Everywhere you go in Flanders the landscape has a story to tell if you know how to read it, as this view, and the following brief post, so amply prove.
We are on the road from Wulvergem (off the bottom of the map), heading north towards Kemmel, our position denoted by the small magenta dot.
How many people, I wonder, travel this road without realising the significance of the land through which they are passing? Up on the ridge, three quarters of a mile away to our east, the German trenches once crossed the picture, looking down, as ever, on the British front line only two hundred yards nearer us, just below the ridge’s crest. This is the view you might have had from one of the British communication trenches for the first three years of the war, if you had dared to poke your head above the parapet.
Close-up of the map. The German trenches are marked in red, the British front line in blue, and the light blue circle marks the site of the huge mine crater at Spanbroekmolen, the Pool of Peace, as it is now known, one of the nineteen mines that exploded virtually simultaneously on the morning of 7th June 1917, heralding the start of the Battle of Messines.
Today the trees on the horizon surround the crater,…
…now water-filled, and a pool of peace indeed,…
…and to the right of the trees, in front of the farm buildings, on the far right, is Lone Tree Cemetery. I have three ‘favourite’ cemeteries, if it’s acceptable to have favourite cemeteries, two of which are in Belgium, the other just over the border in France. Two have become special to me over time, but the third, Lone Tree, because I knew the story behind its existence beforehand and had always wanted to pay my respects there long before I first visited, has been so the longest.
Looking down into the valley from Lone Tree, the Kemmelberg rising on the horizon.
The cemetery is on the approximate position of the British front line, the trees which now surround the crater just a couple of hundred yards away. Sixty six of the seventy nine identified burials here, fifty six of them men of the Royal Irish Rifles, 36th (Ulster) Division, died on 7th June 1917. Many of these men, adrenalin pumping, made the simple but deadly mistake of leaving their trenches a fraction too early on that fateful summer morning, and were killed between here and the trees by blast and flying debris when the Spanbroekmolen mine erupted in their faces.
Looking down into the valley from Lone Tree Cemetery as the Flanders sun sinks in the west – and if this photograph rings any kind of bells, take a look at the banner photograph at the top of every page of this website. The link will take you to a more detailed look at the cemetery and crater, part of the Tour of Messines that we embarked upon a few years back.
With which we finish where we started. Every picture tells a story.