Remembering Passchendaele

At a recent Cathedral Service to mark the hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele, two young people read out the names of the thirty six soldiers from Leicestershire who were killed on the first day of one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War.

The battle, also known as the Third Battle of Ypres was marked by appalling  conditions. Torrential rain led to atrocious muddy fields, with thousands slipping to their deaths and even drowning as they attempted to capture a hill known as the Passchendale ridge. The struggle was to last over three months.

A few years ago Hilary and I travelled to Ypres and visited the imposing Menin Gate which serves as a memorial to tens of thousands of soldiers who lost their lives in the area but have no known grave. Here we laid a wreath in memory of the fallen on behalf of the people of our city.

The First World War touched with tragedy almost every family in the land. My own mother's big brother, Arthur, met his death in the mud hereabouts in September 1917. My Leicester grandmother was to lose her cousin Tom Lewin who died shortly after the end of the war still suffering from the effects of gas attacks and Hilary's grandfather died near the Somme.

At the packed Cathedral service of Commemoration a former High Sheriff of Leicestershire read out a moving extract from the diary of one Private Alfred H Burrage which painted a horrifying picture of life and death in the Battle of Passchendaele. He wrote: 'Dawn reveals to us a sight which nobody could visualise without having actually seen it......It is like being on the sea, but our sea is a sea of mud.'

Not long ago an old lady in Beaumont Leys recalled to me her childhood  memories of a war veterans' parade  returning to Leicester, including the wounded, the blinded and the gassed. It had clearly made a deep impression on her..

And just recently eight bells, cast by Taylors of Loughborough, have been sent in the company of World War One army trucks to St George's Memorial Church in Ypres. Proof, if it were needed, that those from our county who fought and died at Passchendaele are not forgotten.       

Roger Blackmore