The Battle of Passchendaele, 100 Years on

By Julia Proctor,

On the 31st of July 1917, brave soldiers set out in one of the bloodiest battles the First World War would experience. The offensive, more formally known as The Third Battle of Ypres, was a conflict that would last more than 100 days and claim the lives of half a million soldiers.

On Monday, more than 4,000 relatives would attend the ceremony at Tyne Cot Cemetery in Ypres to commemorate 100 years since the beginning of the combat. Others to attend and pay their respects included that of Prince Charles, The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, the Prime Minister Theresa May, and of course the King and Queen of Belgium themselves.

The Battle of Passchendaele is one of the most infamous from the First World War, due to its brutal and bloody nature. One can only imagine the sacrifices soldiers must have undertaken to result in so many lives being taken in only 3 months.

The battle is also widely known for its horrific conditions. Due to the relentless rain that fell, many soldiers actually drowned in the thick quagmire mud that was produced, significantly increasing the death-toll.

The service that took place at the cemetery, the largest in the commonwealth, consisted of military personnel and relatives reading letters and diaries of soldiers stationed at the battle.

Among the relatives that attended, 64 year old Tim Barrett paid tribute to his grandfather, John Ambrose Barrett, who died valiantly in The Battle of Passchendaele. Tim commented claiming that he felt it important to attend the ceremony, as this would be the last major commemoration to the sacrifice his grandfather made. 

John Ambrose Barrett was just 36 when he was shot, leaving behind a wife and four children, one of whom he had never even met. Acting as a reminder as to what emotional turmoil the soldiers experienced, is one of the letters Barrett wrote to his wife not long before he would die. He writes;
''I am writing this letter, as I don’t want to leave you, Evie, without saying goodbye... It was glorious at the beginning, old darling, but it got better and better as time went on, as our kiddies came to us … Kiss them for me: they cannot realise that I shall not see them again, but let them know their Daddy loved them and meant to do his very utmost for them.”

To end the service was the playing of The Last Post. A song which has been played at the site almost every day since 1928, making the 100th anniversary the 30,753rd time it has been heard on the grounds. The music played whilst the Belgian air force flew overhead in a formation that paid tribute to 'The Missing Man'.

Of the 11,971 servicemen that are buried at the site, only 8,373 can be identified.

In the build up to Monday's ceremony, the city of Ypres also hosted a weekend of culture to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the battle. The weekend comprised of plays and songs acknowledging the sacrifice and heroism the fallen soldiers portrayed. Also included in the weekend festivities, was a projection onto Ypres famous Cloth Hall, of images from the war along with interviews with World War One veterans themselves.

Of the more well known faces that were present at the remembrance ceremony, Mrs Theresa May has stated that she felt ''honoured'' to be able to attend such an event. Later adding the profound words; ''It is on those fields where hundreds of thousands of men of all nations fought and died in appalling conditions''.


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