Gordon Judges, Wireless Operator

Friday, August 26, 2011

In F@%*ing Brugge.....

If you have not seen the movie, you missed the joke......

Bruge, Belgium is a wonderful and magical place! We rented bikes (yes, Greg actually got on a bicycle after 25 or 30 years once again proving that you never forget....) and cycled around the entire city.

Once a thriving and prosperous city in the 12th to 15th century, Bruge is now a UNESCO heritage site with tourism its principle economy. Despite that reality, it is a magical and manageable medieval walking city to visit. It is also the perfect romantic city to visit. (If I ever marry, remind me that Bruge is a wonderful small city for a destination wedding and honeymoon. You can stop laughing now.)

We did not climb the infamous Belfry because the line up was just too long for our taste.

We did see  the only  Michelangelo to leave Italy during his lifetime since Bruge was the most prosperous city of Flanders in that era (the work was commissioned to Michelangelo directly). It is delicate Michelangelo but a treasure nonetheless! 

What happens in 'Bruge, stays in Bruge........

The Markt

We took a canal cruise.....touristy and lame but a necessity if you are |"Doing Bruge".

And of course, we bought some chocolate....but we ate it all so don't expect any souvenir chocolates!

A Lost Generation

If you are in Caen, Normandy don't miss Le Memorial de Caen Museum (Peace Museum). This incredible museum tries to put history into perspective with a pre-1945 era and another section covering the post 1945 Cold War era. Sorry - no pictures to share of this fabulous museum. A must see for anyone interested in the past and future world in which we live....

I always knew the Great War of 1914 to 1918 was different than World War II but now I understand just exactly why it was so vastly different. However, after visiting several museums, multiple monuments and walking through half a dozen Commonwealth and German cemeteries I am no further ahead in understanding exactly what this war was all about? What carnage. What senselessness. Was it just political miscommunication and mishap?

Here is a Great War Canadian Cemetery....

Walking through these cemeteries is quite different to the WWII cemeteries around Normandy. Besides the greater number of lost souls, I was struck by the number of unmarked graves. Many of the graves mark more than a single unnamed  soldier. Other graves name a soldier 'believed to be'  a specific man, rank or regiment or a soldier from a specific country.  If only a torso was found, or a single limb how can one identify the dead?  So many of these young men were just blown to pieces. What carnage one would witness to look over these battlefields. It is no wonder media and photographers were restricted from taking pictures of this horror.

We stayed in Butterworth Bed and Breakfast where the battles of the Somme took place. Last year, they dug up the partial skeletal remains of 2 soldiers - 3 femurs which is 2 unknown soldiers. They were able to determine one of these men was Canadian but despite modern day DNA testing officials could not precisely ascertain the identity. Again, "Believed to be....".

Imagine what it must have like for the mothers, fathers, wives and family to never have a marked grave to your loved one? This is one of the "lucky ones".....these gravesites have family coming to pay their respects even today.

Bodies continue to be found today almost 100 years later. Residents unearth artillery shells, trench screws (to fix barbed wire in front of the trenches), guns, helmets and various artifacts every day. In the Ypres and Passchendale area, 200 tons of shells and artillery are dug up every year through the simple daily act of a farmer working his field.  It is a daily occurrence and the people in these communities continue to live and breathe the history of this war even today. 

We stayed at another wonderful B & B called Varlet Farm in Ypres area. Charlotte is an extremely knowledgeable self taught historian and expert on the Great War after decades of working and farming this land. She is passionate about this subject and in this picture below is giving an informative lecture to a group of British Cadets on a field trip. Note the pile of artifacts found around their farm. These artifacts await pick up from the local "Bomb Squad".  This unit is responsible for ensuring the appropriate disposal and discharge of all artillery and shells. Twice daily, at a specific time of day, the officials discharge live shells so as not to scare the locals of these communities. 


Tyne Cot Cemetery and Memorial, the largest Commonwealth cemetery in the world,  has 11,956 graves. The Memorial Wall bears the names 34,85723 men whose graves are unknown but perished in the Ypres Salient.....

Thiepval Memorial and Anglo-French Cemetery in the Sommes region which we caught at sundown.

Did you know that almost an entire community of young men of Newfoundland (A Dominion of Canada at that time) was wiped out in a single day on the first day of the Battle of Sommes in 1916?  Of the 780 men in this regiment, only 68 were at the roll call the next morning.  They were slaughtered in only 30 minutes and are commemorated at the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Monument and memorial grounds where the former trenches exist today.  That is a lost generation.

And another evening we attended The Last Post Ceremony at Menin Gate in Ypres which is held every evening at 8 pm.

We would not be Canadian if we had overlooked the poignant Vimy Ridge......

And The Brooding Soldier at St. Julians........

Monday, August 22, 2011

Ferry to Romance

Ah-Ha!!!! I bet that title got your attention.

After 6 days in Normandy, we set off to shift our military gears from WW II and the Allied Invasion to The Great War or WW I.  But first we stopped in for a visit to Jumieges Abby, a former Benedictine monastery and commune dating back as far as the 5th or 6th century.

A bit of unexpected adventure when the road ended and we had to board a ferry to cross the Seine river....

Jumieges Abbey, initially pillaged and destroyed by the Vikings, was rebuilt in the 11th century and went on to become a great centre for learning and religion. It continued to prosper for centuries. It ceased to be a monastery after the French Revolution and fell to ruins. Today Jumieges is one of France's most romantic ruins.   

Purchased in the late 19th century by a businessman who wanted to quarry the stone for profit, it changed hands again to a family who turned it over to the French government to return the ruins back to the people of France.

The abbey is now a romantic ruins and well worth the stroll, a welcomed break in our long day drive from Normandy to The Sommes in northern France.

Juno Beach

We would hardly be patriotic if we didn't go to Juno Beach where the Canadian  Juno Centre commemorates Canada's participation (both military and civilian) during WW II. The Juno Centre is a non-profit organization which opened 2003. Canadian,s visiting this centre are reminded of the diversity or melting pot of Canadian culture. Be sure to visit both the American and Canadian centres because they are both excellent in their special way.

Have you ever heard of Rommel's Asparagus? Hitler assigned Rommel to the fortification of the Atlantic Wall. Rommel ordered his wooden asparagus to line the beaches alongside these cement structures. In the event of an invasion, these structures created obstacles for allied tanks to advance to shore plus there was no way for a soldier on foot to hide for cover behind the open triangular shape.

We visited only one Canadian cemetery in Normandy -The Canadian Cemetery in  Beny - Sur - Mer. Each white marble grave-site bears the name and age of the soldier (if known). The graves are well maintained with flowers at each grave. This is the difference between the Commonwealth (Canadian, British, Australia, New Zealand, Egypt, etc). |The American cemetery are plain marble crosses (or Star of David) but there are no flowers planted and cared for and the age of the soldier is not given. The American cemeteries felt cool and distant....impersonal somehow....but to each her/his own. There is no correct way to honour such a sacrifice.

I could wander for hours between the rows reading the names and inscriptions on these graves....

Our tour of Normandy ended with a visit to beautiful Bayeux to see the oldest 'comic book' known to us today. It tells the story of a different kind of Normandy invasion. The famous Bayeux Tapestry dates back to 1066 (no, that is NOT a typo error) and is the only piece of art known to survive from the Middle Ages. The tapestry is coloured wool on linen and measures 70 metres in length. Now well protected in a climate controlled environment and behind glass, I have no photos to share.

We were more than pleasantly surprised by Bayeux, a beautiful cathedral town.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Normandy Part Deux

You could spend weeks touring Normandy and continually learn more about the Allied invasion.

There is a sobering view of the what the first Americans of the the American Ranger Commandos who climbed up the cliffs from the beach under enemy fire must have felt. Some of the German bunkers are intact and and massive holes dot the area to outline what remains from the heavy artillery.

We are hauntingly reminded of the 9387 buried and 1557 inscribed names of the missing who are memorialized at The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial (view to the beach from the cemetery).

A simple marble white grave with a cross or Star of David marks the name with date of death of each soldier's resting place. We learn later there is quite a difference between the American and Canadian/British cemeteries.

Here is Port Winston, what remains of a temporary harbour built by the Allies to allow the large ships to get closer to shore to drop off soldiers, supplies and artillery.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Mont St Michel = tourist insanity

It may be the most visited place in France after Paris, but to us Mont St Michel during the August high high season was pure insanity! Despite the crowds, one cannot help but feel somewhat awestruck as you approach this incredible tidal island and abbey which has been a fortification and monastery since the 8th century.

The grid lock at the front gate  was unbelievable but these are the hazards of high season travel (thank goodness for Rick Steve's guide which steered us out of the crowd up the stairs). And we visited late in the day to avoid the crowds.....(Moooooo.....we felt like cattle)......

Here is the view from the Abbey (and an ancient downspout for Ted to consider in his next home design....)

The family smiling and pretending they are enjoying the crowd and heat.....

The abbey cloisters are just as magical as I recall from my visit in 1998.

41 people still live on this island community. I think I prefer a chateau in Loire valley but that's just me.