VISIT TO YPRES
Back in June 1st Crystal Palace scout group leader George Campbell took 16 Scouts to Ypres to pay their respects to the 1st Crystal Palace Scouts who fell. This is George’s record of the visit:
1st Crystal Palace Scouts – Ypres 2016
As a Group who lost nine ex members during the Great War, four during the Somme campaign of 1916, it was no surprise when our current Scouts expressed an interest in visiting Ypres and the surrounding areas during the Centenary year of the Somme campaign.
So on the morning of Thursday 2 June we set off, 22 of us in all, to pay our respects to all of our lads who fell in the Ypres and surrounding sectors.
A good run saw us arrive early at the Eurotunnel terminal and even better we were booked onto an earlier departure. Our joy soon disappeared though when an incident resulted in one tunnel being closed and an hour’s delay. But in true Scouting style and with help from Euotunnel staff we passed the time with a game of dodgeball in an empty carriage. Eurotunnel dodgeball – surely a Scouting first.
Upon arrival at Calais and after an hour’s pleasant drive we arrived at our base for the next few days, Camping Ypra. The Scouts set about putting up tents in our dedicated area and we then explored locally.
Remnants and memorials to the Great War are in evidence everywhere and the sheer scale of the slaughter doesn’t really sink in until after a couple of days you’ve seen countless cemeteries containing countless headstones.
Friday morning the Scouts hiking, exploring the Lettenburg bunkers and trenches and The Angel art deco monument at Mount Kemmel, all testament to the brave men who fell. At this point the scale of the battles started to sink in. In order to placate the British and present a united front the French army sent 20,000 troops from Verdun to the Somme. Of these over 12,000 died and over 5,000 of their bodies were never recovered or identified. The fact that one of our Scout’s great grandfathers fought in the French Army at Verdun certainly gave this visit an added interest.
Friday afternoon saw the Scouts relaxing on site before we hiked to a local cemetery to visit the first of our old boys, Rifleman Ernest Burtenshaw at La Clytte. A short but very moving ceremony at his graveside and then the Scouts taking a genuine interest in the other graves.
What struck them most was:
How well maintained the cemetery was
How young some of the men had been when they died
How many graves were marked: “A soldier who died in the Great War”
How many different faiths were represented
A short drive then followed to Ploegsteert and the Berks Extension cemetery where we held a small ceremony at the graveside of Lance Corporal Geoffrey Victor King, ex Scout Master. The Scouts were so well behaved and respectful that our TWO standard bearers were invited to take part in the last post ceremony at the same cemetery.
We had planned our visit to coincide with this, a once a month occurrence, but had completely underestimated how big an event it was. Half an hour later TWO of our Scouts were leading the flags under the command of an ex RSM, and they though I had a loud voice, and the rest of us were lined up in rows in height order, me at the back then, on the red carpet.
Quite often it’s the unplanned and unexpected things that really provide the most vivid memories and this was no exception. Seeing the photos of our Scouts representing Scouting so well was a highlight for me.
After the ceremony we were all in huge demand from local press, local inhabitants and the veterans in attendance, a truly remarkable day.
Saturday however was even better. Driving from Contay cemetery to Thiepval Memorial to Souchez , via Messine ridge and then finally to the Menin Gate was tiring but again seeing the Scouts taking it in their stride and all of them having and taking the opportunity to flag bear over the grave / memorial of one of our old lads was both humbling and inspiring. At Thiepval where our TWO lads who died during the first hour of the Somme, tourists were tearful as we did our bit.
And so onto the Menin Gate where three Scouts were due to lay a wreath. Three names were drawn out of the hat and one of the lucky Scout’s great grandfather is commemorated on the Menin Gate in Ypres. The last post at the Menin Gate is the most famous in the world and we were delighted when another unexpected bonus materialised.
Upon arrival at the Menin Gate we approached the leader of the standard party, who had been at Ploegsteert the night before. He had been so impressed with our Scouts that he invited two of them to join him and the other standard bearers throughout the ceremony, under the Menin Gate.
That was special, even by 1st Crystal Palace standards, two standard bearers and three wreath layers. I got something in my eye, that’s my excuse anyway, and just when we thought it couldn’t get any better we realised that where our Scouts laid their wreath was directly underneath Jacob’s great grandfathers name. Some things are meant to be.
After such an eventful day a visit to Ypres burger was in order, and we can heartily recommend them, delicious and nutritious.
The drive back to site was electric, the Scouts were absolutely buzzing from the day’s events and were already deciding that they’d be visiting Ypres again.
The trip was a gamble of sorts, I did have a nagging doubt that the Scouts might get grave / memorial overload, or that it wouldn’t mean much to them but I’m happy to admit that I was wrong.
A fantastic trip which will live very long in the memory and the quote of the trip came from a Croydon resident who was at the Last Post Ceremony at Menin Gate and saw our standards:
“I’m from Croydon and you’ve made me very proud seeing you here tonight, you’ve proved to the rest of the world that Croydon youngsters can and do some amazing things.”