Flanders: Summer 1917

Eight hours into the trip the convoy finally shunts to a halt in a marshalling yard near the town of Cassel, perched bold on its hill. * Sorted, we’re lined up and ordered to march by company independently to nearby Bavinchove, where, we’re told, billets are ‘scattered’. Understanding this to be code for ‘scarce’, we take off like a mob of swamp wallabies.   * The day turns into a sticky boiler but we don’t care, singing like summer crickets marching through tiny Staple, Wally’s band ablaze, bystanders and shopkeepers waving and applauding. * I catch my first glimpse of the village: Grand Sec Bois; not ‘grand’ at all but tiny and quaint, a collection of primitive brick and thatch dwellings crouched around a church spire …  * To the south I can just make out the long green line of the great Forest of Nieppe. * One hot afternoon Cozette, the children and I head over to Vieux Berquin to milk Freyja, Great Aunt Margot’s kitchen cow. * An injured Tommy tells me the Germans had been searching for a long-range gun parked on the railway line near Strazeele …  * A fleet of double-decker London buses waits to transport us south to the Steenvoorde area near the French-Belgian border. * At the foot of the hill we wander into an ivy-covered estaminet in a little village with a big name: Godewaersvelde. * We decide to hike to Mont-des-Cats, a high hill some distance from the camp. * We’re route marched to another camp beyond Dickebusch, deliberately tramping out of step all the way, resenting the flogging we’ve copped after doing our very best. * Disembarking at Abeele Station … we slosh up to the camp and, coming to a Military Policeman on duty at a crossroad … decide to stick it to him for the caning we copped yesterday. * Poperinghe, the ‘Dodge City’ of Ypres Salient and well known to troopers for good times. * Bags wants me to shoot through with him and meet up with a girl he’s met in Merris, France, because, he says, I know the short cut across the border around Mont-des-Cats …

‘Eight hours into the trip the convoy finally shunts to a halt in a marshalling yard near the town of Cassel, perched bold on its hill.’
*
‘Sorted, we’re lined up and ordered to march by company independently to nearby Bavinchove, where, we’re told, billets are “scattered”. Understanding this to be code for ‘scarce’, we take off like a mob of swamp wallabies.’
*
‘The day turns into a sticky boiler but we don’t care, singing like summer crickets marching through tiny Staple, Wally’s band ablaze, bystanders and shopkeepers waving and applauding.’
*
‘I catch my first glimpse of the village: Grand Sec Bois; not “grand” at all but tiny and quaint, a collection of primitive brick and thatch dwellings crouched around a church spire ….’
*
‘To the south I can just make out the long green line of the great Forest of Nieppe.’
*
‘One hot afternoon Cozette, the children and I head over to Vieux Berquin to milk Freyja, Great Aunt Margot’s kitchen cow.’
*
‘An injured Tommy tells me the Germans had been searching for a long-range gun parked on the railway line near Strazeele …’
*
‘A fleet of double-decker London buses waits to transport us south to the Steenvoorde area near the French-Belgian border.’
*
‘At the foot of the hill we wander into an ivy-covered estaminet in a little village with a big name: Godewaersvelde.’
*
‘We decide to hike to Mont-des-Cats, a high hill some distance from the camp.’
*
‘We’re route marched to another camp beyond Dickebusch, deliberately tramping out of step all the way, resenting the flogging we’ve copped after doing our very best.’
*
‘Disembarking at Abeele Station … we slosh up to the camp and, coming to a Military Policeman on duty at a crossroad … decide to stick it to him for the caning we copped yesterday.’
*
Poperinghe, the ‘Dodge City’ of Ypres Salient and well known to troopers for good times.’
*
‘Bags wants me to shoot through with him and meet up with a girl he’s met in Merris, France, because, he says, I know the short cut across the border around Mont-des-Cats ….’

 

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