Remembrance 2017 : Our wreath at the Menin Gate in Ypres

Our postman, Paul Chapman, asked the Parish Council whether we would like him to lay a wreath at the Menin Gate in Ypres on behalf of the Parish to mark 100 years since the battles of 1917. People named on our war memorial were among the casualties. When Paul is not a postman, he is a battlefield guide and author. Here is his report and photographs.

Had a wonderful time ‘over there’: Very hectic, but wouldn’t have missed a single moment of it.

Three days guiding; fully booked for five days with a Canadian group next November, and a few firsts – invited to speak at a school in Poperinge, invited to the Fire Station, Poperinge (regularly attended Ypres) by the Chief Fire Officer, interviewed live by Irish Radio: And, for the second year running, was afforded the honour of delivering the exhortation ‘They shall grow not old …’ before the crowd assembled at Last Post ceremony, Menin Gate.
The following account – although thoughts of remembrance lie with all wherever they may have originated – relates to one casualty recorded on Holcot War Memorial. I‘m sure young Frederick would have been well-acquainted / familiar with the surrounding villages.

During the first few days of June, 1917, immediately prior to the Battle of Messines – when the detonating of nineteen mines beneath the ridge extending from Messines in the south to Hill 60 in the north would successfully wrest the advantage of high ground surrounding the Belgian town of Ypres from the enemy after almost four years of stalemate – 32nd Battalion Royal Fusiliers were ‘in rest’ at ‘Middle Camp W.,’ a short distance from the village of Reninghelst. The weather was warm, clear and sunny, but ‘rest’ was something of a misnomer; the men were continually called upon to perform various fatigues and exercises around the camp, as well as providing nightly working parties to the front-line. One party, having completed its tasks under heavy enemy fire, was commended for its steadfast behaviour.

During their time in the camp, besides taking advantage of the shower and bath facilities provided by the local brewery, they entered a horse – ‘Corker’ – in a Divisional Horse Show and won first prize. During a Church Service, held on the morning of 3 June, the Chaplain spoke of a great forthcoming battle during the course of which many of them would undoubtedly be called upon to make the supreme sacrifice. The fact that a ‘great battle’ was looming was something none of the assembled were in any doubt of; rumours had been rife for some time, preparations for the forthcoming offensive continuous, and with the artillery bombarding the enemy lines non-stop for a week the Chaplain’s words only confirmed that which they already knew.

The following day the General Officer Commanding 41st Division addressed the battalion on the forthcoming offensive and, that afternoon, the Officer Commanding 32nd Battalion conferred with the battalion’s officers and went over the part the battalion were to play in the scheme of operations. That night the entertainment provided by the Battalion Concert Party at an open air concert may have provided temporarily distracted the thoughts of many of the audience from the words of the chaplain. They all knew their duty and the task before them.

At 6 a.m., on the morning of 5 June, 32nd Royal Fusiliers moved up toward the front-line in readiness for their attack on a heavily fortified enemy position known as ‘The Damstrasse’ the following day. At 10 p.m. that night they moved into their assembly positions, arriving two hours before the scheduled zero hour, 7.30 a.m.

At some point during the move forward to the front-line – severely hampered due to congestion and persistent shell-fire – and the fighting during the course of the morning, the battalion incurred casualties of 6 Officers (2 Killed), 24 Other Ranks killed, 151 wounded (5 died), 2 missing.

One of the missing – L/Corpl. 18150, Frederick William Mobbs – son of Mr & Mrs C. Mobbs, of Main Street, Holcot.

On 10 June a salvage and burial party provided by the battalion assisted in clearing and burying the dead from the battlefield. Sadly, during subsequent fighting across the region, most notably during the German Offensives of the spring and summer of 1918, the grave of L/Corpl. Mobbs was lost; he is commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial (Panel 6).

They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old,

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning,

We will remember them.

A regular visitor to Ypres Salient for over thirty years, during the course of attending the ceremonies of remembrance at the Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres, this year I was accompanied by my wife Sandra, and friend John Pettitt (Moulton). To lay wreaths on behalf of the villages of Holcot and Hannington – which I visit everyday as part of my employ as postman – a simple yet important act of remembrance in proud and honoured memory of the men of those villages who answered their country’s call, marched away to war, and made the ultimate sacrifice – was a privilege and an honour.

Thank you.

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