2022 – Post-Pandemic Plans

Accompanied by a few photos of the flagpole and poppy memorial at the entrance to Randalls Park Crematorium in Leatherhead in Surrey, let’s take a look at the state of play of theBigNote as of April 2022. 

My last trip to Flanders was in January 2020, not so many weeks before the pandemic hit; I make that twenty six months and counting.

Now, despite the many other aspects of the Great War that I spring on you from time to time, where would we be without our photographic tours of the burials sites and battlefields of the Western Front, alongside the stories behind both the cemeteries and the men buried within them?  This, of course, necessitates rather large numbers of photographs, which is why there are well upwards of 30,000 so far on this website, and the laws of mathematics state that the more photos that are uploaded, the fewer remain to be uploaded.  Can you see where I’m going here……?

Well actually, no need to panic, you can’t, and I’m not.

We shall shortly be embarking – shortly meaning when I’m ready – on another tour, somewhat shorter than the last Kemmel one, admittedly, after which we shall be heading south, with various stops along the way, towards the flatlands of French Flanders once again.

And while we spend some time down there, and assuming what I am about to tell you goes smoothly, I will, although they don’t yet know it, have encamped Chez Baldrick for as long as it takes to restock, or top-up, the photo library.

In the meantime, I shall, next month, be embarking, quite literally, on a slightly different adventure, on, at times, familiar ground.

During the third week of May 1940, despite the frankly ludicrous French plans to counter-attack the advancing Germans, the British Expeditionary Force, under the command of Lord Gort, made the only sensible decision available; retreat to the channel ports and get the hell off the continent of Europe as quickly as possible.

Among the troops heading for the coast were men of both the Queen’s and the East Surreys, and it is their journey from the River Escaut (Schelde), as seen in the map above – for your information Avelghem (now Avelgem) is about twenty five miles east, and a little south, of Ypres (Ieper) – to the channel coast that I shall be following,…

…as well as checking out the British attack on 21st May on Rommel’s panzers down at our old stamping ground of Arras, where the war memorial still shows the scars of battle (above, and shown in more detail here), although I would imagine these bullet holes are 1944 vintage.

Now, whether you are of the opinion that the fighting in 1940 belonged to an entirely different war, or whether you consider that it was nothing more than a continuation of the first one after a twenty year hiatus, the Great War Part Two if you will, to my mind the six week campaign in France & Belgium in May & June 1940 is closer to the open warfare of the latter months of 1918 (with the roles of pursuer and pursued reversed) than it is to anything that took place after D-Day in June 1944.

Thus I shall be relating the story of the Surrey regiments’ experiences in 1940 at some point in the future, and should I require any further justification for so doing, then may I refer you to the title of this website.  ‘Nuff said.

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22 Responses to 2022 – Post-Pandemic Plans

  1. Brian McTighe says:

    Good luck. I will be looking forward to seeing those posts.

  2. Mrs Baldrick says:

    Putting the kettle on! Hurry up..!

  3. Morag L Sutherland says:

    I look forward to reading your account in due course.
    Have you looked at /considering at some point the Seaforths at St Valery at all? Their contribution does not always get a mention.Man on our memorial died 1940 and buried in cemetery overlooking the French Town. Twinned with Inverness as you no doubt noticed on your Highland visit

  4. Mark DeBacker says:

    Looking forward to reading these, particularly the route of the Queen’s & East Surrey’s. Avelgem is a couple of miles from Kwaremont where my family are from (the high ground across the Escaut) and close to Mouscron where my grandparents lived during the second World War. So interested to hear what was going on around them at that time, I’ve always assumed it would have been on the front line at some point. I think there’s still a Bren Gun carrier at Risquons-Tout on the NW of Mouscron. A couple of casualties from 1940 in the communal cemetery if I remember when I last visited my great grandfather’s (1918) grave. Enjoy

    • Magicfingers says:

      I shall be staying in Mouscron at least one night. There are also half a dozen British Great War burials in the communal cemetery that I shall have to find while I am there – be interesting to see if I can find out their stories once I get home. And your Great Grandparents spent the Great War under the Germans then? Interesting. Thanks Mark. Appreciated.

      • Mark DeBacker says:

        Yes I seem to remember a mix of first and second World War graves in the communal cemetery in Mouscron. Yes my great grandparents were behind the lines being in Mouscron in world war one. My great grandfather being the station master in Mouscron, executed in 1918 for being part of the train watchers network (section I of the cemetery Achille De Backer) my grandfather was born in 1912 so he too lived through that occupation and then of course the second twenty years later. The family house being searched in the second World War due to I guess the German records from the first. Sadly they took the medals from the first War. As you say the interconnectivity of the wars. Last time I was there was the 100 year anniversary 2018 where I took my children to visit the street named after him Rue Achille De Backer.

        • Magicfingers says:

          Oh my! Executed in Ghent, I see. Along with other railway staff from around the area. I presume you are involved in the page on the Belgian memorials website in Achille’s honour?

          • Morag L Sutherland says:

            Brutality on war and its consequences are in this family story. But from a rather detached position. Why would Ghent be the place of execution?

          • Mark DeBacker says:

            Yes executed at the City rifle range in Ghent, along with Theo Goedhuys and others from the Alfred Pagnien network. I’m aware of the Memorial pages but not directly involved. I slightly ran out of steam researching a few years ago, a need really to visit archives in country and covid preventing that along with a lack of Dutch on my behalf. I regret not gaining more info from my grandfather but perhaps understandably he never wanted to talk about it. Certainly to be picked up again. Re Morag’s query, why Ghent, good question. I am guessing why the shooting range there? Presumably simply convenience as having the facility with relative proximity to St Gilles prison. Why St Gilles prison (still looking much the same)? Again guessing, Ghent was the administration centre for the region and many of the network seemed to be taken there for interrogation, eventually. Achille was incarcerated there for about a year. During which time there would have been attempts at gaining confessions, cross referencing what others were saying and some form of trials and appeals (including to the Kaiser). Thank you for the questions makes me want to return to finding out more.

          • Morag L Sutherland says:

            Mark it must be very painful for you as it clearly was for your grandfather. Take time and be gentle with yourself as you investigate this. I suspected Ghent was the administrative centre but thanks for the update as I was not aware of the prison. Always much learnt on this excellent site. Take care

  5. Jon T says:

    Looking forward to all your future posts MF !

    All things being equal we should be getting back to Ypres and the Somme this June. Has been far too long since our last visit..

  6. Nick Kilner says:

    Very much looking forward to this. As I think I’ve mentioned before, my grandfather was caught up in the retreat and POW’d for the remainder of the war.
    You, like me, must be very much looking forward to returning to the battlefields. It’s been far too long!

    • Magicfingers says:

      Hasn’t it just. Remind me of your Grandfather’s regiment.

      • Nick Kilner says:

        He was 2nd Manchester regiment.

        • Magicfingers says:

          I shall be reading up – just started – before I go. I shall find out if we are likely to come across the Manchesters on our travels.

          • Nick kilner says:

            Thank you! That’s extremely kind of you. I did look into their actions a few years back, but honestly can’t remember where they were now. I probably have their war diary on file somewhere, so will happily send the relevant section to you if that’ll help.

  7. Magicfingers says:

    Mark, should you see this, I’d be happy to consider doing a post on the train watchers, based on Achille’s story one day, depending on further research. Just a thought.

  8. Magicfingers says:

    Yes please Nick.

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