Ypres Battlefield Study Trip – article by LCpl Annabelle Mathers from 208 Field Hospital

Battlefields Study Trip

On the 30th April 2022, a group of us from 208 Field Hospital embarked on A Battlefields Study Trip to Ypres, Belgium.  Having never been on a Battlefields trip before, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Being fairly new to 208 Field Hospital, it was not only a brilliant educational experience but a great opportunity to get to know people of all ranks better during our down time, sampling local food, drink and sight-seeing. For example, one evening a few of us walked the Ramparts of Ypres after dinner, it was peaceful and a nice time to reflect on all the history we had learnt. 

It was a jam packed itinerary over the space of 6 days. My favourite day was definitely travelling to the northern entry point of the Ypres Salient.  Starting off at the Zlein Zwaanhof Farm, a small museum giving us a historical introduction to what we would witness.  As we had no tour guides, we downloaded specially designed apps on our mobiles to make the days really interactive. The app guides you to the traces of war whilst sharing soldiers’ personal stories. Memorial trees are planted to visualise the front lines, with red baskets representing German, blue for allied. One particularly poignant moment on our walk was seeing the shear closeness at one point of the front lines and trying to imagine how terrifying it must have been for the troops, you could literally shout to one another.

One story that popped up on our walk here was at the Colne Valley Cemetery. Captain Maynard Andrews and some of his men heroically left the awkward narrow trenches to carry one of his injured soldiers across an open field, whilst under enemy fire, to get him to a dressing station.  He died in this heroic act.

A different day, at Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery , we found the grave of Nellie Spindler, who was a nurse in the Evacuation Hospital at Brandhoek. The hospital was bombarded on 21st August 1917. Nellie died a quick death from shrapnel. Her story stood out for me because it highlighted that frontline or not, nobody is safe during war.

A final poignant moment (of many) was standing amongst a crowd in the Menin Gate on the last evening, where a service was being held by the local community. The Last Post was played by a band and we were surrounded by tens of thousands of names of soldiers who were lost but never found. Three Reservists of 208 laid a wreath.

Seeing the sheer number of graves during this trip was harrowing, but I took comfort knowing that the commonwealth war graves commission take such excellent care of the cemeteries and that the stories of those who laid down their lives, lives on through technology.

I would love the opportunity to go on another Battlefields Trip and would recommend it to anybody who hasn’t already been.

Reserve Forces