100th Anniversay of the Battle of Passchendaele
This year is the centenary of the 3rd Battle of Ypres more commonly known as Passchendaele. Members of the 10th Essex travelled to Zonnebeke in Belgium to pay their respects to the 10th Essex who fought here between July 31st and the 10th November 1917.
It remains one of the most notorious battles of the Great War. In three-and-a-half months of fighting, an advance of less than five miles saw an estimated 550,000 Allied and German troops killed, wounded or lost.
Around 90,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers were missing; 50,000 buried without being identified, and 42,000 never recovered from the Belgian fields of Flanders that turned into an ocean of mud.
A large contingent of the group travelled out to the Salient for the centenary commemorations to mark the start of the 3rd Ypres series of battles. Over 400 living historians from around Europe, representing all sides of the conflict, recreated camp life for four days for thousands of visitors to the Passchendaele Museum in Zonnebeke.
One of the features of the museum’s event was a recreated series of shell holes which represented the front line familiar to us all in photos from the time. While taking a turn manning the display, the group turned up a piece of British webbing and shrapnel, a sobering reminder that we were occupying the exact same soil as had our predecessors one hundred years ago. Like most battalions of the British Army, the 10th Essex did their share around Ypres and many gave their lives doing so. Many have no known grave and the group paid tribute to those souls by visiting the Menin Gate for the daily commemoration and later marched out to Tyne Cot, the largest British cemetery in the Salient. The names of fifty-one members of the battalion are recorded on the memorial panels, as well as the graves of L/Cpl Powell and L/Cpl Catchpole. Sgt Mitchley paid his respects to a relative from 2/Rifle Brigade before we marched back to camp to raise a glass to ‘our boys’..
On the 31st itself, some of the group remained in camp to welcome Royal visitors in the form of Prince Charles and King Phillipe of the Belguim. We met many of the visiting ambassadors, WW2 veterans and top brass, for whom our guest Aussie Dave Howells proved a favourite for selfies!
Meanwhile, a hardy group led by L/Cpl Everest retraced the steps of B and C Coys of the battalion from their jump-off point at Zillebeke to their objective for the day at Polygon Wood, matching sites mentioned in the unit memoirs, battalion war diary and Brigade orders to the trench map as they went. Many of the topographical features are still very much in evidence today and they were easily able to pinpoint the Jargon trenches in the German lines where the advance stalled, just off the Ypres-Menin road near the 18th Division memorial in that area. The sheer enormity of the sacrifices made in such a small area of the Salient was never far from anyone’s minds and for one of our newer members, Mike South, there was a poignant moment as he was able to visit Gibraltar Farm where his great-grandfather served with the RGA. All in all a very successful event and a fitting way to mark the Centenary of the Third battle of Ypres.