Really stoopid early in the centre of Poperinge. I try not to do this time in the morning, unless I have yet to go to bed, but on this day it was absolutely the right course of action.
Because it was already turning into a fabulous morning after the rain, and as a few more early risers appear,…
…what more appropriate place to begin a tour of the town than at the war memorial.
Poperinghe (now spelt without the ‘h’) was a town of great importance to the British during the Great War, close to Ypres, as this 1914 map shows, and yet out of range of all but the heaviest German guns; susceptible, as war progressed, to German bombing from the skies, but nonetheless considered relatively safe by the tens of thousands of men who became acquanted with its streets and alleyways and their cafés and estaminets, cinemas, clubs and brothels, during four years of war. Everything heading towards the front lines passed through Poperinge. During the first year of war the town was a centre for casualty clearing stations before they were moved further to the west, which explains the presence of three nearby burial sites used or created by the British that we shall be visiting in due course. Soldiers’ billets were usually to be found in the surrounding villages, but Poperinge was where the night life was, and every evening, night after night, thousands of troops would descend on ‘Little Paris’, as they referred to the town, to sample its wares and to spend what little money they had. Credit not available.
And always, day after day, week after week, month after month, the steady, steady, stream of men, guns, vehicles and empty ambulances heading east towards Ypres and the front lines, or west, the ambulances now full, towards comparative safety. Until the next time.
Poperinge war memorial records the names of 130 Belgian soldiers who were killed during the Great War, the lower panels listing the Second World War dead, the four men named here all described as political prisoners.
Six soldiers of the Belgian Army are listed on the Second World War panel on the reverse of the memorial, along with one man of the Belgian, I presume, Resistance.
This time the heading of the Second World War panel, which contains three names, literally translates as ‘Carried Away’. Such gentle words. Such horror.
More names are to be found on plaques on the wall behind the memorial.
Civilian victims, these Second World War,…
…and two panels, containing 93 names, of civilians killed during the Great War (above & below),…
…which shows that, although Poperinge was relatively safe, relative is a relative term.
Between the two Great War panels,…
…this plaque remembers both French & British soldiers killed in defence of the town. Poperinge was never directly attacked during the war, although there are definite reports of marauding Uhlans – German lance-carrying cavalrymen who were a common sight in advance of the main force of German troops during the early days of war – seen briefly in the streets of the town during those early weeks of fast-moving, chaotic, warfare.
Across the square, the town hall will be the scene of the final part of our visit to Poperinge, but next we shall head south east towards the cemeteries I mentioned earlier,…
…which at the time were just on or beyond the outskirts of the town, but which have now been swallowed up by new construction as the town’s suburbs have expanded over the ensuing years. The six Great War sites we shall be visiting (at least one other will have to await another visit) are all marked on this 1917 map, the war memorial in red, and the three cemeteries whch await us next in pink, green and blue.
It’s still bloody early though.