Bells of peace

Had a wonderful day trip with Freddy deClerck, a retired Naval Officer and President of the Passchendaele Society 1917 (check out his blog on “The Belgians have not Forgotten” website). Freddy is an authority on the ANZACS, in particular the New Zealanders. The first place we visited was the Mesen Museum . We were met by Steven Reynaert, curator/historian, who took us on a private tour of the Museum. He also took us to St Nicholas Church and down to the 11th century Roman Crypt. The Church was rebuilt after the First World War, and is all that remains of the old abbey founded in 1057. The highlight of the visit was the opportunity to go up the tower to see the Peace Carillon of 50 bells, and were treated to a panoramic view of the whole town from the tower.

Later in the afternoon we visited Tyne Cot Cemetery, the largest Commonwealth cemetery in the world with 12,000 graves. It is also the most important reminder of the bloody Battle of Passchendaele. There are 519 New Zealanders buried at Tyne Cot. The rear wall of the cemetery is a Memorial to the Missing. It bears the names of 35,000 British and New Zealand servicemen who fell in the vicinity after 16 August 1917. We also visited the Der Rosster Cabaret where Leslie Wilton Andrew’s action won him the Victoria Cross, and the Charles Sciascia Monument .

In the evening we laid wreaths at Menin Gate Memorial, where the names listed have no known graves. I laid a special wreath from the Dolores Cross Project, as a tribute to each and every New Zealand personnel who lost their lives in all wars. It was such an emotional experience. It was hard not to shed a tear for the thousands of soldiers who gave their lives for freedom. The Last Post is played every night at 8pm and there is always a big crowd, many are tourists. During my one week stay in Iper, I attended the service every night with Marianne and John.

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