(with thanks to David Drury, who transcribed the original journal)
"My Holiday in Belgium July 1920"
"Billy is my great uncle married to my paternal grandmother’s sister Elizabeth To my knowledge he did not serve in the armed forces. At the time he wrote the diary he was living on Melville Street Burnley and working at Lancaster Brothers Springfield weaving mill.,I believe he was a tackler. My grandfather, his brother-in-law was manager of the mill at that time. One of the directors of Lancaster Bros was Mr William Lancaster whose son captain William Lancaster was killed on active service in France and it was the young Mr William’s grave that is mentioned in the diary. Uncle Billy died sometime in the late 1950’s in Blackpool I was given the diary by his daughter Anne"
(Courtesy of Brenda Rochester)
N.B. Photographs with captions in red were taken on the actual visit
We left Burnley a party of four for a tour in Belgium on our own as one of the party could speak French, on our way to Manchester Road Station, our meeting place, the rain came down in torrents, but as the weather had been anything but nice for a few days, we were prepared for it, and we had umbrellas and mackintoshes for companions.
1st July 1920
We left Manchester Road on July 1st 1920 by the 2.42 p.m. train to Todmorden, to which was attached 2 corridor coaches, for Hull. These coaches were slipped at Stansfield Hall, and after a few minutes wait, we were attached to another engine and off we went on our way to Hull. Somewhere on the road we picked up some more coaches, or else we were picked up by another train, I don’t know which, and I don’t know where, but it would probably be at Mirfield which was the only Station at which we stopped. At this Station two young Ladies entered our carriage. These turned out to be two Belgian Ladies who came to England during the War, and as they had both been successful in obtaining fairly good situations in Bradford as “Governess” they had stayed on. They were now on their way home at Liege for a month’s holiday. As they could both speak French, our “Guide” here got in some valuable practice.
We arrived at Hull at 5.30 p.m. at the Riverside Station and went straight to the “Customs” and passed. We then had to go before the Police, and each one was compared with the photo on our passports, but after a glance they came to the conclusion that I (and the others) was the rightful owner of that particular passport, and without any other formalities were allowed to go on board the L+ Y screw steamer the “Duke of Clarence”, and were due to sail at 6.0p.m. At 6 o-clock to the minute the boat was cast off, and the quay seemed to slip away from us, and we were on our way to Zeebrugge, the new port of Belgium, and rival to Antwerp. The weather had now taken up and was fine, but there was rather a cool breeze blowing as we sailed down the Humber. There were only 26 passengers on board and we started off in fine glee, all our party being out to have the best of times and determined to put up with whatever sort of food that was served up to us in Belgium.
On our way down the river we passed several “Monitors” lying at anchor, which had been used in the war. They were all anchored in a line in the middle of the river waiting to be broken up, and at two places further down the river there were concrete blocks every so far right across the bed of the river, and standing about 2ft out of the water, they looked just like “stepping stones”, with a gap here and there for the boats to pass through, but as we got nearer, we could see they were too far apart for that purpose, so we made enquiries, and found out, they were for closing the port at night during the war, and at 6-o-clock every night a huge net chain was drawn across the river to keep the German Submarines out. We sailed along so pleasantly, like the old song, until we got to Spurn Head, passing Grimsby and Cleethorpes on the other side of the river. We had then got to the open sea, and now we turned south and kept along the coast until we were off Cromer, and then cut across for Zeebrugge, but we could not see the coast.
As it had begun to rain, and there was a
bad light, we had taken our tea in our pockets, so we got a cup of tea on board,
and put it out of sight. Then we had a few hands of Whist, but as it was “Stuffy”
down below, we went on deck. When we got on deck, the wind had freshened, and
was blowing fairly strong, and the first consequence was that the sea became
rather “Lumpy”, and that brought on the second consequence, the
ship began to roll about, and every now and then it a kind of “ducked”,
but still we put up with it, and did as best we could, things went on like this
for a bit, and then one of the party began to lose his high spirits, and then
gradually quieten down, and after he had quietened down, he began to change
colour, then he made a dash for the side of the boat , and as his tea had not
agreed with him, he decided to part company with it, although he had not much
choice in the matter.
Then number two began to feel uncomfortable, but could not decide whether to part with his tea or not. You know it was that there feeling “you could easy be”. We got No1 down to his bunk, tucked him in, and left him, going down occasionally to see how he was going on, but he did not get any worse.
No’s 3 and 4 never felt any ill affects at all. As it was still windy and cold, the passengers began to turn in by 8.30 p.m., and by 9.30.p.m, all the passengers had turned in, with the exception of the No2 of our party, referred to above. No 2 was your humble servant, I lounged about on deck, waiting for things to develop, but nothing happened, but I did not like to turn in on account of that uncomfortable feeling, but at 10-o-clock p.m., I decided to risk it, so I went down below and got into my bunk with expectations, but still nothing happened, the uncomfortable feeling did not go any worse, but it did not go away. I rolled about and tossed about till midnight, but I could not get to sleep, I looked through the porthole beside my bunk, and the moon was shining brightly, but the water was still lumpy, so I sat up in my bunk, and had two draws, and then rolled around until 2.30.a.m. but could not get to sleep, so I got up and went on deck, and had a chat with the first mate who said he came from Blackburn. After a few “pipes o bacca”, I turned in again at 3.30 a.m., and this time I got to sleep straight off, and slept like a top, until 5.30.a.m., then I got up and had a good wash, and then wakened the others. I then went on deck, but no land was in sight, after a while I was joined by the other members of our party, we then went down below, and ordered “ham and eggs for breakfast”. No breakfast was served before 6-o.clock a.m., so we went on deck again until it was ready, and then, we could just see Blankenburgh on our right.
We then went down and had breakfast and enjoyed it after the fist bite, but at the first bite you got a bit of a shock, for the bread was not quite like “home made”, for at the first bite, it tasted what you might call foisty, but after you got used to the flavour it was not bad.
We then went on deck, and found we were close in on Zeebrugge. We got in about 6.45.a.m. on Friday morning July 2nd 1920. We then had to have our passports examined again, and another look at photos by the police, and then we were allowed to land, and went through the Customs and passed. We had about an hour to spare before we went out, so we started to have a look round the famous “Mole” on which we had landed.
The first person we saw as we got off the boat was Mr Brotherton, a Burnley man, whom I believe has some connection with Ebenezer. Anyway he was there waiting for the boat coming in. I was the only one of our party who knew him, and as we passed close behind him I said “I’ll bet this chap comes from Burnley”, he jumped round like a shot, but he didn’t know us, but we told him we came from Burnley, so he took us under his charge for an hour. He was staying at the Grand Hotel at Blankenburghe for the summer, conducting parties round the battlefields of Belgium. The parties were booked by agents in Burnley and district (Althams etc) and he met them at Zeebrugge, and that’s why he was watching the boat in, but he had no party coming on that trip. He showed us the place on the “Mole” where the Vindictive had struck, and where she was held in position by the two Mersey ferryboats the “Iris” and the “Daffodil”. He then showed us the place where the submarine had gone into the girders of the “Mole”, and blown itself and part of the Mole up thus breaking it into two parts and creating a commotion whilst the real work of the expedition was going on at the entrance to the Bruges Canal. Here he pointed out to us the three ships that had been sunk at the entrance to the canal, the “Intrepid”, “Thesis”, and Ipheginia, thus making the canal useless as a submarine base. The entrance to the canal is quite close to the mole, the “Vindictive” was afterwards filled with cement and taken to Ostend and sunk at the entrance to the docks, thus rendering Ostend useless as a base. We then went to the station on the “Mole” and got into our train which left at 8-10 a.m. for Antwerp via Bruges, Ghent, Alval, Brussels, and Malines
It was a corridor train, and we could walk from one end to the other, and I may say here that in all our train travelling in Belgium, every carriage was a corridor with a lavatory attached even on the shortest journeys, and the longer journeys the whole train was corridor and every train ran from 12 to 15 carriages. A large proportion of both engines and carriages were of German manufacture, and had been handed over by the German Government in fulfilment of the clauses in the peace treaty, and some of the engines were monsters, being larger than any I have seen in England. The trains in Belgium are run for the convenience of the public, and they were well patronised as we discovered before our holiday was over. Every grown up person in Belgium carries a railway timetable, and if you ever get a “Holiday” in Belgium, I should advise you to buy one as soon as you land, they are sold at F1.50 and can be bought at any station, and at almost every shop in the country. They give the distance and fares from one place to another and the times of all trains throughout the country, also the times of the “Chemin de fer Vicinaux, or tramway, and where there are no trains, there is a “Vicinal” tramway running from one large town on the railway to another town on another line, thus connecting up all the country. You have no need to walk anywhere, and travelling is very cheap compared with England, although the railway fares had been increased 10% on the day we landed.
In England, the Government said they could not run long trains or excursions because there was a shortage of Locomotives and increased all railway fares 50% and afterwards 75%, to stop the public from travelling, and the fares are 75% above pre war rates. But in Belgium there are enough engines to spare, for at Bruges we saw hundreds of them, including English, French, Belgium, German, and U.S.A, all standing “cheek by jowl”, in the open, and looked like they had been there some time, and likely for stopping there. Most of the carriages in our train, and also was the engine were German, but when it got a move on it went, but they ought to do for the country is so flat, and for miles the line is as straight as a die. We travelled 2nd class, but it would hardly compare with our English 3rdfor comfort, some of the 2nd class were unpolished in red plush both seats and arms, others only the arms, with bare wood seats, while others were all bare wood. Anyway, I’ll get on with our journey.
On our journey up country the scenery was altogether different to England. The trees were generally of a different variety, and almost every farm on the road had one or more goats, and in some of the country lanes, we saw boys and girls, and sometimes women, watching a goat whilst it had a feed in the hedgerows. We again met our Belgian young ladies on the train, and they told us, that they had to pay more money for their luggage, than they had done for their own tickets. We also struck up a conversation with a young gentleman who had crossed over on the boat, and on us asking him if he had been in Brussels before, he replied, “Yes, I’ve a second home here”. Just before we got to Bruges, which we reached at 8.50 a.m., we saw the concrete submarine shelters constructed by the Germans on the Bruges canal, although we were some distance from them. Our next stop was at Ghent (Gand) where we arrived at 9.4a.m, this station was blown to pieces during the war, and was being re-built but was not completed, and it will be a fine station when finished.
Our next stop was at about 10.20a.m; we then steamed ahead for Brussels (Nord) which we reached at 11.15 a.m. a quarter of an hour late. Here we parted company with the young ladies from Bradford, and here also we saw our Gentleman fellow traveller, there was a young lady waiting for him, and the fuss that was made at the meeting, well you’ll never see the like of it in England. We had intended having dinner at Brussels, where we had to change for Antwerp, but owing to the train being late, we had not time as we had our train and platform to look for. The station was all decorated with flowers on account of the visit by the big guns of the peace conference which was held at Spa during the week, and was preceded by a conference of the allies at Brussels on July 2nd and 3rd, but we had only time to glance at them, and then get into our train for Antwerp, which left at 11.45 a.m. The train was full as almost most trains were, but if there was six persons seated in one compartment, no other person tried to crush in.
Our only stop was at Malines, which we reached at 12.10 p.m. We had a splendid view of the Cathedral on our left as we went through the town. We then went on to Antwerp, and arrived dead on time at 12.40.p.m. The central station at which we arrived is a splendid building, and its chief measurements are, the Main Hall is 190 metres in length, 72 metres in width, and 40 metres high, while the height of the dome is 70metres. A metre is 39 ½ inches in English measurement. It cost about 40.million Francs, and was completed in 1905. After a look at the station we left our luggage at the “left luggage” office, and then set about looking for something to eat as we had eaten nothing since 6.30a.m.
We soon found a café outside the station, and decided to try our luck. They brought us the “Menu” card but it was printed in French, so we had to shut our eyes, and open our mouths, to a certain extent, as we could not tell what the various items consisted of. There were two dinners on the card, one a 7course dinner at F3.50, and the other a 5 course at F1.50, so we decided on the F1.50, and waited to see what came. Soup came first, nearly enough to drown a cow, and bread. Those rolls about as thick as your arm, but it was good.
We cleared it off, and then they brought us boiled potatoes, cabbage, peas, and fish, I don’t know what sort it was, but there were two fishes for four of us, and they would be about a foot long. We had dropped lucky, as this lot was as good as the first in taste, but more to my liking, and by the time we had finished this lot we began to feel as if we had had something to eat, but the waiter kept busy, he lost no time in bringing up the next course, which was roast meat and chipped potatoes. The meat was rather undercooked, and on the tough side, we could not eat all this, we had to give up to it, but the chips, there were rather more than we wanted for four of us, but before we had got quite through them, one of the party who sat facing the kitchen rather startled us, by saying, “Good God” another big dish coming, we looked at each other as the waiter put another dish of chips on the table, as we felt to be getting to bursting point, but we tackled them in the best manner we could, but it was too much we could not empty it, the waiter saw us flagging, so he came and cleared the lot away, but alas, he brought us a college pudding, (a kind of plum pudding) but we were very thankful it was not so big, and we got it down with the aid of a drink. It was good, but we had got past eating, it is a long time since I was so full up, and I like a good dinner, but I had had enough.
We then pushed our chairs back, and had a smoke, and a rest, and then we paid our bill and went out to see the city of Antwerp.
I may say here that we got £2 of English money changed on the boat as we went across, intending to get more changed in Brussels. We got F42 to the £1on the boat, but all our other money we got changed at F43 to the £1. We had only 71/2 hours stay in Antwerp, so we had to skip about. We went up the main street the “Avenue de Keyser”. It is a fine street very similar (except for the cafés) to Lord Street at Southport. We went to the “Plantin Moretus Museum, this was the residence and business of Christopher Plantin, who lived and worked here in the 16th century. It was one of the first and largest printing houses in Europe, at that time, and contains the various presses and types, used at that period, with others of a later date, also a large number of volumes and manuscripts showing the gradual growth of book printing and binding. If you once get into these places, you have to see all there is to see, whether you want to or not, as the attendants keep an eye on you, and if you are in danger of missing anything, it is pointed out to you. We had no time to do more than glance at most of them, and we had to come out leaving the attendants, staring at us. Anyone interested in the publication of books, could spend a day in this museum.
We next made our way, to the “Royal Gallery of Fine Arts”, there are about 800 pictures here by the old masters, and about 500 by modern painters, but I am not an art critic, so I am not going to describe them, but here are a large number by Rubens including “ The Adoration of the Magi”, and several by Van Dyck. We then made our way to the Cathedral, passing most of the public buildings on our journey from one place to another. The Cathedral can be seen towering over the town with its spire, 470 ft high. We went inside, and were taken in hand by a guide, who pointed out the various pictures including Rubens masterpieces, the “Descent from the Cross” and the “Elevation of the Cross”, and other items of interest in the church. He said the pulpit was valued at I think £5.000, and was at one time, at the close of the wars in the Netherlands sold for half a crown, for firewood, but recognising the beauty of its carvings, he kept it until quiet was restored, and then gave it to the Cathedral. The cathedral was only very slightly damaged during the war, a shell catching the top corner of one of the gables, making a hole a few feet in circumference, and doing slight damage to one of the stained glass windows. We then made our way to the “Grand Place”, intending viewing the “Hotel de Ville” (Town Hall) but we had to be satisfied with the outside as it is closed on Fridays at 12-o-clock.
On one side of the Grand Place is the monument of “Brabo”, we were again in lucks way, as the monument which takes the form of a fountain was in full play. The town, gets its name from the legend centring round this monument which is as follows: “During the days of Caesar, a powerful giant, levied a toll on all the merchant shipping using the Scheldt, and if anyone refused to pay the toll, he cut off the right hand of the one in charge. One day Silvius Brabo, killed this giant and cut off his right hand, and threw into the river as a token of deliverance from an iniquitous tax”.
We then made our way to the Steen Museum, but this place was also closed. This place was originally the “Castle of Antwerp”, and dates back to the tenth century. It was the seat of the Spanish inquisition. As we had seen practically all the principal sights, we made our way to the “Promenoirs”, and sat on a form for a smoke. We had a good view of the river, which is about 400 metres wide. We had not time to visit the Zoological Gardens, which are supposed to be the finest in the world. We strolled leisurely along back into the town, and on our way, we met, two British Tommie’s, of the R.A.M.C, belonging to the army of occupation of the Rhine. Their depot was at Antwerp. We stopped them and, after a few words had been exchanged, one of them asked what part of Lancashire we came from, he had picked our twang out, and on telling him Burnley, he admitted he came from Blackburn, but he had advertised this fact, before telling us by his “dud do’s”.
After getting back into town, we had a little lunch at our old restaurant, a heavy thundershower for about 5 minutes, whilst having lunch. We then took the train at 8.15.p.m. or as they call it on the continent 20.15, and arrived at Brussels via Malines, at 21.10 (9.10.p.m.) We then made our way to our Hotel (Hotel Detrez) at 21 Rue de Croissades, which is close by the Gare du Nord, and leaving our luggage in our room, we went out to have a look at Brussels by night. We went back to the square in front of the station and after watching the traffic and passers by for about a quarter of an hour, we walked slowly down the boulevard Adolphe Max, occasionally looking at the shop windows and breathing the parfumes that were blown off the ladies as they passed in the street, but personally I prefer to smell the scent through a glass stopper or cork (while it is still in the bottle). There must be enough scent used in Brussels everyday to sail a ship.
We toddled down the Boulevard to “Place de Brouckere, and then turned back to the L’ Hotel Metropole, there we sat down and ordered drinks. Practically all the cafés in Brussels have chairs and small tables placed outside on the flags, and in some instances on the pavement as well. The L’Hotel Metropole was no exception and there must have been 300 chairs outside in the street, besides about 900 inside, and almost every chair was occupied. We managed to get 4 chairs together at a small table, the waiter came, and after some slight difficulty, we ordered two beers and two Grenadines, what the grenadines would be like, we had no idea, but when they came, there was a glass tumbler about a gill in capacity ¾ full of soda water, and a lump of ice in it, about as big as a large duck’s egg, and then there was a small glass about 4 or 5 inches high, and about an inch in diameter about ¾ full of some sort of cordial, very much the colour of raspberry, but of a different flavour, anyway, they were a very nice drink, and after that , “Grenadiers”, as we called them, became the drink of our party. I think the price was F1.50. The next time round, we all had “Grenadiers”, but this time the waiter brought us empty tumblers except for the ice, but brought us a soda syphon, so we made ourselves comfortable, and smoked and talked until the syphon was empty, then we got up and strolled back to our Hotel, arriving about 12.15 a.m., and went to bed. We had a double bedroom; a large well-furnished room, good beds and plenty of room, and no signs of any other occupants, and we never saw any signs all the time we stayed there. The worst you could say about the place was, “it was clean”, and not many people will find fault with that, but we were on the third storey. When we got up in the morning we found we were in a front bedroom, fitted with electric light, with a small balcony at the window, which we used for cleaning shoes. Thus ended our first day in Belgium.
Saturday July the 3rd 1920.
To the Grotto of Ham…
This is a rather difficult day to describe, as we had not discovered the real value of a Railway Guide. It was a long days outing, and we had not much time to lose, as we were tying to run an outing into one day, that Cooks conducted tours take for days to do, and as this outing was my suggestion, I was rather anxious that it should go off without any misses.
Our Programme was as follows: -
Train from Brussels, (Luxembourg Station), to Namur, take boat from Namur for a sail down the River Meuse to Dinant, and on to Rochefort, or, by train from Dinant if we couldn’t sail it. Then through to the “Grotte of Ham” and the train back to Brussels. It worked out as follows.
We were up by 7-oclock and after a breakfast of rolls and coffee we set off to catch the 9.12 train to Namur from the Gare de Luxembourg, our guide could do a little French, so he asked for the car that would take us to the station, we got on the car, and off we went, then the conductor came for the fares, we motioned him on to our interpreter, as we had been unable to get seats together, but he had some difficulty in making him understand. At last with the aid of one or two passengers he managed it, and then I heard the Conductor ask him “Etes vous Espagne”, I don’t know much of my French now, but I made that out, and it made me burst out laughing, the other two looked at me thinking I had gone mad. I then told them what the conductor had said, and they burst out laughing, the other passengers looked at us, but could see nothing to laugh at. But the joke was this; the Conductor had asked our pal “Are you Spanish”. After we had gone a bit, he stopped the car, and told us to get off, so we got off, and then we had about a hundred yards to walk to the station down another street. We arrived at the station in good time, and loafed about until it was nearly time to start, and then we went to look for our train. We found it in a siding, practically full up, and we had to split up into two two’s, to get seats. Our interpreter in charge of one party, and me with my few words of French in charge of the other, but any French was not needed.
We arrived at Namur about 10-o-clock, and in the meantime we had been informed that we could not sail from Namur to Dinant, but we could sail from Dinant to Rochforte, so we decided to go by rail to Dinant which is on a branch line that joins the main line at a place called Jamelle. The train for Dinant was waiting in a siding, and we got into it without booking, and we booked on the train when the guard came round to inspect tickets, which they seem to do on all trains whilst in motion, as I have said before they are all corridor. The train was soon off, and we had not gone far when we came in sight of the River Meuse, and judge of our surprise and disappointment when we saw a river steamer sailing away towards Dinant. If you ever make this journey by train, sit with your face to the engine on the right hand side of the carriage; it is the best side for viewing the scenery, and it is worth looking at.
The country from Namur to Dinant, and down to Rochforte is known as the “Ardennes”, and the scenery is lovely, it is worth making the whole journey to see it. I thought there was some lovely scenery in the Ribble Valley, from Preston up to Ingleton, and through the Trough of Bowland, and I think so yet, but compared with the “Ardennes” it is piffle. There is as much difference between the Ribble Valley and the Valley of the Meuse, as there is between a privet hedge and a rose tree in full bloom. As soon as you leave Namur, you come in sight of the Meuse, and it flows by the side of the railway, all the way down to Dinant. There are hills on both sides of the valley, at some points coming close up to the railway, and then going back again. At places they seem almost to be perpendicular, then you come to a place where the hills have receded a little, and at these places, small country villages have been built with houses scattered about, and then a cluster of cottages at the base of the hills. As you get nearer to Dinant the hills get more rugged, and rocky, and perpendicular. The only place to compare with it that I have seen, is Gordale Scar at Malham, and it flatters Gordale Scar to be compared with it for rugged rocky scenery. I’ll give up trying to describe it as I cannot find words to give you even a faint idea of it’s beauty. I cant describe Namur, as we only saw it from the train, but the Citadel or Fort, stands out against the skyline, and is plainly seen from the railway, but we are now at Dinant, and we leave the train.
We stand and watch the train continue on its journey, and then we leave the station to view the town or rather hamlet, for it is not as large as Harle Syke. But first of all we enquire for a boat down to Rochforte, and then we found out the boats were not running from Dinant to Rochforte, and that the last boat back to Namur was at 1500, 3-o-clock p.m., as it was now about 11.45.a.m., we had not time to get to Rochforte and back in time to catch the boat, so our sail on the river Meuse was given up. We next enquired for a train to Rochforte; seeing we had let the other one go, and found out we had to wait, until 1.40 p.m. for another, but it gave us plenty of time to have a look at the place. The town is practically all on one side of the river, and there are not more than 10 to 50 yards from the bed of the river to the foot of the cliffs, which rise perpendicular to a height of 180 ft, and the houses are built on this narrow strip of land. In some places there is only room for one house, but in the wider places there are two or three rows of houses, or rather were for this place was wiped out during the war, but wooden houses had been erected, and they seemed to be fairly roomy and comfortable. The old fort is perched on the top of the cliff, and a narrow staircase leads up to it from the village. The church is built almost under the fort, and from a distance looks as if it was built into the rock itself. It now began to rain, but as I had said before we were prepared for all weathers, but as luck or bad management would have it our umbrellas, and “macks” were all safely stored away in Brussels, so we went and had some dinner, but this time we could only get “du Gateaux” and “du café” (cakes and coffee). We then went out once more and as it was still raining, we had a look inside the church; there was nothing of particular interesting it, but in this, as with every church we went into, there was someone knelt before a crucifix, praying, sometimes as many as a dozen.
Almost everyone here are Catholics. The church did not seem to have been damaged a great deal. The town looks rather picturesque from the train and is rather unique owing to its situation, but we were ready for the train when the time came at 1-40.p.m. We were at the station in good time, but the train did not leave until 2-5 p.m. and this was the only occasion during the whole of our travelling in Belgium when the train did not start at the proper time. Anyway it started at last, but it only went slowly on, and stopped at every station all the way to Rochforte.
As our time was rather valuable to us on this outing, it became a serious matter for us. During the journey, some men got into our compartment, they looked like farm labourers, but they had the familiar yellow backed railway guide, we borrowed it to look up our train for getting back to Brussels, and then we made the discovery that if we visited the “Grotto”, we could not get back to Brussels.
So we held a committee meeting. One was for giving it up, but I was out to see the “Grotto” whether I got back to Brussels or not. I pointed out to them; we could sleep as well, and as sound at Rochforte or anywhere else, as we could in Brussels, and then we could make a circular tour on the following day, visiting Liege, Louvain, and then back to Brussels. Eventually after some discussion we decided to go through with it. Meanwhile the train had been going on, and eventually at 4.10.p.m. it drew up at the platform at Rochforte. We alighted and made our way to the tramway, which is close to the station. The cars start from here that takes us to the village of “Han sur Lesse”, a small village of about 500 inhabitants (according to guide book), but if there are so many, they must have large families, for there does not seem to be more than 40 houses in the place.
You have just time to catch the tram, which runs in connection with the trains, and then you commence your journey to Han, the lovely scenery still continues, and in a short time we arrive at the village which is situated part way up the mountainside, and looks as if they had just levelled up a few square yards of the mountain, and popped the village on to it. There are only a few houses as I have said, and a small Hotel, and a restaurant, where you purchase your tickets for admission to the “Grotto of Ham”. Here we had to change cars and get into one that takes us to the top of the Rocks of Faule, where the entrance to the Grotto is situated. It is another stiff climb for the tram, but very comfortable for the passenger, as he sits in the car and offers up a “burnt offering”, whilst enjoying all the beauty that surrounds him. The second tram is waiting when the first one arrives at Han, you have just time to get your tickets, take your seats, and the last stage of your journey begins. I have tried to enjoy the scenery on the journey from Namur to Dinant, and although the attempt was genuine enough, the result was only poor, so I am not going to give you a description of this last stage of the journey, beyond a few general remarks. The tram goes up and up, some times along the edge of a precipice, where there is barely room for it, and you can see right down into the valley below. it beats anything I have seen before for a beauty spot, it might as well be called the little Switzerland. I saw several pictures of it before I went, and put them down as exaggerated, but they are not, and if you see any pictures of it, take it for granted they are right, as they will have to be beauties, to exaggerate the scenes.
The tram arrives at the top, and the “Guide to the Grotto” is waiting, and without losing any time he hurries us off, and taking a footpath, began to descend the hill again. There were trees growing on the hill, and was something like having a walk through the “Runkless”, but the views through the trees that you got occasionally, compensated for having to pay to ride up the hill, and then having to walk down again. While we were walking down this footpath, a young rabbit jumped out, and ran past us. It was the first and only rabbit we saw in Belgium. We took it for a rabbit but it might have been a Belgian hare, but we left it behind and continued on our journey. We soon reached the bottom, and then we came to the banks of the river Lesse, and after walking by its side a few minutes, it suddenly takes a turn and leaps down a hole in the mountainside, this hole is known as “The Gulf of Belvaux”, the water then flows under the mountain, and does not emerge until it reaches the “Trou de Han” (the Hole of Han, and it takes the water from ten to twenty hours, according to volume of water to pass through the mountain, and the distance is 1.138 metres. When we got to this place, the guide formed us into a semi circle, and gave us two minutes lecture about the place, and he did the same at almost every place of interest we came to, explaining how the various objects had been formed, their names etc, and he could talk. he talked at about 130 words to the minute, and gave us all the history about the place. It was a treat to hear him, he rippled his “R’s”, as only the French and Belgians can, and no doubt gave us about twenty lessons in “Geology” in the form of twenty recitations. It would no doubt have been very interesting if he had only spoken in English, instead of French, but as it was, his eloquence was wasted on us, but we were only four, out of a party of fifteen, it would have been a pity if there were no one there to understand him.
One of our party could speak a little French, but he was like a blind man in a fog, when it came to listen to this lecture. I would only pick a word out here and there in each lecture, so I have had to get most of the particulars about the “Grotto of Han” from a “guide book”; it is a lot easier to understand than the real guide. He then resumes his journey by the footpath until he comes to another cave for another lecture. This cave is known as “Trou d’enfants” (hole of the children), and was until 1857 the way out of the Grotto, but we go on, and at length we reach the entrance to the Grotto, known as Trou de Saltpetre, (hole of Saltpetre), because formerly the natives used to come to this place, to get saltpetre, which they used in the manufacture of gunpowder, but for what purpose I do not know.
Here the guide lighted a torch, and we entered the “Grotto of Han”, one of the “wonders of the world”
We turn to the left, and almost immediately the Stalagmites and Stalactites make their appearance.
In a few minutes, we arrived at the “Salle des Scarabees” (Hall of the Scarabees), so called because of the multitude of these insects formerly made this their home. I don’t know what these insects are like, we never saw any, I suppose they have “flit”. On the left is what is known as the “Royal Tent”, a series of Stalagmites, and Stalactites, but not much like a tent. We go on and enter the “Salle de Renards” (Hall of the Foxes)
Several Stalagmites and Stalactites have united and formed “pyramids”. We then go along a gallery or passage at the end of which is a Stalagmite in the form of a hive. We then ascend a few steps cut out of the rock, and enter, the”Salle de Greouille” (hall of the Frog. The passage “Coulette” now leads us to “Salle de Vigneron”. There is nothing in particular in these places that I remember, but every now and then the guide strikes one of the Stalactites, and it gives off a musical sound, something like striking a chord on a harp. We next enter the “Galerie du Precipice”, here the underground river forms a basin, and the crystallisations are so brilliant, it looks like marble. Stalagmites of various sizes, some as slender as a pencil, are all over the place.
By the side of the footpath where we stand is a precipice 42 ft in depth, but it is railed off. The torches have now been put out, and our way is now lighted by electric lights, that suspend from the roof or walls in sections. The guides assistant, or “director of light”, goes on ahead, and lights the section in advance, he then comes back and puts out the lights in the section we are leaving, and then off he goes again to the section in advance, he must cover some ground during the tour.
We move on to the “Gallerie de la Buche”, (Gallery of the Firewood), inaccessible in winter owing to its flooding. There are big holes and chasms whichever way you look. We now go along the “Grand Rue” (Large Street), to reach the “Labyrinth”, passing the “Gallerie l’Hirondelle” (Gallery of the Swallow) on the way. There are a few stalags and stalacs here, but none of any particular interest. We now follow a gangway whose sides look like black marble, streaked with white, and it leads to the “Salle des Mamellons” (Hall of the Knolls). The Stalactites in this hall hang like a succession of curtains, and some of them are quite transparent when a light is held behind them. The “Grand Galerie”, comes next, and leads to the “Salle de Trophee” (Hall of the Trophy). At the far end is a beautiful and monster Stalagmite, known as the “Trophy”. In general appearance it is domed shaped, but its irregularities make it appear to be hung with draperies. It is 7 metres in height, and 20 metres in circumference at the base. It is a fine sight, the stalagmites and stalactites owing to the use of resinous torches for lighting purposes in previous times, had begun to have a dark appearance, but since the introduction of electric light, they have gradually regained their normal whiteness, and some of them look like alabaster, and from now to the exit, they keep this appearance. The “Salle de la Cascade”, comes next, and here the crystallisations, give one the impression of a waterfall 27ft high and 10ft wide, rushing down from rock to rock, and owing to a very severe frost the waters have been frozen. It is a very pretty scene.
We leave this place by the “Passage Lennoy” 250 metres in length; it is named after one the guides of a previous generation, who explored this part of the Grotto, and discovered in 1858, what is now known as the “Mysteriouses”, and consists of four small halls, and are known as the “Portico”, the “Mosque”, the “Marvellous”, and the “Alhambra,” The “Portico” contains a tapestry of a reddish colour, “The Mosque” explains itself, but there is a balcony of festooned lace, on which one can easily walk. The “Marvellous” contains a Stalagmite known as the “Tiara”, and another known as the “Fragment”. The “Alhambra” contains two immense Stalagmites in the shape of columns and measure three metres in circumference. Behind the columns is a Stalactite, which has fallen from the roof and is known as the “Tonneau des Donaides”(“Sieve of the Donaides”), it is pure white and looks something like what is known as an “Egg Boiler”, one of those things you turn upside down to let the sand run down. The top of it rests upon 31 supports at equal distance from each other, and they all join together at the bottom and form a common base. We return to the “Salle de la Cascade”, by the same route, and on the way the guide stops and strikes about six stalactites with his fingers, first one, and then another, and each one gives off a different note when struck, and each note has plenty of tone about it. We leave the Salle de la Cascade by what is called the “Gallerie Centralle”, which later on is called the “Vaute en fer de Lance”, and this leads to the “Place d’ Armes”.
This Hall is 20 metres in height and 54 metres in length. The river Lesse makes its appearance here, but after you have crossed it by a bridge, it goes underground again, or rather disappears for we are underground. The “Place d’Armes is divided into two parts by the river, and as you cross the river to get into the second position, the sound of “Church Bells” played on Stalactites by the “Lighter Up” strikes your ear, and continues until you reach the centre of the second position, and here little round tables and chairs are placed and you have a quarter of an hour to rest.
You can purchase here various sorts of wines, and biscuits and cigars to pass the time away whilst you rest, but the chairs and tables are rather damp, owing to the ceaseless drip, drip, from the water from the roof. Occasionally concerts are given by bands, but whether by brass or string, I do not know. After you rest you descend a flight of steps, and then along a corridor, through the “Salle de la Sentinelle”, where there is nothing of importance, this corridor has been made by water, and leads you to the large “Salle du Dome”- the wonder of this wondrous cave-, it has a length of 155 metres, 140 metres in width, and has a height of 229metres. When we arrive the “Lighter Up”, has been before us, and much to our surprise, we find this Hall far different to any of the others, instead of being able to see all round the “room”, we can see very little, but this is owing to the large number of hills which are inside it, and the highest is 168 ft high, almost a mountain, inside a mountain. To the right as we enter, there are some enormous “curtains”, hanging from the roof or adherent to the sides, all Alabaster, and they look rich, but our guide knows his way, and shows us on the left, a large “Mausoleum”, in white Alabaster, and several smaller ones close by, and a little further on came to the “Twins”, the “Swan” and the “Cauliflower”, in quick succession. Halfway up the hill we come to the “Boudoir de Proserpine”, and it measures some metres in extent. It is caused by the union of several blocks of Alabaster that sparkle in the lights like diamonds, and owing to the curious effect of light, the shadow of the profile of a man is easy to distinguish. We now reach the highest point to which the public are admitted, and owing to the electric light and the position in which we stand, we get some idea of the vastness of this vault, and we get another lesson in rippling “R’s”.
In order to give us some idea of its size, one of the guides takes a torch,(all the electric lights having been switched off) and runs down to the edge of the water, which we can hear rumbling over the rocks, the other guide takes an enormous torch, and rushes up the side of the mountain, we soon lost sight of him, but we could see his torch, he seemed to be jumping from rock to rock, and always going up, and all the time he is shouting and waving his arms about to give effect to the scene. A Century or two ago, people might have thought he was a “Goblin” or something similar, but to me he appeared more like a “maniac”, but that perhaps, is owing to my lack of poetical imagination, but the climber has now reached his destination, the “Throne of Pluto”. He then stands still and gives a loud shout, which is answered by a similar cry from the guide who has gone down to the depths. The signal having been given, torches and several “Bengal” lights are kindled at the two extremities.
The effect is magical. As the electric lights have been put out, the “Salle de Dome” is lighted only by these two fires and coloured lights. It is dreadfully beautiful, and it does not require a great deal of imagination, to think you have got to the place where “naughty niggers” go. Exclamations of surprise burst out from almost every member of the party, and a long indrawn “Oh”, from several of the Ladies. Our guide with his torch enters upon his descent, as soon as he set the lights on fire, and now rejoins us and receives a cheer as he comes up to us. It is a good job for him he has not to give another lecture just now, as his wind has left him and he is panting badly. I am afraid my “Puff” would have all gone before I had got to the top, at the speed he went at, he didn’t play, but it is good exercise, but rather more violent than I care for.
The lights are now put on, and we resume our journey. We pass an Elephant without a trunk, and a “Soerates” head, which is said to be a fair likeness, but I have only a hazy notion about these, as I was trying to grasp what we had just seen. We now descend a steep staircase which divides into two, we take to the left, which leads to the “Salle de Draperies”. We go down a narrow passage, when all at once, the rock seems to open, and you look into an “Abyss of Fire”, a sheet of water fills in the background with thousands of luminous reflections.
We are now walking by the side of the river Lesse, which at this place forms an underground lake 80 metres in length and from 8 to 15 metres in width without the least ripple on its surface. Owing to the position of the electric light, the roof is reflected into the water, and there are thousands of Stalactites hanging from the roof. At this place a huge Stalagmite in the shape of a “Weeping Willow” bends over the water. This hall derives its name from the magnificent “Draperies”, standing out in relief from the roof. In this hall there is a “Stock Fish” whose tail skims the water, long “Organ Pipes” and a “Holy Water” vase fixed to the side of the “Gallerie” at the height of a mans head. We now go to the “Salle de Trone”, which is really the extreme end of the “Salle des Draperies” and is situated exactly under the “Trone du Pluto”, the highest point of the “Salle du Dome” a balcony adheres to the side of the vault at this point, and has some semblance of a throne. We now retrace our steps, and leave the “Salle du Dome” now in darkness on our right, and through a corridor called the “Passage du Diablo”, we reach the “Salle d’ Dembarquement. This hall measures 48x31x12 metres and the water at this point is about 36 ft deep. It is the meeting place of the various underground branches of the Lesse. I might say here that the growth of some of the Stalagmites has been measured, and when the process of crystallisation goes on most rapid, they grow 1 millimetre in the space of 2 and half years.
We now enter a boat, which is waiting for us, and we start for a sail on the river Lesse, lighted now by the means of a torch, the guide steers the boat as he paddles us over the smooth water, and after a few minutes he says a short recitation, and almost immediately we turn a corner of the rock, and we can see daylight about 30 yards ahead. This is another pretty sight, the torch has been put out, and the sun is shining brightly, and throws a thousand and one shadows into the cave, but the party being sat in the gloom looking towards the entrance and through it, see the landscape as though looking at a picture, framed by the exit from the cave. You might imagine yourself at a magic lantern looking at a picture on the screen. Almost as soon as we round the corner, a “cannon” is fired at the outlet of the cave; a tremendous rumbling seems to shake the whole cave, the sound reverberates from hall to hall, growing fainter and fainter, and eventually dies away in the far distance, and by no means detracts from the pleasures of the trip, but rather puts a finishing touch to the wonders of this marvellous “Grotto”.
We now emerge into broad daylight, and still preceded by the guide, we get out of the boat and follow him for about a hundred yards, he there takes his stand by a small gate, and with cap in hand says “merci” (thanks) for any tip you drop in his cap as you walk past him in “single file”. We then followed the footpath through lovely surroundings and in a few minutes, we again came to the village of Han, and our visit to the “Grotto of Han” is accomplished. It would now be close upon 7-o-clock p.m., so we decided to have lunch at the restaurant, but all they could provide us with was “bread and cheese” and tea, but we were ready for it for the “cakes and coffee” we had at dinner, had long since melted away, but the bread and cheese was good, and we had a first rate meal served in the open air, as the rain had ceased, and the sun was shining. We had about half an hour to spare, whilst we waited for the train back to Rochefort, and one has plenty of time to spend money in the little place, and buy post cards and bits of Alabaster out of the “Grotto”.
It seems to be stage managed very nicely. While we were having tea we discussed our “plans”. I had forgot all about our troubles about trains until now, but we had to face the situation, so I again made my suggestion of Liege, Louvain etc, but we again borrowed a timetable to have another look but without any hope of finding one, but it was in vain, we could get one to Dinant, then change, and one forward to Namur, but too late to get a connection for Brussels. On looking at the map I noticed that Jamelle, about three miles away from Rochforte was on the main line from Switzerland etc to Brussels, so we looked from there, and there it was 9-5p.m. express to Brussels. We now looked for a train from Rochefort to Jamelle, and there it was, due at Jamelle at 8.45p.m. We now got onto the tram, which soon landed us at Rochefort. There was a signpost there, which said “Jamelle 5 kilometres”, and as we had plenty of time to walk, we decided to save the railway fare. It was a splendid walk, a good road all the way, with tall trees on both sides of the road. It was like walking up an “Avenue”. We passed very few houses on the way, and arrived in good time.
We walked the last half-mile with a “Native”, and in conversation with our French talker, he had the impertinence to ask if we were Germans. Jamelle is neither a large place, or from what we saw of it, a very clean one, but it is a fairly large railway centre something like Hellifield. We made our way to the station, and after booking for Namur, (we already had tickets from Namur to Brussels), we enquired for our train, platform e.t.c. We got all the information we required, and were waiting for the train, when a young fellow came up to us, and asked us in good English, if he could be of any assistance to us. He worked on the railway and had just arrived at the Station, going either on or off duty, I don’t know which, and one of the officials of the station, had told him, there were some Englishmen on one of the platforms, who seemed to be in difficulties, and had sent him to see if he could do anything for us. We thanked him, and in the ensuing conversation, he told us he was going on his holidays the following day, and was going to spend his vacation in London. Our train now came in, and we got a carriage to ourselves, and were soon travelling in the direction of Brussels. It was now getting on the dark side of the day, and we could not see much of the country as we rolled along. We reached Brussels at 11.45 p.m., with only one stop at Namur. As we were leaving the Platform, a young fellow passed us in a desperate hurry, with a huge dress- basket on his right shoulder, and as fate would have it, another young fellow, was coming from one of the other Platforms with a huge parcel on his shoulder, and as they both arrived at the corner at the same instant, and could not see each other there was a crash, and both parcels went rolling on the Platform.
I could not follow the conversation, which followed as it was in French, but it seemed to be pretty hot stuff judging from the tones, and excited gesticulations. We left them to settle their differences, and took a stroll down the Boulevard to the hotel “Metropole”, where we had another “Grenadine”, then we went back to our hotel, intending having a descent supper, but we were too late, as the cook left at 10-o-clock. We could have nothing only “rolls and cheese” again, and nothing to drink only wine and beer, but we made a good supper, and then ordered breakfast for 7-30 on the Sunday morning, and retired to dream of “fairy’s” and “Goblins”.
SUNDAY JULY 4TH 1920
Nothing disturbed our slumbers, and we were up and ready for breakfast when it was served at 7-30 a.m. It was the usual rolls and “Café’, with an egg omelette, which looked very much like 4 fried eggs; we got through this in good time, and set off to catch the 8.40. a.m. train at the Gare-du- Midi (Middle Station) for Braint le Allend, the nearest Station to the Battlefield of Waterloo. We arrived at the Station in good time, but hundreds if not thousands were there before us, and although there would be over 20 carriages to the train, there was only room for one here and there. The train was full. It seems to be the custom of a large percentage of the population of Brussels to spend their Sundays in the country. There were a lot of soldiers travelling by the train, who had spent Saturday in Brussels, and were now going back to Charleroi, which is a large garrison town, but although there were a lot of soldiers, women were the most numerous, among the passengers, on their way to Charleroi to spend their day with their husbands etc, for conscription is still in force, and it was a common sight to see soldiers running to catch a train at the Gare du Nord, with full equipment on, including steel helmet, water bottle tin cup etc, all this nearly two years after the Armistice. We looked the train through for seats for four of us, but in vain, and in the meantime all the odd places had been occupied, and the corridors were pretty well full up with persons standing. At the ends of every carriage, there was a small platform, the width of the carriage, and about half a yard wide. We noticed a lot of soldiers began to climb onto these platforms, and as it was a glorious fine morning, we followed suit, and on our platform, there was our party of four and eight soldiers, so we were fairly full up, and every carriage was similar. It was the first time I had travelled as an outside passenger on a train, I don’t know what class they call it but I prefer being inside in future. We had not room to stir, and if one altered his position, the others had to do the same, and by the time we got to our journey’s end, we were not quite so spick and span as when we started, for the train would persist in throwing up dust and grit, and small cinders from the track and we got some of it, and every now and then we got a dose of black smoke from the engine. It was a good job there were no long tunnels to go through. It was a novelty, but I can’t say I wanted another.
We arrived at Braine l’alleuid about 9.15a.m. And then owners of trap and waggonettes came a bothering us, about taking us to the battlefield. We had intended going by The Chemin de Fer Vicinal, which runs from the railway station Braine le alleuid to Brussels via the battlefield. But we found out the first tram did not run until 11-0clock, so we decided to walk as the drivers of the waggonettes asked us for F7 each, but as we would not have any, they came down to F8 for the four of us. After a drink at a café we set off at a swinging pace, and we soon lessened the distance. After about 40 minutes walking we passed a house on our left, lying about 50 yards back from the road in a field, I forget the name of it now, but it is Chateau something or other, but it was at one time the residence of Victor Hugo, the great French novelist. A little further on the road we cut across the Brussels-Paris road, and according to our information, it was as straight as a die all the way. There is a signpost at the corner, which gives the distance to Paris in Kilometres. I don’t know how far it is now, but I think it is about 180 miles. Soon after this we reached the battlefield, and as soon as we came in sight of the tea rooms, hotels and restaurants etc, that have grown up round it, we were besieged by another gang of guides, who were willing to show us the sights of the world (their world) for a few francs, but we went on our own.
We climbed up to the top of the “Lion Mound”, which is reached by a flight of 300 and odd steps, we counted them as we went up. According to the story, this mound or pyramid is built up of bricks, and contains about three millions, and they were all carried up on the backs of women, to show their appreciation of their deliverance from the yoke of France and Napoleon. When you get to the top, you have a fine view for your labour. There is a level platform about 8 Yards Square, with the “lion” standing in the centre on a raised platform. This platform is built in sections or layers of huge stones like concrete blocks, each layer being about ½ a yard further back all round, thus forming seals all the way round, and you appreciate the rest when you reach the top. Like all other places of Public interest, the stonework is covered with the initials and dates of various people who have visited the place. Perhaps some of them think, it is the only way their names will ever get on a monument. You can see Mons on your right in the distance, and Charleroy slightly to the left. The famous farm of “Hougoumont” lying close by. The Lion measures 4.50 metres and weighs 28000 Kilos. It is made of cast iron, and is erected on the spot where the Prince of Orange fell whilst leading the Dutch-Belgian troops. After a rest and a smoke on the top of the “Mound”, we again set off to view the other monuments erected on the battlefield, including the “Gordon” of “Hanover”, and French Monuments. We then went to look at a shop window, and a young woman came flying out, and gave us all a flower each, and began to offer for sale, all sorts of souvenirs, and then she asked us, “have I not seen you before”, that did it, as it happened she had met our guide before, and on being answered in the affirmative, she immediately remembered all about it, or at least pretended to do, so of course we had to go into the shop, and made our guide a present of a packet of postcards, for friendships sake. She played up to us in first-rate style, telling us the price of this, that, and the other article, but as we were old friends, we could have them so much cheaper.
We then had to go through her Museum, which was the best and most complete in the district, all the various articles, had been found on the Battlefield, and consisted of a various assortment of odds and ends from Horse Trappings to Muskets and Cannon Balls. Then of course there was a Restaurant attached “we must have a cup of tea”, “real English cup of tea,” and I can assure you, if she did as well out of all her “old Friends”, as she did out of us, she had a very nice thing on, she was a rare woman. We wrote some postcards while here, and I left one on the table, stamped and addressed, but it was posted and reached its destination. But it was time we were getting a move on, so we left, much to her regret, as she assured us, and we had to put our best foot forward to catch the train back to Brussels, as we had let the tram go without us. After some puffing and blowing, we got to Braine le allend Station, just as the train drew up at the platform at 11.50 a.m. We got into a compartment in which were four country women, who were eating their dinner out of red handkerchiefs, as lads do on their Easter picnic to Pendle Hill, they seemed to be very much amused by our conversation. While we were in the train, a thunderstorm broke out, and the rain came down in torrents, but it had eased off a little when we got back to Brussels at 12.30 p. m. We made our way back to our Hotel, and had dinner, always a 5 course meal, and it was good food, but they are rather too fond of serving tomatoes for my liking, but I managed to get them down. After dinner, we went out to see the sights of Brussels, but I can’t say it was a success. We left our Hotel about 1.15, and when we got to the square in front of the station called “Place Charles Rogier”, we saw a big crowd standing round two sides of the square. On making enquiries to see what was to do, we were informed that all the big guns of the Peace conference were about to entrain and go to Spa, to meet the Germans for a conference. We decided to wait a few minutes to have a look at them, but those few minutes turned out to be long ones. It was raining all the time, and we got nicely wet, and we deserved it. The only consolation we had, was, that there were a few hundred fools round that square that afternoon besides ourselves. We not only got nicely wet, but it stopped us from seeing Brussels, as I should have liked to see it. There were English French Belgium and Italian representatives, and they all stayed at the Palace Hotel, which faces on to one side of the square at right angles to the station. They had only 50 or 60 yards to travel, and the whole distance was guarded by “Gendarmes” or Police. Several of the Police in Belgium carry revolvers and swords. The Police here as in other places, have capes for wet weather, but these capes have a kind of hood, which hangs down their backs, but in very wet weather, it is pulled up over their helmets, which gives them a rather quaint appearance, and they were pulled up this Sunday afternoon. Then the staff of the “Big Four” began to arrive and although the distance was short, they had a number of Motor Cars, running backward and forward, to fetch them, but it took them a very long time to start coming, and there was no hurry when they did start, and in the mean time the rain came down. Every now and then a pageboy, or a footman or somebody, would come across on foot carrying a dispatch box or something, they seemed to come just before a carriage, but if anyone was carrying anything they walked it, but the “indispensables” who carried nothing, came in a motor. All we could see of them, was as they got out of the cars, and walked to the station, with their backs to us. We thought but were by no means certain, that we recognised Lloyd George, we saw all of them, but they might well have been ordinary shopkeepers, in their silk hats going to church, for what we could see. Five or six of the motors when they had discharged their load, backed across the road, and stood with their backs to us and facing the station. Eventually one came, and stood before us. One of our party said, “What has silly old fool come there for”, and then noticed a young woman who stood beside him began to smile, so he asked her if she understood English, and she answered “Yes, I know what you have said”. All the Big Wigs of the Conference had now gone, and there had not been a cheer or demonstration of any kind from the crowd up to this time, and then a shout went up from the other side of the square. It was not a cheer as one gets in England, there was no “hip hip hooray”, all in one voice, but all were shouting out something we could not make out, but as it was picked up by the crowd, and travelled towards us, we could pick it out easily. It was “vivre la Marichale Foch”, and then that famous General with two companions, walked down the centre of the pavement, and into the station, the General raising his hat all the way. We had a good view of them, but they were only three that walked, and there would be at least 100 that came in motors, including about a dozen ladies. They had all gone now as the General was the last, and I was not sorry for it was now 3-o-clock, and it had poured down all the time. My greatest regrets of anything we did in Belgium, are concerned with wasting those two hours. We had our programme mapped out for seeing Brussels, but we had lost two valuable hours here and seen nothing in my opinion to compensate us for it, and as a consequence we had to rearrange our programme. We had intended walking from the “Gare du Nord” to “Les Bois de Cambre” by one route, and return by another, thus covering the biggest part of the city, and noting the buildings of various interest on route. We had a first rate “Guide to Brussels” lent to us, by our young “Boss”, who took a keen interest in our projected tour. Mr Lancaster also lent us a guidebook to the Battlefield, but more of that in turn. We took the tram from the Gare du Nord, to one of the parks called, “Parc Cinquantanerre”, there is not much of a park, but there are two museums here, one “Industrial”, and I think the other one is “Arts”, but am not certain, but they were both closed. The chief interests at this place, apart from the museums, is the “Arcade du Cinquantanerre, which stands at the top of a long avenue, it is semi circular in shape, and crosses the avenue by three archways, and stands about 60 ft high. The middle arch is surmounted by a block of carved stone, about 10 ft higher, and supports a monument of five galloping horses, attached to a chariot. A man is stood on one of the horses, driving them, and a woman with a flag, is standing in the chariot. I think they are cast in “Bronze”, but I don’t know what they represent, as I have no guidebook on other historical data about Brussels and I have to trust to memory for all I write about Brussels. On each side of the arches is a lower building each one supported by 25 columns (50 in all), and each column is erected to the memory of some famous man in literature (I think). It is a splendid view as you walk up the avenue as the archways are at the top of a slight hill, and stand out clear against the skyline. The bronze horses originally belonged to Austria, but were taken by France, when Napoleon was in all his glory, and were “got”, by Belgium when the nation of “Netherlands” was broken up, and Belgium became an independent nation. We left the park by the Rue de Belliard, for the Leopold Park, in which is the Wiertz Museum (Local), but we had no time to go into museums, we then went via Place de la Industrie, and Rue de la Industrie to the avenue des Beaux Arts, close to the “Palais des Acadamies”(art gallery), then along Boulevard du Regent, to the Rue de Louvain in which are situated the principal Government Buildings, ministries of Finance, War, Home Office, Foreign Affairs etc.
From this place it is only a short distance to the Cathedral of Brussels, dedicated to the “Saints Michael and Gudule”. When we reached the Cathedral, the service was just losing, so we went and had a peep in at the door. It has a splendid interior, as have all the Churches we went into, and we saw a few during the week, and nearly all the pulpits seem to be hand carved, and depict some story of the Bible. As it had now got to teatime, we decided to have tea, but one of the party said, “If we have tea, someone will have to lend me some money (Belgium), and I have spent up”, so we all went into our pockets to help him out of his difficulty, but much to our dismay when we came to count up our money, we had not enough between us to pay for drinks, never mind tea. We were now in a bonny stew, we had been too busy sightseeing, and had never given a thought to get some more money changed. We had only changed £2 on the boat, each, and this had now run out, and as it was Sunday, all Banks, counting houses, were closed. We held a hasty committee meeting and decided as we were so far away from our lodgings, we would do without tea, so we sat down on a convenient form close by, and solaced ourselves with “Lady Nicotine”
After a rest we resumed our travels via the Rue des Colonies, to Rue du Congress and then along that street past the Royal Park, Kings House, facing the Park, to Place Royal, then along the Rue de la Regence to the Law Courts (Palais de Justice) it is a fine looking building with hundreds of pillars or columns built into it, and it is the most gigantic in Europe, and one of the finest buildings in the world. It was built from 1886 to 1883, and cost, I think about £3000,000. From the corner of the square in front of the building, there is a fine panoramic view over the old part of the town. Whilst we were looking at the building a young fellow came up to us selling picture postcards, the top card being a picture of the Law Courts, we explained our position to him; he could speak English, and told him we had no money, but if he would change a £1note, we would buy a packet of cards. He offered to change us a £1 note, but when we asked him the rate of exchange he told us f27. We refused his offer, and told him we had got f42 on the boat, and the rate of exchange was f47.50 less commission, and he then offered us f42, and we exchanged, and gladly bought a packet of cards for his trouble. He had helped us out of a “hole”. As we now had some money we decided to have a tram ride to the Bois de la Cambre. We asked the young fellow the way, and he took us to where we had to wait for a car, and stayed with us until the car came. We now got on the car, and went via “The Avenue de Louise”, a fine street, to the “Bois de la Cambre”. These woods are really one of the parks of Brussels and has some fine walks or promenades, grass plots and a lake and has been made larger by the inclusion of an old Beech tree forest, and the ancient forest of Soignes. We roamed about here for a while, until it began to grow dark, and then we made for the outlet, we did find one, but not the one we went in at, and we had no idea where we were. We were lost. We enquired the way to the car, and eventually found one, which took us to a square in Brussels, called “Pont de Namur”, but by which streets it took us, we had no idea. The rain was now coming down in torrents again; it had been fine, since about 4-oclock till now. At this place we had to change cars for one to the Gare du Nord and the conductor told us where to stand, and wait for a car with the number 14 on the index. The shops all round this neighbourhood were open, and fully lit up, it looked one of the busiest centres we had seen in Brussels. Our car “No14” now came, and we reached the Gare du Nord, without any further adventures about 10.20 p.m. I might say here, that all the cars that run about the busy thoroughfares consisted of two coaches, the electric car, and a trailer. Antwerp was the same, and the conductor on the trailer, blew a small horn, as a signal to start. It caused us much amusement, until the novelty wore off. We then went to our lodgings, and after a good supper of “bread and cheese”, we went to bed. We were up in good time, the following morning, and started MONDAY JULY 5th 1920 with the usual breakfast of rolls and café. Wherever you are in Belgium, you have rolls and café for breakfast, or “dejeuner” as they call it in Belgium, and they have a five or seven course dinner or “diner”, then they have sweet cakes or “Gateaux”, as they call them, and coffee or tea, and then they have another five or six course supper or “super”, but up to now we have had no luck with our supper. We have been anywhere but in a convenient place at suppertime, so we have had to get what we could catch. We left our hotel after breakfast, and after watching the hurrying crowds in the “Place Charles Rogier” we made our way down Boulevard Adolphe Max, and when we came to the first counting house, we went inside, and got some money changed. At this place, and at every other place, we got f43 to the £1. There are several of these places in all the large cities, and you can easily find them, they have generally a sign–post out with the word “Change” painted on. We then continued our way down the Boulevard to the “Place de Brouckere” in the centre of which is “Monument Anspach”. This Monumental Fountain, was erected to the Memory of “Burgomaster Anspach, a former Mayor of the city, and commemorates the “vaulting of the River Seine”, a dirty smelling river in former years, but it is confined in huge culverts or vaults as it flows through the city, and the stench has been done away with. We then proceeded down the Boulevard Anspach to the “Bourse”, or Exchange, a building similar in appearance to Manchester Exchange, but not so closed in, it was built about 1874. At this point we took to our left along “Rue de la Beurre” (butter), which brought us to the “Grand Place” in which is held “Marche aux Fleurs”; (Flower Market). The “Grand Place” is well worth a visit, and although there may be hundreds of larger squares in the world, very few will come anywhere near it for beauty, and Victor Hugo has described it, “the most beautiful square in the world”. On one side is the “Hotel de Ville”(Town Hall) built in ornamental Gothic style, and is one of the largest and finest in the Netherlands. The easterly part dates from 1402, and the tower 98 metres high was completed in 1454, it was enlarged in 1706. After the building was completed, it was discovered, that the tower was not built direct over the centre of the building, and this so preyed upon the mind of the architect, that he committed suicide. Facing the Hotel de Ville, are the houses of Grand duc of Lorraine, and the Prince of Orange, which now contain the Municipal Museum, whilst on the other sides are the “Maison du Roi” (Kings House) and the Corporation Houses (Ancient Guild Houses). After a few minutes admiration of this scene, we went by the “Rue de la Collene” to see one of the most famous, if not the most famous monument in Brussels, known as the “Statue of the Manikin- Pis”. The present monument in bronze was placed there in 1619, but it replaced one of an earlier date.
The statue itself is nothing to look at, and the chief interest about it centres in a legend, which gives the story of how it came to be erected. At any rate it is the principal statue in the civic life of the city. The story of the statue is as follows; “One of the wealthiest citizens of Brussels, was one day out for a walk in the city, accompanied by his only child, a son about 5 years old (one story says he was heir to the throne), when something attracted his attention, whilst he was standing on a street corner. After the momentary attraction had passed he discovered that the child had left his side. He searched all over for him without success, and had to give him up as lost. On reaching home the distracted parents offered a reward for the return of their son, and the father declared, that whenever, wherever, and whatever the lad was doing when he was found, he would erect a monument on the spot depicting the scene. The lad was lost two days, although endless search was made for him. At the end of two days, the boy was found within a few yards of the spot where he was lost, and at the moment of discovery, he was doing something for himself in the gutter (as lads do) which is generally done in private, and the father erected the monument portraying the scene on the spot where he was found”. We now returned to the Grand Place, and went into the Museum. It was only a repetition of other Museums, but on two tables covered with glass are about a dozen different suits of clothes (boys size) in red velvet, and other colours, one or two of them were regimental uniforms, and these suits are ordered, and paid for by the Municipality, and the suits are fitted on the Manneken Pis Statue, on the various festive days of the city. There is a suit for each particular fete. When we had been all round, we were about to come out when one of the attendants came to us and motioned us to follow him. We did so, and he pushed open a door that led into a room, we had not been in. There were oil paintings and pictures all round the room, and in the centre was a bust of a man, with an inscription, which read, (much to our surprise) as follows: “To the Memory of – Wilkinson, who was born at Whalley Lancashire”, “and gave all the pictures in this room”, to his adopted city of Brussels.” It made one feel at the moment, that although we were in a strange land, among strange people, who spoke a different language to us, we were not a big long way from Burnley. It felt to be a kind of link between Burnley and Brussels. As far as we could make out from the attendant, the Mr Wilkinson was taken to Brussels, when he was a boy, married a Brussels lady, and commenced cotton or woollen manufacturing business. We then returned to the Grand Place, and crossed over to the Hotel de Ville for a tour of inspection. I cant pretend to tell you all there is in the Hotel de Ville, as we had not time to examine it properly but went through all the rooms, that are open to the public. There are pictures by all the old masters, including Reuben’s, Van Eyck, and a host of others, portraying the various episodes in Belgium and Brussels history. You can go almost into any Town Hall, Art Gallery, or Church, in Belgium, and you will find Masterpieces, painted by all the old Masters. In fact we began to think before we had seen all the pictures, that all the pictures the masters painted were masterpieces, and all the leading characters, that were painted on the canvas, were the portraits of the artist himself, or some member of his family, and in almost every Church or Art Gallery we visited where there was a guide (and there is one in every Church where there is anything to show) the guide pointed out to us in the leading character, a portrait of the artist himself, with portraits of his wife, father, mother, sister, brother, son, daughter, etc as far as his family would run out amongst the other characters. In every room in the Hotel de Ville, there is a kind of catalogue hung up, near the doorway as you enter. You take it down, while you examine the various items of interest in the room, and return it to its place when you have finished with it. They are the size of, and shaped like those hand mirrors you find in ladies dressing cases, but in place of the mirror, there is a printed-paper, fastened on, giving you all the particulars you require of the pictures etc. We passed through the Council Chamber, where each member of the Council has a separate table and seat for his own use, whilst they discuss the various topics of local Government. The seats are arranged in semi circular form around the room, with the Burgomasters, or Mayors chair in the Centre. On each table is a small brass tablet, on which is inscribed the name of the person entitled to use it, and we noticed several names that have been before the public, as leaders of public opinion in Belgium, including the name of Mons Huysman. We also passed through the famous ballroom, where the ball was given on the eve of the battle of Waterloo, and all the British Officers were dancing and enjoying themselves when news was brought that Napoleon was preparing to attack, and the Officers had to leave the dance and hurry off to their military duties. We left the Hotel de Ville by the famous marble staircase, but the staircase is not so nice to look at as the one in the Municipal buildings at Glasgow. We had now to hurry back to our hotel, get our luggage, pay our bill, which was f46.50 each, and then make for the Gare du Nord to catch the 11.40 am train to Ghent or “Gand” as it is called locally. I will not write any more about trains and railway journeys as I have dealt fully with them on previous journeys. We arrived at Ghent,
St Pierre’s (St Peters) station at 1- o-clock, and left our luggage at the station, and without wasting any time we made our way to the “Phare” restaurant close by the station and ordered dinner, the price of which was f4.
The dinner was the usual 5 course one, and every dish was good, and cherries were served as dessert. We got on the electric car, and went to the Place d Armes, so called because it was formerly the archery ground. The town of Ghent has a population of about 200.000, and is built on 26 islands, and joined together by 80 bridges, but still you do not see a great deal of the water, as the houses are built up close to the canals, and seem to shut them in. About the 14th Century the history of England was closely connected with the town of Ghent. In the ancient “Abbey of St Bavon” in Ghent, John o Gaunt was born in 1340. This same gentleman is also supposed to have built a hunting box or house on the site of the present Huntroyd at Padiham. In this same Abbey are buried the Grandparents of Princess Ann of Cleves, who was one of the six wives of Henry the V111, but this is not an historical essay so we will resume our travels. We got off the car at the Place d’ Armes, which is a fine public square with a bandstand in the centre of it, but there are no buildings of particular interest in the square, the post office being the largest and only public building. We had been fortunate enough to get hold of a list of the town’s main buildings, and we set out to search for them, but we experienced a difficulty here, which we had not at either at Antwerp or Brussels, as most of the inhabitants could speak only Flemish, but occasionally we came across a person who could speak French, and we had to do as well as we could. We first of all made our way to the ancient “Castle of the Counts”; it was built about the 9th or 10th Century. It is still in good condition, with all its walls standing, and you can form a good idea of what its strength would be, in those days, before 15ins guns were invented. There are 27 semi circular turrets, with innumerable loopholes, in its towers and battlements, for the archers to aim through in those far off days. The Castle has now been taken over by the Town authorities and partly restored. We next made our way to the Hotel de Ville, which dates back to the 16th century, but there was nothing particular that we saw, but on one side is a balcony from which proclamations were read, when Ghent was one of the first towns in Europe. We next went to the “Great Bequinage”, which is practically a convent, but the public are admitted to the church and services at all hours of daylight, but at night it is closed. Although there are no particular items of interest in this church, it is well worth seeing. We then made our way to the Cathedral of St Bavon, and here we should spend at least an hour, and an hour is not sufficient time
to do justice to what there is to be seen in this church. As soon as we entered, we were taken in hand by one of the “Guides”, he could speak good English, and he conducted us round the place. In almost all the churches, the main items of interest are kept under lock and key, or in the case of the Masterpieces behind drawn blinds and they make a small charge if you wish to see them, but one charge opens all the locks, and blinds, and as the money goes into the funds of the church, and not into the guides pocket, it is generally paid willingly, and in this particular instance we had good value for our money. I think the charge was about f0.50 each. I can devote space to most of the things in the church, but these were pictures by the various masters, and the pulpit is a masterpiece of woodworking, and must be worth thousands of pounds, but the main item of interest is the world famous picture of “The Adoration of the Lamb”, by Hubert and Jan van Eyck. Hubert was commissioned to paint the picture in 1420 but died in 1426 before completing his work, and it was taken in hand and completed in 1432 by his brother Jan. This picture like all the others contains the portraits of the artists, and there are in all 270 figures painted on the canvas, some of the faces not as large as a sixpence, but when examined under the microscope (kept for the purpose) each face is perfect, the expressions being marvellously portrayed, while the grass in the foreground, looks to the naked eye, as though it had been splashed with white wash during spring cleaning, but when seen under the microscope each speck of white is a perfect “lily”. It makes you gasp with astonishment and wonder, and although it is nearly five hundred years since the picture was painted, the colours are as fresh as if they were only put on yesterday. The picture consists of a central panel dealing with the subject proper, with two panels on each side, and with seven pictures on the upper tier, which together with the two wings, form a shutter or cover for the central panel. On the outside of the shutter are painted pictures in low tone, to contrast with the brilliant colours of the inner painting. The outside wings on each side, and the top pictures are only “copies” of the original picture. The painting in the upper shutter representing Adam and Eve were removed in 1784 by the order of Emperor Francis Joseph 11, as he considered nude figures unsuitable for an alter piece, and they were re painted a few years later by Michael Coxie, of Malines, and the figures are now clad in skins. The originals are now in Brussels.
The outer wings have also been removed for a long time, but I don’t know the date, but the originals are in the Museum at Berlin, but the present wings are copies of the originals, and were painted by the above-mentioned Coxie. The picture as a whole represents “The Adoration of the Lamb” that was slain”. Around the Altar, on which the lamb stands, are angels, with many coloured wings. The Fountain of Life, from which water is flowing across the fields of Paradise, appears in the foreground. Towards the Altar, two parties are approaching from different directions, representing the religious and secular side of the Church, and two others representing the Christians and the Virgin Martyrs. Towered Cities fell in the background. The wings follow up the idea of the scenes in the Central panel, the left ones being devoted to the secular side of Christendom, the Knights, Merchants etc, and the right wings show the Hermits and Pilgrims. The Guide points out to you the smallest detail in the Architecture, and the beautiful foliage of the trees, and although it only measures about 15ft square, the Guide told us that early in 1919, Mr Asquith stayed in this Chapel over two hours viewing this picture, and it must have more than ordinary merit, if it could interest a person of his intellect for that length of time. The Cathedral also contains a “Reubens” entitled the “Reception of Saint Bavon, into the Abbey of St, Amand”, which is considered to be one of the best pictures by this Artist.
The marble tombs of eighteen Bishops of Ghent find places in and around the choir, each one a marvel of sculpture and represents the bishop, reclining in his robes, and every fold of the “cloth” is perfect and I felt at them to make sure they were marble and not “draperies”. There are also some huge copper candlesticks that once belonged to Charles the 1stof England, and were sold by the order of Oliver Cromwell. There is also another item of peculiar interest in this church, and that is a kind of “cock loft” built in one corner outside the church proper, over one of the Chapels, and could be reached by a staircase, without going into the church. It is only a small room, about 3 or 4 yards square, and was used by the Royal Princes etc, when they attended divine service, but the most remarkable thing about the room was, that the side which overlooked the interior of the Church was a very substantial, solid wall, with a narrow peep hole measuring about 4 x 1 inches, covered by a sliding panel, and the young royal bloods, when they wanted to hear the sermon, or have a look to see who was at church, could slide back the panel, and see all in the church without being seen, or if the sermon was not interesting, they could close the panel, and as far as they were concerned, the ministers might as well be 100 miles away.
We next entered the church of St Nicholas, this church also has a painting, by one of the old masters called the “Election of St Nicholas, as Bishop of Myra” but the most interesting thing to the ordinary visitor, is the record of the burial of a worthy couple who had 31 children. The father with 21 sons by his side was present, when Charles the Emperor, made his entry into the City in 1526, but shortly afterwards an outbreak of “Plague” carried off the entire family. This church was built in the 13th Century, and the tower, although it has not been restored, is in good condition. We next passed (outside) the Church of “St Michael” which took more than two centuries to complete, being completed in 1825; this church also contains a famous picture called the “Crucifixion” by Van Dyke in 1630. During the French revolutionary period, this church was used as a temple for the worship of the “ Goddess of Reason”. We next made our way after some difficulty to the ancient “Abbey of Saint Bavon” previously mentioned in this narrative. It was built in the ninth century, but is now in ruins.
The cloisters and the old chapel are still in a fair state of preservation, and some portals and window frames of the chapel house with the crumbling walls remain standing. Close by in the pavement are some tombstones dating back to the twelfth century. The refectory has been restored, and converted into a museum, but we did not get to go in, as it closes at 5.30 p.m., and it was 5.35.p.m. before we got to it, so we had to be satisfied with a tour, round its exterior. We then made our way back to the centre of the town, and after a look at some of the shops, we took the car back to the station, and after having tea, at the same restaurant where we had dinner, we caught the 8.15 pm. Train to Ostende. There were a few showers during the day, but not enough to spoil the days outing. One could spend a couple of days in Ghent, without time dragging.
We arrived at about 10.o.clock, and made our way from the station to our lodgings (engaged previously) via the Grand Place, where a band was playing, but we were ready for our supper, so we did not stay to listen to it long. When we arrived at our lodgings the “Phare” tearooms, there was a first class supper waiting for us, and we did full justice to it.
"Phare Tea Rooms at Ostende showing landlady (white blouse) and servants and some of our party"
We then had a short stroll on the promenade, and then went back to our digs, and had a chat with our landlady, who was in Burnley as a refugee during the war. We then turned in, and if we had good lodgings at Brussels these beat them. We had two splendid bedrooms, and everything was spotless. Although we could find no fault with our rooms at Brussels, you always had the feeling you were in a hotel, but here at Ostende the rooms even if they were not more comfortable, certainly looked it, and the hotel feeling died away, and the landlady was kindness itself, and certainly did her best as to make us as comfortable as possible, and she succeeded. We were ready for a good nights rest, and retired after ordering a late breakfast for 9.0.clock. There were a Nelson couple at this place when we got there, but they were leaving the following morning for Brussels, and we sent them to our late lodgings. We saw them again on the Thursday night following, and they had been well pleased with our recommendation.
THURSDAY JULY 6TH
1920 at Ostende
It was a glorious fine morning when I got down in good time for breakfast, and as I was the first to put in an appearance, I had a walk by myself before breakfast. When I got outside, I found the lighthouse or “Phare” as it is called in French, almost opposite our lodgings, and our lodgings derives its name from it, but we never saw it working all the time we were there, but for what reason I don’t know. The Estacade, or pier, or rather piers, for there are two of them were also facing our “digs” and saw the Dover-Ostende boat come in twice, while we sat having our meals, and as the entrance to the docks and “landing stage” lay between the two piers, we had a good view of it with the exception of that part around the docks, the town appears to be modern, but seems to have been built without any definite plans or scheme, consequently some of the streets are neither straight or wide.
"Docks at Ostende"
It has a long promenade or “digne” as they call it, but it is neither as straight nor as wide as either Blackpool or Southport, and it is “flagged or paved” with red tiles. There are no shops on the front, except a few round our lodgings, nothing only big hotels, the Kursaal, and the Kings House (seaside residence) all the hotel dining rooms are on the ground floor, and on level with the street, and as they have no walls on the “prom” side, nothing only huge windows, and these are nearly always open, any passer by has a good view into the rooms, and in the height of the season, it is one of the sights of the town (for the commoner) to take a stroll on the front, and watch the diners, having dinner in evening dress, the ladies dressed in the latest Paris fashions, and all bedecked with jewels. The Kursaal is a huge building in the centre of the promenade, and has an orchestra of about 150 instrumentalists. During the season concerts are given twice daily, when the leading vocalists of the continent are engaged. Dancing is also indulged in, but there is no gambling done in the building now. There are several picture halls in the town, and two theatres. The promenade owing to the shape of the coast is in three semi circles something like this and the docks are at one end, and the railway station close by. As the streets go off at right angles from the prom, by the time they have got a few blocks away, they are either all in a “lump” or getting further apart, and if you attempt to take a short cut, it may prove to be a long one, unless you know the “geography” of the place. It has been very little damaged during the War, only about two streets seemed to have suffered to any extent, and these were close by the docks. I got back from my ramble just in time for breakfast, and after that, we went on to one of the piers, and whilst walking leisurely along, we met a man who crossed over on the boat when we did, a Councillor Lamb from Halifax, and he was going home the following day, we bought his camera off him a V.P.K.
"Councillor H.A. Lamb of Triangle,
Halifax on the pier at Ostende.
The Vindictive is in the background . This gentleman has taken all the photos up to here
and has lent us his negatives. all photo's after here are from our own negatives"
In the conversation we had with him, he told us his son-in law, was manager of the Burnley branch of the Halifax Building Society. We spent some time on the pier, watching the workmen at the other pier, trying to raise the old “Vindictive” of Zeebrugge fame, which was afterwards sunk between the piers at Ostende, she had been got part way out of the water, and you could see about a quarter of her length. The public were not allowed to go on that pier from which they were working. She was expected to be raised by the middle of August, but there seemed to be some doubt whether they could raise her or not, as she was showing signs of breaking in two, but they eventually managed it, and she has since been presented to the Belgian Government. There are no concerts or dancing on the pier as there are in Blackpool. We then went back to dinner passing on the way, a German concrete shelter with walls and roof about 12ins thick and about 7 feet high. It is at the end of the Promenade, as you reach the beginning of the docks.
"German concrete shelter on the stockade
Our party stood beside the entrance"
As our landlady knew English ways, we had
a very nice dinner waiting for us. After dinner we decided to go to Nieuport
by tram. Nieuport is on the coast about 8 miles from the French frontier. We
went down to the tramway station, and while waiting for the tram, a young fellow
also came to wait for it, and when we asked him in French, if we were at the
right place, he answered us in English, and during the conversation which followed
he said he was English but had been in Belgium several years. He was engaged
as a jockey by a well-known English member of parliament, who also runs a newspaper
or rather a periodical called j… b…, and he advised us not to back
any horses belonging to that owner, at the races on the Thursday, and we got
that advice from other sources as well, and the general opinion about that owner
was, that he was a “wrong un”. When the car came we got on, and
we had scarcely done so, when the rain came on also in torrents, so we only
booked to the next place Mariakerke. All the places on the coast with the exception
of Heyst, Blankenburghe, and Ostende seem to have been built in two parts, one
part on the coast close to the sea, and the other part about half a mile inland,
and every one of the places or rather that part built on the shore, had been
absolutely laid in ruins, but the inland portions of the towns were not much
the worse for the war, although a house here and there had been laid in ruins
by a shell.
We had a look round the ruins of Mariakerke, and here I got a first rate “whet stone”, which I picked up as a memento, from amongst the ruins of a Hotel. We did not stay here long, but made our way back to the car and Ostende in drenching rain. We then went into a place for a drink and to shelter, and stayed there listening to a gramophone, which was always playing, and the customers had 5 centimes extra put on the price of their drink to pay for it, at least we had. There were also dominoes and other games being played, and it seems to be common practice in drinking saloons in Belgium. We then went back to tea, and this time got something more substantial than “Gateaux”. We then went out shop gazing till suppertime, then went back to supper and as the rain had now ceased, we had another stroll out to see the streets by night. In Ostende there is not the same drinking outside the cafés as there is in Brussels, in fact there is very little of it, but there is plenty of it inside, but with two exceptions, one called L’Helder, but I forget the name of the other, are big places, and a description of one will cover both of them, for they were both hot beds of immorality. We never went into them, so I have only knowledge of what we could see from outside, as these places were far beyond the depths of our pockets. The L’Helder is a drinking saloon, and measures about 20x30 yards. This is about the size of the main room on the ground floor, and is open to the street on three sides. There are other two storeys higher, but whether there are smaller rooms behind on the ground floor, I do not know, but I should think there will be. In the daytime you can walk past on the flags, and look in at the open door, but the place will be deserted except for about half a dozen young women of doubtful age, who are engaged in mopping the floor, cleaning brass work, washing glasses e.t.c, with their hair in pins, and curl papers and in dresses by no means of the latest fashion. But at night in the glare of the electric light things are different, you are not allowed to walk on the footpath, as a screen is put from the end of the building to the edge of the causeway, and then the full length of the frontage.
The screen will be about 6 foot high, but there is a space left open at the two entrances. The business at these places does not commence until about 9-0 clock p.m., and then they gradually get busier as the night gets later. You will always find a curious crowd of people watching the arrivals as they come in their motors and carriages, and by about 10.30p.m. The place is fairly full. It was every time we saw it. You can see them sat at small tables all round the room, about 4 tables deep, drinking any kind of drink you could wish for, but a bottle of champagne costs about f60.
At the top of the room is a small platform on which is an orchestra, and the centre of the room is given up to dancing, and you may be sure all the latest dances are here. One of the dances, while we were watching seemed to be an imitation of an aeroplane. The couples had both arms extended from the shoulder, and slightly raised and lowered them alternately, as if to imitate the rocking of a “plane”. This kind of thing goes on until about 3.o.clock a.m. every day in the week, drinking, dancing, and any other good things that you require, but these places were too expensive for us, so we had to be satisfied with looking through the windows and open doors, and at the giddy “butterflies” as they waltzed round the room. Men and women come in singly sometimes in 2s or 3s, other times together, and although there was a fair sprinkling of ladies in the room, men were predominant. From outside the majority of the ladies dancing seemed to be dressed in silk, and all the colours of the rainbow seemed to be represented. We now made our way homeward about 1-o clock a.m. Our landlady had given us a key so that we should not disturb her or the servants when we got back but “the best laid plans of mice and men”. When we got back we could not open the door with the key, and after several fruitless attempts, we had to give it up, and then we knocked a ran tan on the door, until our good landlady got up, and opened the door for us. She then said, she had forgotten to tell us it was a double lock, and we had to turn the key round twice, to open the door. But she was very nice about it, and did not seem to mind, but it made one think furiously, what would have been said if it had happened at home. We made our apologies to her and crept up to bed, after asking her to have breakfast ready for 7.45 a.m., and wakened in good time to find another glorious sun shining on.
WEDNESDAY JULY 7th 1920
After another good breakfast we hurried off to catch a train about 9.o-clock for Bruges, once known as the “Venice of the North”, but now become “Bruges la Morte”. We arrived at – BRUGES
About 9.45.a.m. The town dates back to the year 867, and at one time had a population of about 150.000, but today it has decreased to about 50.000. Bruges like Ghent has suffered through the silting up of the many creeks and canals, that communicated with the sea, and as a consequence has lost all her trade, and when you step from the train into the city of “Bruges”, you step from the twentieth century, practically back to the “Middle ages”. Ghent several years ago commenced a system of dredging, and recovered some of her trade, and before the war there was a weekly service of steam ships from HULL to Ghent. Bruges is just beginning to wake up, and it remains to be seen what progress she will make. We commenced our tour of the town, by walking from the station up the Rue Sud de Sablon, to the church St.Sauveur. This church is the cathedral of Bruges, the church dates back to the seventh century, but has been burnt down several times, fires having occurred in 1116, 1185, in 1358 it was nearly burnt to the ground. The lower part of the tower dates from 961, 1116-1127, 1358. The upper part has been burnt several times, and was rebuilt in 1844. The interior of the church is like all the others in Belgium decorated on a lavish scale, but in this case the effect is somewhat spoiled by a? Wood loft) in black and white marble, which intercepts the view. The style of the Pulpit also clashes with the other fixtures, although it cost f42.000, but the stalls of the choir are marvellous pieces of woodcarving. They are carved out of oak in honour of the “Order of the Golden Fleece”, which was founded in Bruges in 1430 by Philipe le Bon, count of Flanders. There are also several pictures by famous painters also in the church, but they are not in the same class as those in Ghent. There are also a few flat brass tombs in the floor of the church, while in one of the chapels, is a black marble monument, with an effigy in rose alabaster of Jean Carondelet, the Archbishop of Palermo about 1544. Other more less interesting relics are on view, but we saw that much during the week, that my memory has got into a fog in regard to some of them. In this church we again dropped across Councillor Lamb of Halifax. We then made our way via the Bishops place (exterior) to the church of Notre Dame. This church dates back to the year 800 A.D. and is a fairly large one measuring 72.60x50.26 metres. The tower is one of the loftiest in Belgium and measures 122 meters. It was burnt down in 1116, and re built by Charles Le Bon in 1225. The Portal under the tower called “Paradis” has been converted into a baptistery. In the southern transept is a statue of the Madonna, sculptured in white marble by Michael Angelo in 1514. In one of the chapels of this church are the mausoleums of Charles le Bold and Mary of Burgundy. Each has the effigy of its occupant worked in brass, and hundreds of other designs worked on them, together with a full history of their good deeds etc. We had the whole story related to us by the usual guide, but there was too much to remember, but if I remember rightly, he was married at the ancient Abbey of Saint Bavon in Ghent, previously mentioned, to Mary the daughter of the last Count of Flanders. There are also several Gold and Silver ornaments in the church dating back to about 1500. We left the church by the western door, and found ourselves facing the Hospital St Jean; to which is also attached a museum containing several masterpieces from the brush of Hans Membline, but our time was limited so we left the hospital behind, and wended our way to the Grand Place. There seems to be a Grand Place in every town in Belgium, and the weekly markets are generally held in them. In the centre of the Grand Place is a monument to the memory of Breydel, and De Konink, the heroes of 1302 but what part they played in that period I do not know. On the western side of the square is a building known as the “Craenenburg” where Maximilian, King of the Romans, was imprisoned by the inhabitants in 1488. On the eastern side is the Government Palace and Post Office, while on the southern side is the famous old Belfry, standing 288 ft high. The top of the tower is reached by a flight of 402 steps, rather more than we cared to climb, so we did not go into it, but you have a glorious view from the top ranging from Ostende to Ghent. The peal is said to be one of the most harmonious in existence, and is rung on 49 bells, weighing together 54,650 lbs, the Great Bell alone weighing 12,295lbs, but the full peal is only rung on special occasions, we did not hear them. Part of this building is used as a museum, as also is another building known, as the Gruuthuse, and you cannot pay to go into one of them without paying for the other also, as they are both Municipal Museums, but the two buildings are some distance apart. I should say about half a mile. We left the Grand Place by the Rue de la Bride, which leads to the Place de Bourg, the centre of the ancient town, but the only old building standing now is the Prevote, (Mayors Residence). In this square stood the palace of the Count of Flanders, the Castle of France and the church of St Donatiene, destroyed in 1798. The area covered by this church is now vacant, and trees have been planted all round on the foundations of the walls. The place of the high altar is now marked by a statue to the great painter Van Eyck and it was at the foot of this altar, that Charles le Bon was murdered in 1127. His reliquary is now a place of interest in the Cathedral at Bruges. The Hotel de Ville stands in the Place de Bourg, and was built about 1830. Along the front of the building are several statues built into the walls, but they are not originals as these were destroyed by the French in 1792, when they made a vast fire in the Grand Place, and after stripping the town of the majority of its works of art, statues, and other historical ornaments, threw them into the flames. Nothing is sacred in war as the Belgians found out in 1792, and the French in 1915-16 etc, but this is only discovered by the country who suffers. The Hotel de Ville is famous for its Great Hall, which has a Gothic roof of pendant wood work dated 1402, in which are several carvings representing scenes from the New Testament. The supports represent twelve months and the four seasons of the year. Around the walls are twelve paintings representing various historical scenes in connection with the City of Bruges. There are several pictures of famous Flemish men painted on the walls, also armorial bearings of various Belgian towns. At the end of the hall are two statues in copper representing St Donatien, the patron saint of the town, and Louis de Made, Count of Flanders. Adjoining the Hotel de Ville is the Chapelle de Saint Sang, or Chapel of the holy blood. This chapel contains many pictures, embroideries etc, but the chief interest lies in the Gold Casket in which the Holy Blood is contained. We saw the casket but it is only opened on Fridays, so we did not see its contents. Every year, on the Monday following the 3rd of May or on that date if it falls on Monday, large numbers of people go to Bruges to see the procession of the Holy Blood. This procession commemorates the entry into Bruges on the 3rd of May 1427, of the Holy Relic. That treasure was conveyed to his loved city of Bruges by Thierry de Alsace on his return from Palestine, where he received it from his brother in law Boudouin 3rd King of Jerusalem. The house of the ancient Greffe (or registry) is a picturesque building adjoining the Town Hall on the other side, but several of its statues were destroyed in the fire in 1792, but it was restored in 1882, the work following the original colour scheme traceable on the remains of the old sculptures. We now made our way along the Marche au Poisson, and found ourselves in the Fish Market, but we beat a retreat into a kind of General Store, which seemed to sell post cards, guidebooks, fishing tackle, and any kind of refreshment you required. At this place we hired an electric launch, and went for a sail round the City of Bruges on its Canals. It will be an enjoyable sail on a sunny day, but when we were there, the day worsened towards noon, and we had two slight showers whilst on the canals. I don’t think there is a town anywhere with as many gables on its buildings as Bruges has, and seen from the canals, the town is very picturesque. Several of the houses are built straight up out of the water, but others have gardens of greater or less dimensions, and as most of them now have trees and other flowering plants in them, they give plenty of colour to the scene. There are several swans, also sailing or swimming about the canals, and they do not detract from the beauty of the surroundings, but the swans are also very useful for eating up the garbage and refuse, that are thrown into the canals, and that does not seem to be any small amount, and as the waste water from various houses runs into the canals, the water is anything but clean, but it is well worth the hour it takes for the sail, as some of the views are really fine, among them being Quai Rosaire, Quai Verte, and the Dyver. A picture of the Quai Verte was on the Burnley Co-op almanac for 1919. The price for four of us was f15, and it took about an hour to get back up to our starting point, but it would have been more interesting if the boatman had told us the names of the various Quais and other buildings as we passed them. We then got back to the Bourg, and went in to the Palais de Justice built in 1722 on the site of the old Palais du Franc, but I do not remember any item of particular interest except an old fireplace (1529) which was in the old Palais du Franc, and has been built into the present building. We then made our way back to the Grand Place, intending to have dinner, but as a car came for Port Lapin, one of the Gateways of Bruges, for there is a moat or canal encircling the City, we postponed our dinner, as we had to get a car or train (either name will do) on the Chemin de fer Vicinaux, and we did not know the time of its departure. When we arrived at Port Lapin, we enquired the time of the tram, and found we had one and a half hours to wait. There are only a few houses at Port Lapin, and when we got there a river steamer was just starting on a journey in(to) Holland, there is a regular service of these boats. We watched it start on its journey, and then we began to look for some dinner, but we should have fared better had we stayed in Bruges for it. There was no restaurant in sight, and as I said not many houses to hide one, but we could not find one, at least we went to a “pub”, but they could not find us any eatables, but at last we saw a window with “Café” with white enamel letters stuck on it, and although it did not look very appetising we went in, but there was only poor fare. They could not provide us with anything except biscuits, and tea or coffee, so we ordered biscuits and coffee, but they had only one variety of biscuits, and those looked like something like an ice cream sandwich, with a chocolate wafer on each side, but fancy four hungry men, making a meal off biscuits, but we made do with them, and shifted a fair good number of them. We then went out and took our seats in the “Vicinal” which left at 1-50pm for a place called Knocke, on the coast about four miles from the Dutch frontier. The train runs along the main road all the way, as the “Vicinal” trains do all over the country, but they do not stop at every street corner to pick up and put down passengers, but there is a regular stopping place in every village, and occasionally you come across a wayside cabin with a sign post up with the words “Arret du Tram” and at these places all trains stop.
"Wooden Tram Office 'Arret du Tram'
We passed through several villages on the way, and there must be no Post Offices in these villages or at least no letterboxes, for at several of these places people were waiting for the tram with letters in their hands, which they dropped off into a letter box fastened on the last car of the train, an economical and handy way of collecting letters. There is an open platform at the back of each car as well as at the front, with a notice up “to seat 10 passengers”, but there no seats, and in my opinion it ought to read “to Stand 10 passengers”. There are one or two compartments in some of the carriages in the centre of the train upholstered, and these are “First Class”, non-smokers, the next compartments are smokers, the rest of the carriages are not upholstered and are “second class”, and the “third class” passengers ride on the stand up “seats” on the outside platforms. All the notices on the “Chemin de Fer Vicinaux” as well as the State Railway are given in both French and Flemish, and all the carriages on both tramways and railways are “smokers” unless there is the following notice on the windows. “Niel Rooken” (Flemish) and “Defense de Fumer” (French). These are non-smokers. I don’t know the various names of the places we passed through but we came at last to a place called West Cappelle, from this place a line branches off to a place called “L’ Ecluse”, about 15 minutes run, but before you get there you have to go through the “Customs” as it is in Holland. We now resume our journey and in a few minutes the train stops at Knocke, and here we left the train for a look round, it is only a small place but there is a golf course laid out but not much other amusement. It is the most northern part of the Belgian coast, and the mouth of the Scheldt, and Middleburg in Holland are plainly seen. It was off this coast that the British won their first great Naval Victory in 1340. After a look round the village, we went to have a look at the famous Battery of Big Guns that had been left behind by the Germans, and known as the “Kaiser Wilhelm Battery”, there were 6 or 7 guns and each gun was made to turn in any direction, by being revolved in its concrete basin. The outer basin was about 4 ft deep, and about 15 yards in diameter, in which revolved the muzzle of the gun, when lowered, but the body of the gun carriage was let down into the inner basin, the bottom of which we could not see, as they were all part filled in with water, but I should think they would be about 15ft deep or more, as we could see down about 4 or 5 yards and the diameter of the second basin would be about 6 or 7 yards. Thousands of tons must have been used in their manufacture. The length of the “barrel” of the guns, was about 6 yards, and at the back of the gun where the workings had been was a roof of corrugated iron to shelter the gunners, and into this shelter you could put two box carts, and horses as well.
"One of the big guns in the Kaiser Wilhelm battery at Knoke"
There were also ammunition stores and shelters
under the sand dunes all of concrete, and also communication passages, in some
of which were laid” jinny lines” for wagons to run on, whilst carrying
the shells etc for the guns. All the shelters had electric cables laid for lighting
and other purposes. When the guns were lowered it would be an easy matter to
throw a few “trees” over the guns and then they would be practically
invisible from the air. I might say that all the guns had been wrecked by the
Germans before leaving them. A charge of F0.50 was made to view this Battery,
and after a good look round, we set off to walk to Heyst, across the sand hills.
On our way, we came across a wayside “shrine”, a place where travellers
used to stop and pray, whilst on their journey. It was built of brick, and was
about a yard square and about 7ft high, and rounded off at the top. In the centre
was a cavity about 3ft high and 1ft 6 in width in which stood (unbroken) a pot
model of “Virgin Mary”. We passed several guns more or less damaged,
hidden amongst the sand hills for the coast was fortified from one end to the
other by the Germans. We next came to a small place called Duinbergen, and as
another “Vicinal” was due, we booked to Heyst and in a few minutes
we arrived at that place.
Is the third largest watering place on the Belgian coast. There is not much of a town, only two or three streets parallel with each other, about half a mile long, with a few semi-detached villas here and there. There is a fine promenade about 1½ miles long, with houses and hotels for about half the distance, but almost every one of them were closed, and the windows boarded up, but they did not seem to be much damaged. It looks to be an ideal place (if fine) for spending a lazy holiday, lounging on the sands, no need to trouble about fashion in this place, but if wet there are no amusements. It had been fine all afternoon, but as we set off to walk to Zeebrugge it began to rain, but we wanted to look at two submarine shelters, which the Germans had built on the Bruges canal, which enters the sea between Heyst and Zeebrugge.
While at Heyst we again saw our old friend Mr Lamb, on his way to have a look at the Battery at Knocke, before he left that night for home. It is about 4 miles from Heyst to Zeebrugge, and the road is practically a continuation of the Promenade.
When we had got about half way the rain came on in torrents, and we got the full benefit of it, as there was no shelter of any kind, nothing but the North Sea on our right and sand hills on our left, so we had to trudge on. After about another mile of it we came to a house or a small farm where they sold drinks, so we went in, and had a drink and a shelter. It was a poorly furnished place with bare stone floors, but the roof kept the rain out, and that was the most important thing to us. The woman in charge could speak nothing only Flemish, but we made her understand. There were 3 young kiddies in the back kitchen, their ages running from about 2-5 years, and they kept coming to peep through the doorway at the English visitors, and they were highly delighted when we gave them an English penny each. We had sheltered about ¾ of an hour, when the husband came home from his work, he could speak French, so after a few minutes chat, the rain having eased off a little, we resumed our journey. At last we came to the Bruges canal, and we enquired where the submarine shelters were to be found, but we discovered for ourselves (what we were told the following day) that when you asked to be directed to some big gun or other item of particular interest in connection with the war, the people had either never heard of them, or they did not know where they were to be found, but occasionally, they did tell you to go in the opposite direction, to that in which the objects were to be found, and it was so in this case, so we began to search for them ourselves, but the rain came on again as hard as ever, so we gave up the search and went on to Zeebrugge, and without stopping to look round this place, we got on our old friend “Vicinal” which was just about to depart to Blankenburghe.
BLANKENBERGHE is the second largest watering place on the coast, and is considerably larger than Heyst. It is reached in about 15 minutes from Zeebrugge, and when we arrived the sun was shining brightly, and the ladies were dressed in light coloured and white dresses, and the streets were quite dry, as if it had never rained. We made our way to the Promenade, and there we saw S S “Duke of Clarence” on her way back to Hull, and it dawned on our minds with a bit of a shock, that on her next journey but one, we should form part of her “cargo”. We then made our way into the town in search of something to eat, but as it was now 7-o-clock p m we had to fall back on the everlasting “gateaux”, but they know how to make them. We then went out to see the town and do a little shop gazing, for we had those presents for those left at home to think of, and we could not decide what to buy, but the problem was not solved here. It is a very nice quiet place, with a pier, and unlike that at Ostende there is a concert hall or pavilion built at the end of it. The streets are fairly wide and clean, and there are plenty of shops, and I should think it will be a cheaper place to stay at than Ostende. From what we saw of it, I should think it would be a much quieter place than Ostende, and not quite as fashionable, and I should it (?) to Ostende, as Southport is to Blackpool, but neither of the places are so big. We stayed here, until about 8.30 p.m. and then we again “boarded” our old friend “Vicinal”, and we went on to Ostende passing through the small villages of Wendyune and Le Coq, on the way. In our compartment was another young fellow, and when he heard us speak, he asked us what part of Lancashire we came from. He then told us he came from Liverpool, and was working at Ostende for the Liverpool Salvage Co, and engaged on the old “Vindictive”. He also advised us not to back any horses belonging to J… B… at the races the following day. On nearing Ostende our train took a branch line, to the left, which ran parallel with the other one about 30yds further inland, and the Liverpool fellow told us, that the branch line had been built by the Germans, during the war for passenger traffic, reserving the use of the other, for the carrying of troops, ammunition etc, and now when peace had come, they would not use their old line, because the Germans had used it. We arrived at Ostende about 9-30 p.m. close by the railway station, and reached our lodgings shortly before 10 o-clock p.m., and here there was a good hot supper waiting for us, and once more we were ready, as we had only had biscuits and cakes since breakfast, and those things soon seem to slip out of your stomach. After supper we sat and talked and then went into the kitchen, where we had an enjoyable hour with the two servants, but as neither of them could speak a word of English we had to talk a kind of ready-made deaf and dumb language. Anyway both sides seemed to enjoy themselves until midnight and as the following evening would be our last in Ostende our landlady promised us a good supper, and as there were no other visitors in we invited her and the servants to join it with us. We then retired to rest, and arose to find it was…
Thursday July 8th 1920
I awoke about 5.30 a.m. and got up to have a walk on my own, leaving the others in bed. I can’t say they showed much inclination to get up. When I got downstairs I found the doors locked, and the keys taken away, so I could not get out. I sat down in the staircase facing the side door, to have a smoke, whilst I considered what to do. After about 3 minutes consideration the problem was solved for me. I heard a key put into the lock from the outside, and the door opened, and a young woman came in. When she saw me she looked rather surprised, so I said “Bon Matin” and passed out onto the Prom. I never heard her reply to my salutation. I had a walk down to the promenade, but there was nothing anywhere about except myself and a few hundred bathing vans, for bathing is a favourite pastime here as at all places here along this coast, but all it consists of is putting on a fine costume, and then promenading on the sands, or else lying on the sands waiting for the tide to come in to wet their feet, and then move further back and wait again. There are a few who go into the water, but only a small percentage of the total number of bathers. Bathing time at Ostende, is one of the most fashionable hours of the day, but it is not at 6-0-clock in the morning. The butterflies, or rather the mermaids don’t turn out until after 10-o-clock on the sunniest mornings. Every now and then you come across a bathing machine marked “Cabinet Deluxe”, and for the use of one of these splendid fit up machines the fee is over 10/-.
I then went round by the docks, to look at a French gunboat the “Ouise” that had come in to dock on Wednesday night. I got back to breakfast about 8-30, to find that only part of the others had got down, but the remainder soon put in an appearance, and then breakfast was served. After breakfast we asked the landlady to book us seats at the theatre, and ordered dinner for twelve-o-clock, so that we should be in good time for the races. We then took the “Vicinal” for a ride along the coast to Nieuport about 9 miles from the French frontier. On the way the train passes through Mariakerke, Middlekerk, Westende to Nieuport and then onto Nieuport Bains, and La Panne, about 2 miles from the French frontier. The route is similar to the one from Knocke to Ostende, sand dunes with an occasional view of the sea, but there was a lot more damage had been done during the war as I mentioned in Tuesdays notes. We arrived at Nieuport about 10.30 a.m., after an hours run from Ostende. Just before we got to Nieuport we saw the first graves, two graves side by side, with little wooden crosses at the head, lying within a yard of the tramlines, on the roadside. After these we passed a few more in 2s and 3s and then we got to Nieuport, but at this place there is a fairly large cemetery of British soldiers, but we did not go to see it, as it was on the far side of the town. The roadside graves are being cleared away, and the bodies transferred to the cemeteries. Nieuport is on the Yser canal, which goes into the sea at Nieuport Baines, but Nieuport has ceased to exist, every house and building in the place was razed to the ground, there was hardly a building that stood more than 4ft high, there were odd walls here and there, that were still up although badly damaged, but practically speaking there were not two stones standing on top of one another.
"Ruins of Town Hall Nieuport"
Workmen were engaged straightening up the
place, and had cleared two or three of the main streets to make room for traffic.
Here and there men and women were searching amongst the ruins of houses, and
it seemed to us that they were searching the ruins of their old homes, in the
hope of saving something from the wreck, some family treasure or heirloom, but
there did not seem to be much hope. We passed one woman who had just found a
“flat iron” she put it on one side and went on with her search.
Boys and girls and women were walking about the ruins, selling postcards and
book views, showing the buildings as they were before the war, and as they stood
then. By the banks of the Yser canal was a pretty place before the war, but
it now looks a desolation. The banks in some places are broken down, and there
is very little water in it, and what there is, is overgrown with moss, and stagnant.
Among the ruins, poppies are growing in all directions, but they seem out of
place in this “rubbish heap”, for you could call this town nothing
else. After about an hours walk round the town, we thought it was time to be
getting back for dinner, so we went to the “Arret du Tram” and found
out there was not a “Vicinal” until 12.40, and here we were 12 miles
from Ostende, and no means of getting back until 12.40, and dinner ordered for
12-0clock. There was no help for it so we set off to walk; after we had walked
about a mile we were fortunate enough to see a motor lurry coming our way, so
we asked for a lift, the driver pulled up and in we got, but we had only a short
ride, as he had only about another mile to go, and he was at his journeys end,
but every little helps, and we jogged on again, hoping for another lift, but
our luck had now run out. We got no more lifts. We now reached Middlekerk, but
we were still in advance of the “Vicinal”, so we went on walking,
and we had nearly reached a small place called “Leffinghe” when
we saw the “Vicinal” coming, but still some distance behind, but
we had to skip it to get to the “Arret duTram”, but we managed it,
and were soon comfortably settled and on our way. There was another Englishman
in the carriage, and he pointed out to us where the Big Battery was at Mariakerke,
and told us not to ask any natives if we wanted any information about guns etc.
Soon after this we came to the racecourse, but we left it, as our dinner was
more important, but we were afraid the good things would be spoilt, and I must
admit we were putting our landlady to very great inconvenience. We reached Ostende
at about 1.40 p.m., and hurried to our lodgings, but it would not be far short
of 2-o-clock when we reached them. We made our apologies for being late, and
the landlady said she did not mind if the dinner was not spoilt, but the dinner
was not spoilt, but how she had kept it warm without burning it, or over cooking
it, I don’t know, but it was cooked to a turn, and we were not long in
putting it out of sight. As it had now got too late to go to the races, we decided
to go down to Mariakerke, to see the “Hindenberg” battery of big
guns, so we set off and walked it. On our way we went past the racecourse, and
watched two of the races from outside, we could not see neither the starting
place nor finishing post, we would only see the horses run about 100 yards of
the course. We then went on our way, and with a little searching, we found the
guns, but there was no charge made to see these. The Battery was very similar
to the one at Knocke, and as I have given a description of that one, I will
not describe this, as this epistle is long enough without any repetition. You
were at liberty to take photographs of anything you saw, and while we were taking
some of the guns, the man in charge, came and objected, but we told him we were
at liberty to take anything we pleased, but as our permission on pulling it
out of our pocket was in English, he accepted it as “official”,
and put himself out of his way to show us round. If he could have read English,
he would have found out that all the permission we had was contained in a Railway
Co Circular, which stated that, no obstacles were put in the way of Photographers.
After a look round we made our way to the Promenade, and took the electric car
to Ostende. After tea and a smoke, we made our way to the “Scala Theatre”,
with the servant as “guide”. We arrived in good time, and as we
had booked seats (the price was f5 each) and the play did not begin until 8-o’clock,
we loafed about outside until nearer the time for starting. Then we went in,
and were shown to our seats (chairs), and we settled ourselves down to see the
play Un Nuit D’amour (a night of love). Of course all the singing and
speaking was done in French, so we could only look and watch, as we could not
follow the play by the dialogue. The acting was only of a second rate character,
but it was in keeping with the theatre, and although we had paid f5 (about 2/6
English) for a seat, it was only a wood one, and the place corresponded with
“the pit” in the “Vic” at Burnley. In between the acts
the people get up and go to the back and promenade etc, so at the end of the
second act, we went to have a look, and at the back were small tables and chairs
for drinking etc, and down one side was a regular hub-bub, so we went to have
a look there, and these people were gaming and betting. I don’t know what
game they called it, but the routine was as follows. There was a long table
about 2 and a half yards long, with a nail or pin driven part way into the table,
about 5ins of the pin being left standing erect above the top of the table.
The pins would be about 2 and a half inches apart the entire length of the table,
and on each space between the pins was painted the name of a country, England
France Belgium, U.S.A. and Italy, all following alternately right down the table.
About 3 inches away from the pins was a narrow groove cut in the table its entire
length, into which was sunk a narrow strip of metal, on which ran a small wheel.
The figure of a man about 7 in long was fixed to the wheel in some manner, with
a feather or something held at right angles to his body in his right hand the
head farthest from the pins. At the head of the table stood the “cashier”
and five holes in the table close to his hand, with the corresponding names
of the country painted in them. You put your money in the slot, at which country
you thought the figure would stop at, any one could put their money on, and
then one of the “backers” would give the figure a push, and it would
run down the table, and then hit against a buffer or something, and run back
again part way, the impact at the same time causing the figure to turn half
way round, thus bringing the “feather” into contact with the pins,
and the person who had their money in the slot with the same name as the one
at which the figure stops, drew the stakes, but whether the backer drew all
the stakes less commission, or the cashier laid them odds against naming the
winner, I do not know, but the “cashier” drew more money than he
paid out. Then the “curtain” went up again, and we went back to
our seats, but the gamblers went on with their game, and theses were both men
and women engaged in it, and the bets were anything from f1 to f50 while we
were there. Smoking was allowed during the play which finished just before 11-o-clock,
and we went straight back to supper, at which we were joined by our landlady
and servants. I don’t know now what the dishes were we had for supper,
but one of them consisted of chipped potatoes, toasted cheese, and sprats served
together, with tomatoes and lemons as a salad. I’m not great on tomatoes,
and we had them served nearly every day, while we were in Belgium, sometimes
more than once, but I managed to get them down. This was really our first day
without rain, but even today we had a few drops, whilst on our way home from
the theatre. After supper we had a bottle of “white wine”(Vin Blanc)
and we had our usual smoke, whilst emptying in, but I am not particularly struck
with the taste. We then ordered our breakfast for 5-30 a.m. as we intended being
up and off in good time, we also asked for our “bill” which amounted
to f116.40 each. We then retired asking her to call us at 5-0-clock on.
FRIDAY JULY 10th 1920
She called us to time, and we were up and ready by the time breakfast was served. We only had boiled eggs, for breakfast, as it was rather too much to ask her to do any cooking at that hour of the day, although she offered to cook us something if we wanted it. After we had finished breakfast, we gathered our luggage together, bid them au revoir after promising to visit Ostende again, and left to catch the 6-50 am. Train to Ypres. There were not many people travelling by this train although it had the usual 10-12 carriages. The train passed through the usual country scenes until we got within a few miles of Thourout, when it became plain to see that we were approaching the scenes of the big battles. We passed through a place called Moewe, at which place, was placed the big gun that bombarded Dunkirk, but it could not be seen from the railway. This gun was left behind by the Germans in full working order. From this point we began to come across the ruins of farmhouses, German Pillboxes, dead trees, broken trees, and as we got nearer to Ypres, we could see the old trenches. We also passed through Boesinghe, Poelcappelle, and other places made famous by the war, but are now names only, the places having totally disappeared.
"On the road from Poelcapelleto Houthurst,
smashed German Pill Box
and German tin hat showing bullet hole through"
The railway also runs through the famous Houlthurst Forest, but its trees are now gaunt and withered, and as we passed through on the train, they did not appear to have either leaves or bark on them. There are thousands of trees in this shell shattered forest, which was practically cut to pieces by artillery fire, that stand as though a blight had touched them, grim skeletons standing guard over thousands of lives that were lost in this forest, and they ought to stand forever, as a milestone marking the progress of the Civilisation of Man. The woods and forests were the only shelter the soldiers had above ground, for miles the land is as flat as a table with Ypres in the middle.
"Belgians in ruins at Houthulst"
Soon after passing through Houlthulst forest
the train driver drew up at the station at…
YPRES at 8.40 a.m.
The station consists of two platforms open to the skies, and two or three wooden shanties, which serve as booking office, waiting room etc, and it is a fair sample of the country station in Belgium, as it is only in the populace centres, that the Belgians build a proper station, and these are generally on a big scale. They seem to think that if they build one big station, it will make up for some of the others. After leaving the station, we enquired for the residence of Mons Bouckenhooge (I don’t think I have spelt that name right but it is near enough). This Gentleman and his wife (sister of our landlady at Ostende) were refugees in Burnley during the war, and formally occupied a Government position, and was fairly well to do in circumstances. During his stay in Burnley, he one winter taught the French class at Burnley Technical School, and during that winter his class was attended by one of our party, who was acting as interpreter. He has now been appointed on his return home, to the position of Reconstruction Overseer, for four districts round Ypres. We found him in his office and then he took us to his home and introduced us to his wife, who began to make herself busy preparing a meal for us, while we enjoyed one of Mons Bouckenhooge’s cigars. By the time we had finished our smoke the meal was served and we did justice to it. After that we were asked what we would like to drink. There were two beers and two lemonades, I was put in to fill the glasses and on opening one of the “Lemonades” I came to the opinion that it was “Soda Water”, but I made no comment, but passed the glass on to one of the teetotallers, who lifted the glass and said” Good Health”, but if the “Health had to correspond to the length of the drink it would not be so good, for he soon took the glass from his lips, pulling a wry face. We then went to the bank, a “branch” of the Bank of Courtrai, to get some more money changed, but they would not exchange us any, as they had not got their rate of exchange for the day, but if we would call later, they would be pleased to change it etc. I might say here that Mr Willie Lancaster, the son of Mr William Lancaster (our employer) was killed during the war outside Ypres, and although his body was never found, Mr Lancaster has, from enquiries made of the various authorities formed the opinion, that he has found as near as possible, the place where his son was killed, and on hearing that we intended visiting Ypres, he was kind enough to give us all the information he had, and that information was a great help to us, in finding the spot where his son was killed, and it enabled us, to set about exploring the “Salient of Ypres” with an understanding that we should otherwise have lacked. Mr Lancaster had visited the place two months prior to our visit, and was the guest of Mons Bouckenhooge, during his stay at Ypres. After receiving a few hints how to find the place from Mons Bouckenhooge, he left us to return to his work, after pressing us to be back no later than 4-o clock for dinner. We then proceeded through the Menin Gate, and along the Menin Rd, along which runs our old friend “Vicinal” tramway. Soon after leaving Ypres along the Menin Rd, you see “jimmy lines” laid down to carry sand, and other materials that are being used in the reconstruction of Ypres. There were 11000 workmen going into Ypres everyday engaged in the work of “cleaning up”, and 23.000 bricks were delivered into the town from the railway. All the debris has been cleared out of the main streets, and it was possible to walk to all parts of the town. On the battlefield along the Menin Rd, the system of cleaning up seems to be as follows. They dig a huge trench for a long distance across the battlefield and then another two some distance up, thus making two sections, they then return to the first one after it has been drained by the huge trenches, and begin to level it up and by the time they have finished the other section is drained. They then make a third section, which drains whilst levelling number two section and so on. As soon as you get clear of Ypres, you come across a British Cemetery, with its row upon row of small wooden crosses, each one with the name, number and regiment of the soldier buried beneath them. On some of the crosses was attached a red rosette, with the following inscription,” Death or Glory, for those who wear the Red Rose of Lancaster”. There are several of these Cemeteries around Ypres, the largest of which contains 20.000 graves, and if you have the “address” of any particular grave, you can find it in a few minutes, as each cemetery is divided into sections, blocks etc, but if you don’t know full particulars, it would be no easy task to find any particular grave, even if you know the cemetery, but at Ypres, as at several other centres, there is an official register, where relatives visiting graves, receive all the help it is possible to give them. There is also a Y.M.C.A hostel at Ypres, and Ostende, as well as at other places, where relatives may spend the night. The countryside has now been drained for a few miles up the Menin Rd, and is again being put under cultivation, and houses and Estaminets (Public Houses) are being erected amongst the ruins of previous houses, or on adjoining sites.
Most of the houses erected are mainly of wood and corrugated iron, and one such house standing at the corner of four roads, bore the following inscription, neatly painted on a sign attached to the side of the house, “Hell Fire Corner”. The German Artillery had this corner well marked, and could plant a shell there anytime he wished, and that was pretty frequently. A little further on you come to another house similarly built, with a sign in front of the house with the inscription, “On this site was Hooge”. Whilst about half a mile further on was a newly built hamlet of about 20 houses called Neuve Hooge (New Hooge). Somewhere about this point a road branches off to the left, over the famous Passchendaele Ridge, and then you come to Zillibeke. At this place you reach the limit of the reclaimed land, and from this point onwards, you can form some faint idea of what war is, and when you have seen it, you can understand the “Tommies” saying, when they came back home, that it was “Hell”. Although the Cannon, Machine Guns etc had all been cleared away, you here and there saw broken Gun Carriages, but shells (unexploded) there were thousands of them, and I’m sure cartridges counted by hundreds of thousands, if not millions, and broken rifles, equipments, belts, pouches, water bottles, steel helmets, or any article that goes to form the equipment of infantry, could be picked up in hundreds. You can roam at will over this part of the battlefield, but there are notice boards up, warning you against touching or picking up any shells or ammunition. A mile or more after leaving Zillibeke, you come across an “Arret du Tram”, with the name “Tanks Cemetery” painted on its signboard. At this point if you leave the roadway (which has been remade) and get onto the battlefield itself, you come across the remains of 19 tanks, within the space of a square mile. There is nothing left of them except their shells, for the engines and guns have been removed. The Tanks are in the same position in which they were left or abandoned; some of them are part buried in the ground, which would be mud at the time they were in use. This point we left the roadway, and got on to the Battlefield, and after leaving the Tanks behind, went further on the road to within about a mile of Gheluveldt. It was at this point that Willie Lancaster was killed. I did not see much of him before he enlisted, as I had not worked there long, but whenever he came into our room at the mill, he always made it in his way to speak to you, and would stop and talk as man to man, and not as if he was some superior person, as some people treat their work people. At this place there are three dugouts to the right of the road, and a little further on the road is a ruined farmhouse, which was in the hands of the Germans, and it was in an attack on this farmhouse that he met his death. The land at this part of the battlefield as far as you could see was absolutely full of shell holes, about 3 yds in diameter, and about a yard deep, some of them more, the holes were so close together, that in most places it is impossible for two persons to walk abreast, and in several places, two or three shell holes have been made into one, by another shell being planted onto the rim by which they were divided. All the holes had water of various depths in them, in which could be seen, rifle barrels, rifle butts and other articles, whilst as I have said before on the “banks” of the holes, you could pick up, whole rifles, corroding away through exposure, whilst here and there was to be seen the bleached bones of animals probably mule or horse. We also came across a few bones, which were in my opinion human, and once we picked up a skull, which was also human, with what I thought was a bullet hole in the top of the head. If any of the bone were part buried, it paid you not to touch them, for if you disturbed anything that was part buried, the smell that arose from the ground was horrible, I can even smell it yet (in imagination at least) after 6 months time. We picked up several belts and pouches, which on our opening them, found to be chock full of “live cartridges” in their “clips”. I was ready for giving up our search for relics long before did, and eventually I gave up and went back to the road, and awaited the coming of the others, being satisfied with a few spent bullets as “souvenirs”.
"Pile of collected 'dud' shells"
Whilst we were at the dugouts before mentioned,
it came on a heavy shower, but it soon was over, and that was the only rain
we had at Ypres, and it wants a fine day for tramping the country around the
Menin Rd. We sheltered in the dugout whilst the shower was over, and then two
of our party went out as soon as possible, but I and the other member of our
party stayed behind a few minutes to put a new “film” in the camera,
whilst we were engaged two men came to the dugout and asked us a question in
French, and as our “talker” had cleared off, I had to brush the
cobwebs off my French. As luck would have it, I managed to make out what he
had said, and I replied to the best of my ability, but instead of clearing off,
he asked me another two or three questions, and again I managed to make out
and answered him. He then asked me where the Germans were, so I answered, “Les
Anglais Ici”, “L’Allemande La, Mt. Kemmel a gauche la, et
Cot’e Soixante a droit”, which I intended to be “ The English
were here, the Germans there, Mount Kemmel to the left, Hill 60 to the right”.
He replied “Merci” (thanks) and then rejoined his companion, and
began to talk to him pointing out the different places I had mentioned. I don’t
know whether he found out I was a “novice” at French or not, but
I think he understood me. If you want to form some idea of the surface of the
battlefield, fill your table with saucers and dishes of various sizes, all placed
“cheek by jowl” and you will then be able to see for yourself what
it looked like.
Most of the shell holes both here and on the ground we covered by the train were overgrown with rushes some of them 3or 4 ft high, and before the war, there were hardly any rushes to be found in the whole of Belgium. As you walk up the Menin Rd away from Ypres, you can see on your right a slight ridge, or rise in the ground, but it wants some imagination to call it a hill, yet it goes under the name of Hill 60, and will long be remembered in the Annals of the East Lancs. A little further on in the same direction but slightly to the left is a rise that could be called a hill, a rise something like Haggate has to Harle Syke and the drop into Hill Lane on the other side, this hill goes under the name of Mount Kemmel, while away on the left is Passchendaele Ridge. When the others had tired of relic hunting, we walked back to the “Arret du Tram” at the Tanks Cemetery, and waited for the “Vicinal” which took us back to Ypres. We alighted at what is called the “Bascule” which is close to the Menin Gate. We then revisited the “Bank”, but they would only give us f40 to the £1 we refused to deal. We then went for a stroll through the town of Ypres, or what has been left of it. The town to all intents and purposes has been wiped out, but in this respect, it is no worse than lots of other towns in Belgium or France, but there is this difference between Ypres and most of the other towns, Ypres was a town that was at the height of its prosperity about the thirteenth century and its most famous buildings, dated back to that period: Hotel de Ville Cloth Hall and Cathedral, and as all these buildings have been destroyed, there is a certain amount of sentimental damage at Ypres, which cannot be claimed for most of the other towns, but as regards material damage it has no prior claim to several other places. At Nieuport there was not a single building left standing, but there were two or three standing at Ypres, although very badly damaged, and I believe one of them was the General Post Office, and we saw two or three houses that had been repaired, and people were living in them, one of them had had a new front put in, and another had one of its walls partly rebuilt. The principal objects of interest at Ypres lie in the Grand Place in which are the ruins of the Town Hall, Cloth Hall and the Cathedral all built close together, and now their tumbled walls lie mixed together in their interiors. These buildings have been damaged beyond repair, but can form some idea of the carvings and designs in the stonework, from the decorations on the walls and window frames that are still standing, but you can form no idea of the design of the building as a whole, and if you want to know what the buildings were like originally you have to fall back onto picture postcards, or book views, which are to be obtained in almost every shop in Belgium. It has been decided to leave these buildings as they stand, as a monument, showing the ravages of war, and I hope the peoples (various nations) will learn a lesson from it, if they don’t, there will be similar monuments left to posterity in the years to come. On notice boards by the Cloth Hall and Cathedral is painted the following: -
This notice was printed in English just as I have written it. I might say here that Ypres was a walled City, and was also encircled by a “moat”, connected I think with the R.Yser which is really the Yser canal, which flows in to the North Sea at Nieuport. The wall round the town will be about 12yds thick, but I am inclined to think, it is a double wall filled in between by earth. The outer wall is faced with concrete, and it stood the 4 years test of war, without a breach being made in it, although several places show signs of the tremendous hammering it got, as here and there the concrete has shelled off and bits of the wall have been blown away, but the earth works remain intact. This wall is known locally as the “Ramparts of the Town”, and these ramparts were defended by British soldiers all through the war, fighting on the top of them, and sleeping inside them, and it was a case of on duty on top, off duty underneath. Although the British were on two or three occasions forced to leave the town, the Germans never succeeded in entering it. Ypres was entered by three or four gateways or “portes” The “Porte de Menin”, and the “Porte de Lille” being the principal gateways, and we saw at both of these gateways, as well as in other parts of the town, a huge placard with the following notice printed first in Flemish, 2nd French 3rd in English side by side.
“The burgomaster and the city council of Ypres
“Urge you to remember, that the ground
“ You walk on is hallowed by the sacrifice
“ Of 250,000 British officers and men
“ Who were killed or wounded in four
“Terrible years of war, endured in the
“ Salient of Ypres, and whose heroism
“ Belgium can never forget”
But to anyone who has been up the Menin Rd, and taken the trouble to see things, and think for themselves, it is no wonder that 250,000 were killed and wounded, the only wonder to my mind is, that anyone who was there should come back to tell the tale. On our way back to Ypres in the Vicinal were a man and his wife (English) who were visiting all the Battlefields, and we were urged to do the same several times by various people including Mr Brotherton previously mentioned, but how anyone can spend day after day and week after week, tramping over one battlefield and then on to another, where each scene is similar to the last, and similar to the next, passes my understanding, they must either look at things on the surface, and never give a thought as to how these things happen, and to the suffering that is caused to some thousands of their fellow countrymen, or else they make everything into a peep show, they must be differently constituted to what I am, for I was absolutely fed up with war, and war scenes, long before our one day at Ypres came to an end, and if people were taught less of the “glories” of war, and taught more about the “horrors” of war, the military party in all countries, might not be so pronounced as they are today. By the time we had been round Ypres it was close on 4-o-clock, and we made our way to Mons Bouckenhooges passing a bakers cart drawn by a dog, we saw several milk carts drawn by dogs while we were in Belgium, and it is a very common practice, but the driver is required by law, to carry a rug of some description, to pit on the floor for the dog to lie on, while he is making his business calls.
"Dog cart on the Dixmude to Houthulst Road"
There are also a lot of carts in Belgium drawn by horses, which have only three wheels, the front wheel being only about 18ins in diameter. There are no shafts to these carts and the straps of the horse are fastened to the front axle about a foot from the ground. They look rather curious to us, but the horse seems to have a lot more freedom, and it certainly has not the weight of the cart resting on its back, as lots have in England, but these carts would not be a success about Lancashire, as on the hills the horse would have no power to hold it back, but they are alright in Belgium where the country is so flat.
"Typical Cart near Houthulst"
By the time we got back to Mons Bouckenhooges, he had returned from work, so after we had a wash dinner was served, and it was a first class dinner, the only thing that did not suit my palate being “tomato sauce”, but I shut one eye, and managed to get it down, but it required an effort. After we had finished dinner we went out with Mons Bouckenhooge as “guide”, for a walk round the “Ramparts” of the town. As we passed through the town he showed us his old home in ruins, and pointed out to us another house that was struck by a shell 26 people were sheltering in the house at the time, and every one of them was killed. He also pointed out to us the ruins of a brewery, which was “cleaned” up the week before we were there, and amongst the debris, were found the remains of 31 British “Tommies”. They were sat round the walls having a chat, when the whole place came in on top of them, one of them was found with his elbows on his knees, and his head lay in his hands. They must have been there not far short of two years when found. He also told us of two or three instances where something had been wrong with the water supply, as after heavy rains, when the water had been stirred up, the water had a peculiar flavour, and when enquiries were made, the body of a dead soldier was found in the well. After getting to the top of the Ramparts, we had a good view of the town and surrounding country, close in around the town were small patches of green, where the land had been got under cultivation, but the trees, and the land outside the green patches looked blighted, the only living things seemed to be the rushes, and they were everywhere. The town itself had been straightened up, and a large place cleared in the centre of the town, on which had been erected a large number of wooden houses, but there was no space wasted, and the streets would not be more than 2yds wide, and this was divided into a small garden for each house with a footpath between them, but every so far there was a wider street that would allow for vehicular traffic. There is also a hotel, which was erected in three days and is built of corrugated iron, and is known as Hotel Excelsior.
Hotel facing ruins of Cloth Hall, erected in three days"
The Ramparts before the war, was practically the Park of Ypres, as seats were placed here and there, and was a kind of Promenade, and before the war would be fairly well wooded. On our way round Mr Bouckenhooge pointed out to us a tree, with a hole of about 4in in diameter bored clean through the trunk, caused by a shell, he also pointed out to us another tree that had been broken off about 4ft from the ground by a shell, and afterwards another shell had come, and falling nose first, had buried itself half way in the broken stump, and was firmly fixed as if driven in by a sledgehammer. But time was getting on, and we had to leave the Ramparts after half a circuit of the town, and go and bid Good Bye to Madame B, pick up our luggage, and make our way to the station to catch the 7.29p.m. Train to Brussels. This second visit to Brussels came about owing to us getting an extension to our holiday after we had made all our arrangements, and it was suggested we stay the night at Ypres, and go back to Ostende or Brussels on the Saturday, but I refused to stay at Ypres, and we left at 7.29p.m. travelling via Comines, Menin, Courtrai, Anseghem, and Sotteghem, reaching Brussels at 11.10p.m. Mons Bouckenhooge accompanied us to the station, and remained chatting until the train left. At one point between Comines and Menin, we were only a stones throw from the French frontier as the railway runs alongside the river Lys, which at this point is the dividing line between the two countries.
As you will see from a glance at the map we covered a good portion of the battlefront in Belgium and although most of it was done by rail, we could see the devastation that had taken place, but there was not much destruction in other parts of Belgium that we touched. A few houses and one corner of the Cathedral at Antwerp, a few houses close by the Cathedral and railway at Brussels, a few houses at Ostende, but Dinant had suffered apart from these and the railway Station at Ghent and a house here and there which we saw from the train, we saw no damage except on the coast and battlefront. On arrival at Brussels, we made our way back to the Hotel Detrez and were told to go to our old room, and as we had had a tiring day we were soon in the land of nod.
The Hotel Detrez before the war was known as the “Hotel de Vienna”.
Brussels Saturday July 10th 1920
A brilliant morning, but rather late for breakfast, and consequently the morning was well advanced before we got out of doors, and we decided to spend the morning shopping, after changing some more money. We all remembered where we had seen a certain article that had caught our eye the previous weekend and would just do as a present for someone, and we made a beeline for that particular shop, and that particular article, but when we got there, there must have been a change of tenants, and also of the business, for it was not the kind of shop we were in search of, we then remembered it must be at another place we knew of, so off we went there, but with no better result, so we came to the conclusion we didn’t know where it was, so we began our search again, and some of us succeeded in making purchases and some didn’t. But dinnertime came before we had bought all, so we had to leave them over, and go back to our Hotel for dinner. After dinner we decided to see a little more of Brussels, and began by visiting the Botanical Gardens, which are situated close by the Gare du Nord. After a look round the gardens, we got sat on a form to rest, as the afternoon was terribly hot, and two of the party got asleep. After waiting a while for them to have a nap, we set off again, but we had not gone far, when one suggested, a visit to a picture palace out of the way of the heat, I was not particularly struck by the idea, but fell in with the rest, but we had not been in long before the pictures failed to interest me, and I got asleep although Charlie Chaplin was being shown. I didn’t see much of him, and we all dozed off at different times, so we came out into the sunlight again, but it was now nearly teatime, so we made our way into the busier thoroughfares at the South end of the City, and there we had our tea and gateaux again. We then paid a visit to a “fair” that was being held near the Gare du Midi, bought a few more presents, and came back to the Boulevard Anspach for another “Grenadier”. After staying there for some time watching the passers by, we got up and went and had supper, and after another stroll down the Boulevard, we made our way back to the Hotel Metropole, and made ourselves comfortable at a vacant table, and ordered a last “Grenadier”, and as it had now turned midnight, we made for our Hotel, but it might have only been about 9-oclock judging from the number of people who were about, and most of the shops were open.
We had a last puff in the big room at the Hotel then we went upstairs put our purchases in our own bags, and turned in for a good sleep, for we had no idea what sort of night we should have the next day, and at least one of us if not two had recollections of an uncomfortable night 10 days previously, but it appeared to be in the dim past, as we had such a crowded week, but all things come to an end, and the following was …
SUNDAY JULY 11TH 1920
Another fine day, we were up in good time, and after our usual breakfast of rolls and café we went to the Place Charles Rogier, and watched the crowds hurrying off to catch trains, to go some place or other, soldiers with full packs, coming panting up, either going on or returning from “leave”, but the one thing that struck me most in watching this crowd, as of every crowd of people we saw in Brussels, was the large number of women in mourning, and when a Belgian woman wears mourning, there is no half measure about it.
There is not a shadow of any colour showing; nothing but black, shoes, stockings, skirt, coat, and hat, and over all is thrown a black “veil” which reaches the waist, all the way round the sides as well as back and front. No matter how old the person may be, whether it be an old lady of 70 years, or a girl of 17 summers the dress is just the same for all. After watching the crowd for some time, we counted up our Belgian money, and as we had asked for our Hotel bill, we put enough money away to pay for that, and then set out to complete our purchases, and spend up, so that we should not have any Belgian money left, except for a few centimes, which we were keeping as mementoes. In Belgium the “centimes” are the only coins in circulation, with exception of the “sou” which we only saw once during our stay. The centimes are in 5,10,20,25, and 50 centimes pieces, and f1 and over are all in paper money. The Franc notes are issued in f1, 2,3,5,10,25,50,100, and 200 Francs value, whether there are any over that value I don’t know, as the foregoing completes the range of notes that passed through our hands. But it is a job spending a certain amount of money. If you buy one thing you have a small amount of money left, which is useless to buy anything decent with, and if you want anything that takes your eye, you find you are just a few centimes short, and so it was with us, when the last man made his selection of presents, he was just a few centimes short, so we had to all club up, and part with some of our “memento” centimes, but we managed it at last, and then commenced our last trail back to our Hotel, which we reached shortly after 1-oclock. We then had our usual dinner, after which we went to our room, and completed our packing. We then had a good wash and brush up, picked up our traps, paid our bill which amounted to f31.75 each, and then went to the station, to catch the boat train, which leaves Brussels (Nord) at 2.50.p.m.
There were not many passengers, but amongst them was a man and his wife who went out on the boat when we did. They lived in Hull. The train left punctual to time, and without anything exciting taking place, we reached Alost 3.27 p.m., Ghent 4-3p.m., Bruges4.55p.m. and arrived at Zeebrugge at 5.30p.m, five minutes before our time. The train took us right to the “Mole”. We passed through the Customs, with opened luggage, but it was only a matter of form, and as we went on board, our passports were again examined, and as everything was found correct, we were allowed on the S.S. “Duke of Clarence”, which left the Mole at 6.15p.m. to the minute, there is no waiting; if you are late you are left. As we left the “Mole”, I had the camera, intending to taking a “snap” at the Mole, as soon as we got to the end, so that I could take a full picture of it, but when the boat got to the end of it, it took a sharp turn, and instead of having a full view, I only got the end with the “lighthouse” on it, and from this point to the “lighthouse” at Spurn Head at the mouth of the Humber is 208 miles.
the end of the Mole
I think the Mole is about a mile long, and stretches out to the sea in a slight curve, thus making an artificial harbour. I might say here that we took 4 films of photographs, but they did not turn out a big success, as none of us had ever handled a camera before, and the light generally was not good enough for snapshots, but still some of them were recognisable. After the boat had got going, we went for a walk round the boat, and came across four Burnley Grammar School lads, who had been staying with Mons Bouckenhooge at Ypres. They left Ypres on Friday morning just before we got there on the Friday morning, and stayed at Ostende until Sunday. It was a splendid night, the sea had not a ripple on it, and when the Moon came out, which she did in good time, it was almost as light as day. About 10-oclock p.m. we saw the Harwich to Antwerp boat in the distance, and then about 11-o-clock, we had a rather exciting few minutes. All at once the buzzer began buzzing, and we all jumped up to see what was to do, and on our left not more than 50 yds away, was a huge tramp steamer, (so one of the crew said it was), that was trying to cut in front of our bows, we had to make a complete right turn to get clear, and the “tramp” had to stop and then swing to her left making a complete circuit. At the same time on our right was a coasting steamer. All that water, and still they were all in a lump. After things had sorted themselves out, we went on our way, and the excitement died down.
It was too nice to go below, but the passengers went one by one, and by 12.30 a.m. I and another were the sole survivors, so we turned in with the rest.
I don’t know the number of passengers on board, but there were no more than 20. I was not long before I got to sleep on this occasion, and that “could easy be” feeling did not trouble any of us.
I slept like a top.
MONDAY JULY 11th 1920
I awakened about 4.30 p.m. I then went on deck, but land was not yet in sight, as there was a slight haze hanging off the coast, but soon after we saw the coast of Lincolnshire and about 5.o.clock, we passed Spurn Head, leaving the open sea behind us as we steamed up the Humber, and we passed the fishing fleet going out. Breakfast was served about 6.o.clock, but no meals are served to second-class passengers until the saloon passengers have been served. After ham and egg for breakfast, I think the price was 3 shillings, and all payments on board, both outward and return journey have to be paid in English money, we had a good wash, and by the time we had finished, and got on deck, we were just approaching Hull, and In a few minutes everything became bustle and excitement, and the boat was berthed alongside the quay. We then picked up our traps, and after being compared with the passports once more, we were allowed to go on to the Customs Office. The boat arrived at Hull at 7-10.a.m., 5 minutes before her scheduled time. We got through Customs, as we had no contraband articles except a 25 box of cigars each, and you are allowed 99, but another young fellow was not so fortunate, there was a young woman with him, but they found 6 or 7 bottles of wine in their luggage. He was told to stand back and wait. I don’t know how he went on, we then passed through into Riverside Station, expecting the train to be waiting, but it was not, but there was plenty of time, as it was not due to leave until 8.30.a.m., so we paced the platform for half an hour or more, and it would be 8.15 or turned when a porter told us there would be no train from there that day, as there was a railway strike on but it was only a local affair. He then told us there should be one for Liverpool and Manchester at 8.50 a.m. from the “Paragon” Station in Hull, but he did not know whether it would run or not, as efforts were being made to get the strike extended. We then hurried off into Hull to Paragon Station, and after 20 minutes good walking we got there about 8.40.a.m. What we saw of Hull was not of very striking appearance, the buildings being dirty looking and the streets no better, but as the streets were in close proximity to the docks, they were similar to other seaports.
Hull Paragon Station
The train was fairly full, and we left Hull about 10 minutes late, and without any further adventures, we arrived, without any changing at Todmorden at 10.53.a.m. Here we had to change, and wait until 11-18.a.m. for a train to Burnley.
It came at last, and after stopping at every Station it stopped at Townley at 11-44 a.m. where our party broke up, the other three members leaving the train here, and I completed the journey to Manchester Road Station, the sole survivor, which Station we reached on time at 11-48.a.m. I walked down Manchester Rd, and caught the 12-o clock car to Harle Syke, which arrived at Melville Street at 12.15p.m and in about 2 minutes I had got back to my starting point after a good holiday, but only to be told I looked as if I needed one. I have now completed my journey and as I have given you a full description of our tour, it does not need any further comments as a summary, but perhaps a few words about the cost may not be out of place.
We booked our Railway ticket to Hull and Boat ticket and the following rail tickets for Belgium, also our passports at Cooks, but I don’t know the separate fares of the Belgium tickets we got at Cooks.
£ s d
Burnley to Hull return 3rd Class = 1 1 9
Hull to Zeebrugge Boat 2nd Class 2 0 0
Passports 13 9
2nd Class Rail} Zeebrugge to Antwerp
} Antwerp to Brussels
} Brussels to Namur } 1 5 3
} Namur to Brussels Paid at cooks
} Brussels to Ostende 5 0 9
Blankets and Berths on board 2/single 4 0
Carried forward £5 4 9
Brought forward £5 4 9
We paid the following additional railway fares
3rd Class Namur to Dinant 2.40
} Dinant to Rochefort 2.80
} Jamelle to Namur 4.90
} Brussels to Braine L Alleud 1.85
} Braine L Alleud to Brussels 1.80
} Ostende to Bruges 2.00
} Ostende to Ypres 5.60
} Ypres to Brussels 10.50
} Brussels to Zeebrugge 9.50
Railway Fares 41.35
Lodgings at Brussels 46.50
Lodgings at Ostende 116.40
Lodgings at Brussels 31.75
Total f236.00=5 -10 -0
Including Tram Fares, Vicinal Tram Fares,
tips £10.14 and meals outside of which I have no account approx £4.15.
Total cost of Holiday £15. 9.9d
I don’t know if there is anything further, but I am not satisfied with my description of scenery from Namur to Grotto of Ham, I can’t do justice to it, nor with the horrors of the battlefield. I would like to re write these two items, but it needs a cleverer pen than mine.
It has been a big job writing this (bigger than I expected), but I have re-visited the scenes again, as I have tried to explain them, so I have (booked) another holiday, and if you have as much pleasure in reading my travels I had in actually seeing them, I shall be satisfied. W.Shoesmith