Saturday 28th and Sunday 29th October 2017 – Zonnebeke Belgium
Departed the lovely French seaside resort of Hardelot and had an uneventful drive to Zonnebeke Belgium.
Drove about 150 klms which was further than we wanted to drive but the driving was easy and we really wanted to see the World War 1 memorials in this area where so many Commonwealth soldiers lost their lives.
Arrived at a Café/Inn named De Dreve (also known as the “ANZAC Rest”) or “Home of the Underground War”.
Went inside the Inn to check with the owner to see if it would be ok to stay overnight on his property.
As soon as we walked in the door we were just grabbed by the ambience – we felt right at home – the walls were completely covered with Aussie and ANZAC memorabilia – not an inch of space was not decorated (even a Maroon Army Cap).
The owner, Johan Vandewalle, welcomed us and gave the ok to camp on his premises and offered to provide whatever help he could.
Johan has a private museum on the top floor of his Inn and he allowed us to view the memorabilia and some of his films.
Johan has lived in this area all his life and has dedicated much of his time to finding unknown Commonwealth soldiers who were buried somewhere in the fields surrounding his Inn (and he has found many).
The best way to describe Johan would be part time Inn Keeper, war historian, archaeologist, farmer and engineer.
We spent Saturday afternoon talking to Johan whilst his Inn filled up with mainly local elderly Belgium people who were extremely friendly and when they found we couldn’t speak their language switched to another language until we found one we had in common. (German or English).
Johan gave us information including GPS coordinates regarding where to go to see the most important sites such as the Buttes in Polygonwood, Zonnebeke Museum, Tyne Cot Cemetery, Hill 60, Menin Gate, a German Cemetery and Messines Village, Memorial and Visitor Centre.
On the Sunday we only had time to see the first three so will be coming back again – can’t stay longer currently as we are booked in for our annual vehicle inspection in GB on 31st October.
We could have stayed all day just at the Zonnebeke Musuem alone.
We did a standard museum tour and an add on tour through a dugout which is under the church on the Zonnebeke Museum site. This dugout is in its original condition – the only one left and will be closed permanently in a week’s time so we are very fortunate to have this opportunity. The dugout is 10 metres underground and was used as accommodation to rest soldiers from the front line, to treat the injured and to house supplies and armaments – it is in original condition.
The strange thing was that all the car parks for the sites were overflowing with cars, 95% of which had Belgium number plates, the balance being mainly GB plates.
Sunday was really cold, wet and windy and yet all these local Belgian people went out to the memorials to pay their respects – they really appreciate what was done for their country.
Late Sunday afternoon we went back to the Inn again and it was packed with local Belgians.
We had a great time sipping on a few Belgian beers and then retired to Ziggy to prepare for the drive to Calais in the morning for the Chunnel journey across to GB.
Johan is trying to raise funds to build a memorial near his Inn but is struggling as Commonwealth officials don’t seem to warm to the idea of a private individual being involved in something of this nature – Johan’s project is called “Brothers -in-Arms Memorial Project” and can be viewed at www.brothersinarmsmemorial.org
The Brothers -in-Arms Project is based around the Hunter Brothers from Nanango Queensland, who were inseparable and the older brother John was injured in the Battle of Polygonwood in 1917 and died in his younger brother Jim’s arms.
Jim carefully wrapped his brother up in protective garments and buried him along with four other Australian soldiers and promised to return after the war to find his brothers body and send it back to Australia. The five soldiers became known as the “Westhoek Five”
Jim did return and searched in vain but could not find his brother’s body.
Johan was part of a team who uncovered John’s body in 2006 when pipes were about to be laid in the area.
There was an interesting article about Johan and his endeavours written by Greg Callaghan in the Weekend Australian in 2017.
Details regarding Johan’s Inn can be found at www.dedreve.be