Visit to Flanders
After discovering, through my family history research, that my great uncle, Charles Frederick Garrard, had been killed in World War One , I decided to take a day trip to Belgium and visit the Tyne Cot Cemetery where he is commemorated.
We had a very early start, taking the Seacat from Dover to Calais and then had an hour's drive to Ypres, but it did mean that we could make the most of our day.
Tyne Cot Cemetery is about 9 kilometres from Ypres, and on the way we passed several smaller war cemeteries. The scale of Tyne Cot is breathtaking. It is the largest Commonwealth war cemetery in the world and contains almost 12,000 graves.
Anyone who has been to a war cemetery will know that the gravestones are usually white, of a uniform shape and size and are very neatly laid out. The cemetery is beautifully tended and several of the graves have fresh flowers and poppies laid on them by visitors.
Around the outside of the cemetery is the 'Memorial to the Missing' which bears the names of nearly 35,000 men who were killed after 16th August 1917, who have no known grave. My great uncle's name is amongst them.
We stayed some time at Tyne Cot, taking in the atmosphere and reflecting on the scale of it all and what had led to its existence. Many of the headstones are named and some have personal inscriptions. However, around 70% of the graves are of soldiers whose name is unknown. Their headstones simply bear the inscription:-
OF THE GREAT WAR
KNOWN UNTO GOD
We also went to the Menin Gate Memorial which commemorates over 54,000 officers and men who were killed before 16th August 1917, who have no known grave. Again I was struck by the scale of the losses.
Every evening the traffic is stopped at the Menin Gate and the 'Last Post' is played. Unfortunately we were unable to stay for this, as we had to go home, but I plan to go back some time in the future.
Last November, my son went on a school trip to some of the cemeteries and war memorials around Ypres. As an added interest, I gave him copies of my great uncle’s death certificate and details of his entry on the Commonwealth War Graves Commmision's website.
He and some of his class mates found Charles’ name on the memorial at Tyne Cot and he was asked to read a poem, whilst another pupil laid a wreath in remembrance of all those who were killed:-
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.
© Night Owl 2008