Feet to Remember

Caroline Copland of London had a dream: She was walking from the  Passchendaele battlefield to Canary Wharf, one of London’s two financial districts — the Wall Street of London, perhaps.

After she woke up, she decided to make the 125-mile journey on foot in reverse: London to Ypres, from the Cenotaph to the Menin Gate.

Her walk is a fund-raiser for Combat Stress. According to its website, “Combat Stress is the leading UK charity specialising in the care of Veterans’ mental health. We are currently supporting just over 5,000 ex-Service men and women.”

The organization began in 1919 as the Ex-Servicemen’s Welfare Society to rehabilitate veterans with shell shock.

Caroline expects to be in Ieper (Ypres), Belgium, on Thursday in time for the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate. She’s blogging — shin splints! — and collecting donations at http://www.justgiving.com/feettoremember

Fun fact: In 1927, the Ex-Servicemen’s Welfare Society, to provide work for the men under its care, developed and manufactured one of the first electric blankets to be sold in the UK.

Here’s more about shell shock, which we now know as PTSD:







The other side of Passchendaele

Warfare Magazine posts an excerpt of “The German Army at Passchendaele” by Jack Sheldon with this note:


Classic photo of a German soldier taken prisoner by the British. National Library of Scotland.

Nearly all of the writing on Passchendaele concentrates on the British and Dominion experience; that of the Germans is skated over. This gives rise to an apparent feeling held in popular circles in Great Britain that her armies almost uniquely suffered the miserable – indeed hideous – conditions of the final weeks of the Third Ypres. Jack Sheldon has begun to rectify this situation and restore a balance to the historiography of the First World War in his works, which focus on the equally horrific day-to-day experiences of the men in the trenches, pillboxes and muddy shell-holes on the other side of No Man’s Land; those of the German Army at Passchendaele.

Here’s the link:


Passchendaele: The beginning

From our Facebook friend Wipers: A Soldier’s Tale From the Great War, written by Jeff Simmons:

If there were a battle that summarized the pain and suffering of the common foot soldier, it would be the Third Battle of Ypres, better known as Passchendaele. Unlike the first two battles of Ypres, this time it was the Allies making the push; they jumped off this day, 1917.

Hell was truly on the horizon. In “A Short History of World War I,” historian James Stokesbury says “Even the soil was bad. Soil may not be thought to be of much importance in military operations, but it is one of the supreme conditions of a soldier’s life, as he has to spend a great deal of his time digging in it, putting it in sandbags, and moving it from this spot to that spot.” The soil at Ypres was gooey clay, which when wet, turns into a clingy ooze. The heavy fighting in that flat, low-lying stretch of front had destroyed all of the dikes and waterways that controlled flooding, so rain meant misery.

The objective of Gen. Douglas Haig’s brilliant offensive was to break the German line in the northwest side of the Ypres salient. Gen. Plumer’s successful mining campaign at Messines just down the line improved the possibility of pulling off this maneuver, although the right flank of the attack would still be up one of those little molehills they call ridges in Flanders. Once the troops achieved this breakthrough, they would hook up with an amphibious landing in Belgium, then cut off and surround Germany’s flank as well as its U-boat bases. Sounds like a pretty good plan…but like so many plans, there were problems, mainly rain and a 13-day artillery barrage that had churned the soil into muck. The soldiers were expected to advance through this. A good number of attacking soldiers actually drowned on the battlefield.

In the end, the British did end up taking some land. The distance of the drive, however, cost them one man for every inch gained.

The only good thing I see coming out of this is that it sped up the notion that the old way of fighting just didn’t work (wow, now THERE’S a news flash!) Somehow, someway, the era of siege warfare needed to end, and a strategy to get into a war of movement was essential.



Men of a Yorkshire regiment moving up the line. National Library of Scotland photo.

 Jeff is the author of  the novel “Wipers: A Soldier’s Tale from the Great War”

Week 11: “The Blasphemer”

I fell way behind with my reviews (though not my reading). It’s just that I read a book so good, I wanted to keep my thoughts to myself. Have you ever felt that way?

“The Blasphemer,” by Nigel Farndale, is a wonderful novel. It’s about Daniel Andrews, a zoology professor in London, and his great-grandfather Private Andrew Kennedy, who died at Passchendaele.

Daniel is taking his wife on a second honeymoon to the Galapagos Island. Andrew is slogging through the mud of No-Man’s Land.

The plane goes down in the ocean. The Shropshire Fusiliers are decimated by German machine guns.

Farndale stuffs a lot of plot into these 371 pages – you could make two books out of them — but he unites his two main threads with a single question: Is there such a thing as an angel?

I don’t often read books twice – so many books, so little time – but “The Blasphemer” will go on the short list of exceptions.