A Log of events by PC Michael Griffiths
We were staying at a local hostel which is run by the local scouting group. The building was fantastic although in a poor state of repair. Part of our objective for the week was to leave it in a better state than we arrived.
On our arrival we have attended Ypres square and went straight into the in the Flanders Fields museum which was our first idea about what the week was to include. The museum was full of interesting facts about how the area had been affected by World War 1.
That evening we all visited Mennin Gate where we were shown the importance and history surrounding the memorial. We returned to the hostel and all sat around a table and read an excerpt from “Desperate Glory” a diary of a young officer fighting in the great war 100 years to the day we were in Ypres, we would repeat this every night. Reading these excerpts this put a lot of things into perspective and hit home how the war had changed some many people’s lives and effected our futures, this was not the only time on this trip where our emotions would be tested.
Our first full day saw us visit several grave sites of the fallen, we visited graves of fallen Manx men who we had investigated prior to our trip. At each grave we have stopped and told the persons story, this was very emotional and the work undertaken by the Cadets was fantastic, we have recorded each eulogy on video and camera. I feel that the work undertaken by the cadets was epic with details only found out through hard work and great investigative skills.
Upon finishing our trips around the gravesites we have returned to the Hostel to put the finishing touches on our uniforms, polishing our boots and ironing our shirts and getting ready to march up to Mennin Gate, we were down to be the guard of honour which was a huge responsibility and privilege. Upon marching into the memorial we were greeted by approximately 2000 people taking pictures and watching every move we made.
Once we had marched in we were stood to attention before the last post was played by the famous Ypres fire brigade buglers, the history and bravery of this group is well known and so to parade with them was a fantastic opportunity. We are the first ever group to be Honour Guard at Mennin Gate from the Isle of Man.
The next day was a different challenge for the cadets, they were tasked with painting two of the massive bedrooms within the Hostel, we were given overalls and paint brushes and we set to brightening up the tired old building. We were painting all day and did not get finished till about 7pm that evening, although the result was dramatic with the bedrooms looking fantastic. The cadets washed themselves down in the showers (20mins walk away) and went into the town of Ypres for the evening.
A change of pace was needed on day four so a trip to the local theme park was a great day out and the cadets had a great time, in the evening we went 10 pin bowling. Before bed we read our daily excerpt from the officers diary which seemed more real now that we had been to some of the grave sights and some of the battlefields.
Day five and we all piled into the minibus for a drive to the Somme, on route we visited several memorials, the Canadian, South African museums and we also got to walk the trenches and go through the tunnels that had survived for over 100 years. On route to the Somme we stopped off at two special grave sites. One was for Sgt T Wallace, he was a serving Manx Police officer who died during the war and we visited the Thiepval Memorial which has inscribed on it the name of J Watterson whom was a Police Cadet with the Isle of Man Constabulary and again lost his life during the war, his body was never found. We returned to the Hostel after a full day of travelling and stories at 10pm.
Day six again saw a change of pace with a trip to the beach at Dunkirk followed by a swim at the local swimming park. We all went for tea together at a nice restaurant before spending the evening in Ypres square.
On our last full day we undertook a 30 mile bike ride around the surrounding area visiting sites like Hill 60 and other important markers of the war. The history we learned and the new found respect we had for those that had gone before us had grown throughout the week.
Our trip home thankfully was uneventful, we managed to get from Belgium to Heysham in one day and jump on the boat home.