves of four British soldiers and one French resistance soldier who fought alongside the Canadian soldiers and had no known family. This cemetery commemorates the graves of nine sets of brothers.

Ranville War Cemetery

Our last stop in France on Thursday, March 13th was the Ranville War Cemetery and church. Ranville was the first village to be liberated in France when the British 6th Airborne Division captured the bridge over the Caen Canal in the early hours of June 6th. Those soldiers landed nearby by parachute and gliders. Many of this division's casualties are buried here or in the churchyard next to the cemetery.

The cemetery contains 2,235 Commonwealth burials of WWII with 97 of those being unidentified. There are also 330 German graves and a few graves for other nationalities. In addition to the soldiers, the mascot of the 9th Bn Parachute Regiment a dog named Glenn, is buried with his master, Private E.S. Corteil. The churchyard next door contains another 47 Commonwealth graves, one of which is unidentified and one German grave.

"We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; 
we shall never surrender."
~ Winston Churchill

Friday, April 18, 2014

Exploring Normandy and Ypres: Battle Plan Day 1 {Part 3}

After strolling around Honfleur it was time to get back on the road and head to the first WWII site we had on our itinerary.

We made our way through the narrow and winding roads until we came upon the quiet seaside town of Villerville. According to the census in 2008 there were about 770 people living here and it looks to be about the same today. The site we had come specifically to see here were some pillboxes along the coast and it could not have been a more perfect day for it. It was bright, sunny, and just about the perfect temperature. All those warm clothes I packed were left in the suitcase and we set off down the beach in just our short sleeves. Besides when we got out of the car and looked down the beach the pillboxes were just there, on the other side of those rocks. It would just be a quick walk and then we'd be there so no need for sweaters. Oh how wrong we were. Not about not needing the sweaters but how far away the pillboxes actually were.

Looks close doesn't it? Don't let that fool you.
As it turns out pillboxes on a beach in Normandy are just like a mirage in the desert. You walk and walk and get over that pile of rocks that they are behind and find you're no closer to them now then when you got out of the car miles and miles ago. Well that might be a wee bit of an exaggeration but we were surprised at how far down the beach they actually were. Of course that might have also had to do with the fact that we took the most difficult route across the beach to get there that we possibly could. *Note to L- when your girlfriend says "We should walk on the rocks because it'll likely be harder to walk on the wet sand"...yeah just tell her she's a nutter and go walk on the sand. :-)  Because as it turns out the sand was basically like a paved sidewalk while the rocks were a sprained ankle just waiting to happen. But L held my hand over all the slippery mucky patches and big rocks that needed to be climbed over and in the end we made it. So how does a girl say thank you to the guy that kept her off her behind, out of the mud, and with no sprained ankles so she would be able to enjoy the rest of the trip ahead of her? This is how...

Thanks time we'll walk on the sand. :-)

Awwww...yes sometimes you just have to write your initials in the sand like you're still in grade 8. :-)

But back to the task at hand- exploring pillboxes and the really great beach we were on because the tide was coming in and we didn't want to have to walk back through all the rocks again!

Port of Le Havre can be seen in background of photo on left

Pillboxes are basically concrete guard posts whose primary function was to protect the German troops from artillery bombardment. Some of them were solely for that purpose but others, like the ones we saw on this beach, had a opening, called a loophole, in which to fire guns through too. They were low and often covered in debris to make them harder to see. The smaller ones could hold about five men with some bigger pillboxes holding 10-20 or even 40 men. 

The ones we visited looked like they had slipped down the side of the cliff along the beach and unfortunately they were also covered in graffiti and had lots of trash inside them. L braved climbing inside them but I stayed firmly outside on two feet and then just stood there saying "What do you see?" , "What does it look like in there?", "Be careful of the puddle that guy just stepped in and got his foot all wet" etc. until I'm sure he must have been thinking I should have just gone in there myself. So for those of us that haven't ever climbed inside a pillbox here is what they look like least what they look like now.
Photos by L
I can't imagine even back all those years ago they were a nice place to be. With all that concrete and metal it must have been so loud, and frightening, when bombs hit nearby or even directly. These pillboxes were part of the Atlantic Wall that Hitler ordered built in order to defend against the Allied invasion he was anticipating.

View of the Port of Le Havre from inside the pillbox- photo by L

Photo by L

With the tide coming in on us we decided it was time to head back to the car and on to our next site. It was a much quicker walk back and along the way we met up with other folks out for a walk along the beach and some guys fishing from the beach.

Back at the car I couldn't resist taking a photo of these two old guys enjoying their drink, chatting about the good old days, and looking out to sea.

The next stop on the Battle Plan was the battery at Mont Canisy that sits atop a hill overlooking the Seine and the harbour of Le Havre. It was an important part of the Atlantic Wall but was barely used in the battle in Normandy so it is still very well preserved.

Photo by L

Because of its elevation it has been used as a defensive site since the Middle Ages and then in 1935-1940 the French army built a battery to protect Le Havre, however the Germans overtook it and realized the importance of its location to build their own coastal defence here.They placed four 155mm guns here, initially open with a 360° traverse, but then, like other sites, they built casements to protect those guns, leaving them open to fire towards the coast only.

The Allies knew about this battery, calling it the Batterie de Bénerville, but despite their repeated bombings the guns were not damaged. After D-Day the guns became a meaningless target for the Allies because they could no longer fire inland (due to the earlier built casements) so they just bypassed this battery from that point.

Photos by L

Today this site is open to the public and you can wander the above ground emplacements as you wish. Over the years the trees have grown up and the site is quite heavily wooded but there are still a few places that offer some beautiful views out across Normandy. There are also hundreds of metres of tunnels connecting the casements but we didn't get to go down inside them. Even without being able to do that it was still very worthy of a visit and the climb up the hill.

With it getting on in the afternoon and still another hour to drive to get to our hotel we decided we best get back on the road again. It is really a beautiful drive through that area and we got to our hotel, la Ferme de la Rançonnière, in Crépon about 6:00 that evening. Our hotel was every bit as charming as the photos we'd seen on TripAdvisor before our trip suggested it would be and we settled into our very comfortable and quiet room. As part of the package we reserved with this hotel we were also treated to the most delicious four course dinner with a selection of local dishes. At the end of this series of posts I'll do one devoted solely to this lovely hotel and our meals as we would recommend it highly to anyone visiting this area.

Up next in this series of posts will be Day 2 of the Battle Plan with our visit to some other batteries, Utah and Omaha beaches, Pointe du Hoc, and American and German military cemeteries. 


Monday, April 14, 2014

Postcard from...London, England

Ahhh London. The city that has given Paris a run for its money as my favourite city. But what's not to love? London really has it all- arts, fashion, entertainment, shopping, and so much history! And I think it blends these things so well. Where else do you find a castle that's more than 1000 years old against a backdrop of modern office buildings, like the Shard, that was only finished two years ago? Personally I think together they make one of the neatest photos I have from London.

London's population has grown to over 8 million people and there are more than 300 languages spoken within its boundaries. It is also home to four UNESCO World Heritage Sites {of which I have only seen two so far but might finally get to see the others this summer!}- Tower of London, historic Greenwich, Kew Gardens, and Palace of Westminster and the Abbey. There are also so many other things to see and do that is impossible to take it all in with only one visit. So looking forward to visiting again this summer and getting to show the kiddo around. I think he'll be just as taken with it as I am.

Photo taken September 8, 2012
Sunday, April 13, 2014

WWI Commonwealth War Cemeteries

Actual Event Date: March 14,2014
Continuing the series of posts from the past couple of weeks about the Commonwealth War Graves I'd like to share some information about the specific World War I cemeteries L and I were able to visit while in Ypres last month.

Perth Cemetery {China Wall}

Just a few kilometers outside of Ypres this was the first cemetery we stopped at. It was along the road we were traveling to visit another site so it wasn't a planned stop on the Battle Plan but I'm very glad we did.

This cemetery was started by French troops in November 1914 and was adopted by the 2nd Scottish Rifles in June 1917. The French graves were removed after the Armistice. It was used for front line burials until October 1917 and up to that point contained 130 graves. After the Armistice, graves were brought in from the battlefields around Ypres and from about 30 smaller cemeteries. Today there are 2,791 Commonwealth soldiers of WWI buried or commemorated here. 1,369 of the graves are unidentified, 27 casualties believed to be buried among them are commemorated on special memorials, and names of another 104 casualties are inscribed on memorials for those whose graves could not be found.

It was called Perth because the predecessors for the 2nd Scottish Rifles were raised in Perth, and China Wall from the communication trench known as the Great Wall of China. It was also called Halfway House Cemetery. 

Sanctuary Wood

Sanctuary Wood Cemetery was the 2nd one we visited during our afternoon in the Ypres area. This area is one of the larger woods in the commune of Zillebeke and was used in 1914 to screen troops behind the front line. It was at the centre of the Battle of Mount Sorrel in June 1916 involving the 1st and 3rd Canadian Divisions. There were three Commonwealth cemeteries in this area until this battle and after only traces of one cemetery was found. It is here that they built the present day Sanctuary Wood Cemetery. 

At the Armistice there were 137 graves, but like Perth Cemetery, many more were brought in from surrounding smaller cemeteries until it reached the present day number of 1, 989 Commonwealth servicemen of WWI being buried or commemorated here. 1,353 of the burials are unidentified and many graves are identified in groups but not individually. 

In this cemetery we chose to leave our cameras in the car and just take a quiet stroll around the cemetery. 

Hooge Crater

This cemetery we found quite by accident. It wasn't on our route but we saw several tour buses on a street we passed so we made note to come back to see what was up that street. We found a museum that we now have on the list for our next trip to Belgium and the Hooge Crater Cemetery.

At one time there stood Hooge Chateau which was the scene of much fighting during WWI. In October 1914 the 1st and 2nd Divisions were wiped out when the chateau was shelled. In May and June of 1915 the chateau was defended against the attacking Germans and in July of the same year the crater was created by a mine detonated by the 3rd Division. The chateau was then taken by the Germans four times between July 1915 and April 1918, and finally regained for the last time in September 1918 by the 9th (Scottish) and 29th Divisions. 

The cemetery itself was begun in October 1917 and originally contained 76 graves but was greatly increased after the Armistice to the current number of 5,923 Commonwealth soldiers commemorated within its low walls, with 3,579 of the burials unidentified. 

Tyne Cot

Tyne Cot received its name from the Northumberland Fusiliers who dubbed the small barn by the rail crossing on the Passchendaele-Broodseinde road "Tyne Cot" or "Tyne Cottage". The barn had become the centre of half a dozen German pill-boxes. One of these pill-boxes was unusually large and was used as an advanced dressing station after its capture by the 3rd Australian Division. In late 1917 through early 1918, 343 graves were made on two sides of it. The cemetery fell back into German hands from April to September but was finally recaptured by the Belgian Army.

There are four pill-boxes in the cemetery with the Cross of Sacrifice placed on the largest one at the suggestion of King George V. 

Image can be enlarged by clicking on it.

Tyne Cot is now the largest Commonwealth cemetery in the world in terms of burials. There are 11,956 servicemen buried or commemorated here with 8,369 of the burials unidentified. There are also 4 German soldiers buried in this cemetery. In addition to the graves the Tyne Cot Memorial forms the north-eastern boundary around the cemetery and commemorates another 35,000 servicemen from the United Kingdom and New Zealand who died in the Ypres Salient after August 16, 1917 and whose graves are not known.

Essex Farm

We finished off our day in Belgium with a stop at Essex Farm Cemetery which is the resting place for 1,200 servicemen of WWI. Of these 103 are unidentified and it was here that we saw the youngest soldier in all the cemeteries we visited. Rifleman V.J.Strudwick was just 15 years old when he was killed in 1916.

It was also here that Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae of the Canadian Army Medical Corps wrote his well known poem "In Flanders Fields" in May 1915. It is believed he started this poem the evening after he performed the burial service for his friend, and fellow soldier, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer. His poem has become one of the most enduring poems of the First World War and made the poppy a lasting symbol of self-sacrifice in war. I remember well reciting this poem each year at our Remembrance Day services in elementary school.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

~ John McCrae, May 1915