Sunday, 30 July 2017


Of all the First World War centenary anniversaries to come along, this one perhaps represents the most tragic.

Any modern-day historian who quibbles and moans about the fallacy of the "Lions led by donkeys" mantra, need look no more than this futile battle.

The worst conditions, the worst location and against enormous German fortifications, you had an utterly predictable outcome. Add the fact they threw huge amounts of high explosives onto the area, churning up the already waterlogged ground even more, made the whole battlefield a quagmire.

The arrogance and stupidity of Haig and his staff wasted thousands and thousands of lives.
Just the single word 'Passchendaele', has long since been associated with the wholesale waste and slaughter of a generation.

Any lessons and tactics learnt from the Somme a year earlier were simply thrown away.
The whole sorry saga started on July 31st 1917 and slogged onto 10th November 1917. Casualty figures, although much debated, stood at around a baffling 260,000 for the Allies and about the same for the Germans.

Tyne Cot Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery near the village of Passchendaele, is the place to go to get a sense of the battle. It has 11,965 graves, and a Memorial to the Missing with the names of 33,783. 
Of course its a sobering place, with German pillboxes in amongst the graves and placed on crucial higher ground, giving you a view of the Cloth Hall tower in Ypres, barely a few miles away.

After visiting it a few years ago, I spotted a lone poppy just outside the entrance, on the edge of a field full of crops. A field where thousands of people died. 

Just a few of the names on the Memorial to the Missing at Tyne Cot.

Three postcards of the huge cemetery, dating to the late 1920s, early 30s. Note the still bare landscape in the background.

The totally ruined Cloth Hall at Ypres. This postcard was sent on the 1st August 1919, unbelievably, it had a Censor stamp on it. Meaning the military were still monitoring what people were saying.

The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing at Ypres, which holds the names of 54,896 soldiers from the surrounding battlefields, including Passchendaele.

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