Just round the corner from the Cloth Hall is St. George’s Memorial Church. Opened in 1929 as a memorial to the British soldiers who fought and died in the Salient, since 1945 St. George’s has also served as a memorial church to the troops who, in a later conflict, passed through Ypres during the retreat to Dunkirk.
The interior walls of the church are adorned with plaques and flags, all commemorating a division, regiment, battalion or corps, a school, an individual. Every kneeler in the church has the name of a regiment or of an individual embroidered upon it, every window commemorates the fallen men of the Salient (look carefully at the previous photograph and you will see that the centre of each window features a regimental badge). These photographs show just a handful of the plaques, flags and memorials you can see within St. George’s, and I urge you to do so if you get the chance. What’s more, if religion takes your fancy, then that’s two birds, isn’t it?
Hands out of pockets, Balders!
It was Sir John French who initially appealed for a memorial church to be built in Ypres. Funding was raised, entirely in the form of donations, and the foundation stone laid on 27th July 1927 by Field Marshal Lord Plumer.
Montgomery and Haig. Montgomery survived being shot through the lung in October 1914 to fight here during 3rd Ypres in 1917.
Now, being a South Londoner (capital letters), my ‘home’ regiments during the First World War were the two Surrey Regiments, and of course the four London Battalions, who were four of the original 26 volunteer…hang on, this is going to get complicated. At this point I generally say that you can find all the information on this sort of thing at many other excellent websites, so there isn’t much point in me repeating it all here, but on this occasion, and because we will meet many Surrey men on our travels throughout Flanders, I will try to explain.
At the turn of the nineteenth century there were two Surrey Regiments; the East Surrey Regiment and the Queen’s Royal Regiment (West Surrey). When the Territorial Force was formed in 1908, 26 volunteer battalions from regiments throughout the County of London, including from the two Surrey regiments, become the new London Regiment. Of these 26 battalions, the 22nd and 24th were formed from the 3rd and 4th Volunteer Battalions of the Queen’s, the 23rd from the 4th Volunteer Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment, and the 21st (First Surrey Rifles) from the 1st Surrey (South London) Corps, also of the East Surrey’s. By late 1914 the London Regiment had increased to 58 battalions and by the end of 1915 a total of 88 battalions (56 of which saw action) made it the largest infantry regiment in the British Army. In 1916, the London Regiment battalions, whilst still retaining their London Regiment titles, were returned to their original regiments. The First Surrey Rifles, commemorated on the plaque above, retained their title even when in later years they were transferred to the Royal Artillery, only giving it up when they became an Anti-Aircraft battalion in 1935.
The London Regiment was the only regiment in the army that did not have a regimental badge, all its battalions wearing the badges of their original regiments.
Ok, that’s the history lesson over.
One of the many window memorials in the church.
The schools plaques are in general a more recent addition to the walls of St. George’s.
Among the many flags in the church is the centre one here from the Brookwood Last Post Association. I mention it because Brookwood Military Cemetery in Surrey is just down the road from where I work, so I’ve had the privilege of visiting on a number of occasions (and getting locked in one night, but that’s another story). If you’ve never been there, it’s the largest military cemetery in the UK, a vast place with some 7000 burials stretching across 37 acres, and, notwithstanding the title of this website, I shall show you around it at a later date. Oh, alright then, here’s a taster.
Ok, back to St. George’s…
Another London Regiment battalion, although not one of the four from the Surrey regiments, this flag commemorates the 7th (City of London) Battalion, whose origins were in the 3rd City of London Volunteer Rifle Corps (formerly the 11th Volunteer Battalion, The King’s Royal Rifle Corps).
The 11th (Service) Battalion of the Queen’s Royal Regiment (West Surrey), formed at Lambeth in June 1915.
By the end of the First World War there were 96,000 men of the Chinese Labour Corps serving on the Western Front with the British Army, some 2000 of whom had been either killed by enemy action or died from illness (most notably the flu epidemic that swept Europe after the war). As the dates on this plaque show, their work went on for some time after the Armistice.
Above and below: Church plan, list of memorials and other plaques in the church entrance.
He had a busy time that day, didn’t he?
On the way back to the Market Square the Ypres War Memorial, behind the Cloth Hall, lists the names of those soldiers of Ypres who died for Belgium in World War I. The centrepiece of the memorial is the image of a dead soldier in the arms of two women while above him a third, ‘Victory’, is about to place a laurel wreath on his head. It is a reminder to visitors that Belgium, although largely occupied for virtually the whole of the war, suffered significant loss in battle. An estimated 54,889 Belgians were wounded or taken prisoner and 38,000 died in action or from their wounds.