Sixty years later
Date: November 11th, 1976
Ypres. The city in the north of Belgium that has seen much history throughout the last few hundred years. Once a market town, it grew into a large community of several thousand, mostly attracted by the large museum, the scenery of the great expanse of green field that surrounded it and the fact it was a great little village to come for a holiday.
It had been hit again by war when the town was taken over by the Germans in 1940 and was visited by the leader of Germany, Adolf Hitler, twice over the time the country was occupied until the Germans were driven out in 1944 and since then it had become a great tourist attraction for most of Europe, even before the Second World War.
However, it had become a tourist attraction for another reason.
In the town and in the fields for miles around it were many war memorials and cemeteries, but not to the Second World War. These were to the men who had fought here before the Second World War, in the Great War when the armies of the Allies and Germany were locked in a deadly battle for control of the town and the surrounding area. All the way from 1914 to around about the summer of 1918, the battle raged until the Germans were finally driven back all along the Western Front back to Germany, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of lives to both sides.
And today was a day when they were to remember the fallen everywhere. Not just at Ypres, or the Somme or Verdun or just the Western Front, but in Gallipoli, Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and all the other places from where the war had engulfed nations into it.
Today was Remembrance Day, November 11th, exactly, the fifty eighth anniversary of the end of the war.
In Ypres, there was a large building situated just down the road from the enormous museum called Menin Gate. It was much like the Arc De Triumph in Paris, France, but not as tall and was more of a lighter cream/pale white-like colour. The road ran through the middle of it to the rest of the village on the other side of it. Two small pathways came off the middle of the road, one either side, and they led to a row of steps that led up to a wall with a kind of half circular cave in them from where many poppy wreaths and flowers, most with messages, all thanking the men for their sacrifice and hoping they would rest in peace. Another row of steps, either side of each of the walls led up to a kind of small field at the top from which people could reach the outer parts of the side of Menin Gate. From there, they could read, as they could in the interior walls and on the four large stone columns, two at each end of Menin Gate, the names of around fifty thousand men who were missing in action throughout the whole of the Ypres campaign.
Gathered inside the great monument, on the four pavements between the paths and roads and in the roads and pavements around the monument, a large crowd of several hundred people had gathered for the ceremony. It was a good day for it, despite it being the middle of November, usually the time of year when the weather begins to turn bad. The sun was shining in the mostly clear sky, but large clouds were dotted about around it. It was quite cold as well so most people had their coats and jackets on to keep them warm.
Suddenly, a deafening ring filled the air and at once, the crowd, which had been talking and chatting, went silent as if the noise of this area had been muted. The ring echoed on throughout the air, followed by another and then a final ring. As soon as the ringing stopped, everyone's attention focused on the four men, all in their forties/fifties, and were dressed in dark cream coloured trousers with black army vests on them. On their heads were army officer hats and in their hands they held a small trumpet.
Upon the end of the noise, the men raised the end of the trumpets to their lips and began to play a famous tune. The Last Post.
The noise seemed to fill the air inside and out of the Menin Gate as if the entire town was locked in some kind of vacuum. A feeling of peace seemed to descend onto the crowd as many listened and watched them, none of them making a sound. A few there were holding cameras to film this ceremony.
As the Last post reached the middle of the tune, it just seemed to make the place more poignant. Among the crowd, there were many people in their forties, early fifties. Many of them had been in war before, the Second World War and this ceremony was to remember their fallen brothers who had died in the liberation of Europe from the tide of evil that had engulfed Germany and, eventually, much of Europe. It was literally a fight between good and evil and in the end, with many sacrifices on both sides, the Allies, then made up Britain and It's Commonwealth, France, America, Russia, Poland, Holland, Belgium, Norway, Denmark, Czechoslovakia and many other countries in Europe that had fallen to the German onslaught during the war, had triumphed and defeated the Nazis.
For about a minute, the tune lasted until, with a final high pitched note, the men lowered the trumpets from their lips and stood at attention as if they were in front of an army commander. A middle aged Englishman of about forty five with a bald head and dressed in a kind of black and white robe emerged from the entrance to the stairs on the left side of Menin Gate and walked into the middle of the road, stopping there. He cleared his throat and began to speak to the crowd.
"Today, we honour the fallen men who had died in the service of their country to ensure that their families, friends and those within their country would have the freedom and rights they are entitled to today," he said. "Now, an orchestra group are going to perform a song version of the poem In Flanders Field written by John Alexander McCrae during the Great War in 1915,"
(Note: I do not own the poem In Flanders Field, it is rightfully owned by John McCrae. For those of you who do not know, John McCrae was a Canadian soldier who had served in the Great War in Ypres and had written the poem In Flanders Field in 1915 after witnessing the death of his friend. He lived through to 1918, but tragically died of pneumonia on January 28th of that year, so his poem in this story is dedicated to him.)
The man walked back into the path and a small group of about twenty people, all dressed in white and red robes, walked out of the path entrance on the right side of the monument and formed a small group in a half circular space roped off from the crowd. One of them was a small boy of about twelve. The rest were people in their late twenties/early thirties. In the roped off space were several books, each turned onto the page of the reciting of the poem, resting atop the small metal book holders, each one having a small microphone sticking out of the top of it and pointed towards them. The adults took up the space behind the boy, who was standing at the front, with two rows of four and then behind each of them a row of five. The last man, who was older, in his early forties and was holding an orchestra stick, stood in front of the group, raised his hands in front of him and began start the rhythm of the song. The young boy cleared his throat and began to sing.
"In Flanders Field, The Poppies blow,"
"Between the crosses, row on row,"
The song filled the air, seeming to silence everything else around Menin Gate as if it too was pausing to remember those who had died here so long ago in a war that was one of the bloodiest and most psychologically affecting in Human history. Several bowed their heads to remember them as the song continued.
"That mark our place, and in the sky,"
"The larks, still bravely singing, fly,"
"Scarce heard amid the guns below,"
When the boy finished the last line of the first verse of the poem, the rest of the orchestra behind him began to sing the second verse. By now, several people within the crowd were wiping their eyes with their hands or using their tissues they had brought with them.
"We are the Dead. Short days ago,"
"We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,"
"Loved and were loved, and now we lie,"
"In Flanders Field,"
The poignancy of the song seemed to stretch out in all directions. Many of the older people within the crowd had their eyes closed and were looking down towards the ground, taking the moment to remember their comrades, their friends, their brothers, their sons and their fathers who had fought in the Great War, the Second World War, Korea and all other wars since the end of the Great War. Not just from Britain, but from all the Allied countries since then.
The young boy at the front of the orchestra joined in with the rest as they began to sing the final verse of the poem.
"Take up our quarrel with the foe,"
"To you from failing hands, we throw,"
"The torch; be yours to hold it high,"
"If ye break faith with us who die,"
"We shall not sleep, though poppies grow,"
"In Flanders Field,"
Those who had died here, the Western Front and all over the world fighting against evil, including the Germans, who in the Great War had died for freedom of their country, they would never sleep, nor would ever be forgotten, even when the last man who had fought in the trenches passed on from this life.
As the orchestra finished, a round of applause suddenly broke out from the crowd and very quickly it had spread to those outside as well as inside. A perfect performance in remembrance to those who had died in the Great War.
When the applause died down, one of the elderly men, a man in his late seventies and was dressed in his army remembrance uniform, walked forward into the middle of the road and stopped and began to speak the Ode of Remembrance, a poem from 1914 published just after the battle on the mainland continent had begun.
"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old," he said. "Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them,"
"We will remember them," those four words repeated themselves throughout the crowd, knowing that they would never forget those who had died in service of their country in order to save it and their people from tyranny and evil from both sides.
Then, those with poppy wreaths began to, one at a time, walk towards the small cave-like holes in the sides of the walls at the tops of the steps and set down their wreaths, each one a gift of remembrance to those who had fallen.
One hour later
Tyne cot cemetery, outside Ypres, near Passchendaele
Tyne Cot cemetery is the largest British and Commonwealth cemetery in the world. Situated outside the town of Ypres and near the village of Passchendaele, it sits on the very ground where the fighting during the third Battle of Ypres had taken place. The name of the cemetery comes from the Northumberland Fusiliers as it had a resemblance between two German pillboxes, both of which can be seen within the cemetery, and the normal Tyneside cottages back in Britain.
Unveiled in 1927, the cemetery has a large half circular shaped wall at the back of it with two small square shaped buildings, with two large arch shaped doorways on them, one at each end of the circular shaped wall, and coming out of them was another, much smaller half circular shaped wall, though this time, the bends were facing towards the sides of the cemetery rather than towards the back of it. In front of it were many graves, a sea of graves, each one marking the place of rest from a fallen soldier. A large single grass path ran between them from the entrance to the cemetery to the large cross on top of a step plinth, on top of one of the German concrete pillboxes, in the middle of the cemetery and smaller grass paths led off from the sides and through the groups of graves, which were all placed in lines, some in half circular shapes further towards the back of the cemetery. Just a few meters behind the large cross on the pillbox was a large stone monument that looked like a giant grave with the words: Their name liveth forever more written on the sides. The entire place was surrounded by a stone wall with a kind of large gate at the front of the cemetery which did resemble the entrance to a castle. The total number of graves in the cemetery was about twelve and a half thousand, a mixture of British, Australian, Canadian, Indian, South African and New Zealander. Along the walls at the back of the cemetery were the names of around thirty five thousands others who were missing in action or had died during the third Battle of Ypres, especially in the taking of Passchendaele, but had no known grave. The main road from Ypres ran past the cemetery and a smaller road led off it pass the entrance towards a few buildings just outside it and next to them was a car park.
The cemetery was mostly quiet, apart from a few tens of people scattered about in the cemetery. Some were going along reading the names of the graves; others were walking about and taking pictures of the vast place. On the stone steps around the grave, only about two as they were very big ones, were several poppy wreaths laid by some of the people in the cemetery.
A few more people were arriving from the remembrance ceremony in Ypres now. Among them was a group of four people. One of them was an old man of about 79 and was dressed in grey trousers, a white top and a brown jacket with black shoes on. His hair was grey and thinning in some places and he had a small scar under his chin and blue eyes. Next to him was his wife. She was dressed in a cream skirt with a kind of multi-coloured shirt underneath and a kind of dark cream coloured coat. Her hair was grey and quite straight and she had blue eyes that were lighter than they had been a long time ago. With them were two younger people in their late thirties, a man and a woman. The man was about thirty nine and was dressed in blue jeans with purple top, black shoes and a black jacket over him. He had brown hair and blue eyes. The woman was about thirty five with light blonde hair, blue eyes and a pretty face. She was wearing blue jeans, a kind of light purple coloured top and small white slip on shoes. Their children were back in Ypres with the mother's sister, sightseeing around the town.
As the four made their way up the grass path, a feeling of peace overwhelmed them. That was usually the feeling people got when they entered a cemetery, especially if it was one on this size and was dedicated to men that were decades younger, many only in their early twenties, some not even that. It was a very poignant place to be.
The old man gazed around the graveyard, taking in the scenery of what had once been a former war torn landscape. He knew it because he had witnessed it before. All of the mud and the trenches zigzagging across the land with large shell holes and dead bodies and devastation of villages and farmhouses and such. All of it he remembered very well.
As they reached the end of the path, the old man turned off left down a smaller grass path that went past another line of graves. His wife and his son and his wife stopped and watched him go. He stopped in front of a grave and looked down at it, reading what was on it.
Hal Aston Burtt Age 19
September 30th, 1917
Below the writing at the top of the grave was a large cross engraved into the grave. At the bottom of the grave were two more lines of writing.
Died in the service of his country.
Rest in Peace
Upon reading it, the old man collapsed onto his knees and began to sob. His wife rushed over to him, the son and his wife bringing up the rear.
"Dad," the son said as they reached him.
His wife rested a hand on his shoulder to comfort him.
"Is he going to be okay?" the son's wife asked.
The old woman nodded. "He'll be fine," she replied. "I'll talk to him,"
The son nodded. "C'mon, Bethany," he said. "Let's leave them alone," and they walked away back up the path, looking over their shoulders back at him with concerned looks.
The wife knelt down on the ground next to her husband, gently patting his shoulder to comfort him. The husband knew this person whose grave he was sobbing over very well.
It was his brother. He was Wallace Burtt. His wife was Evelyn Knight.
"Wallace," she said softly.
He lifted his head up and sniffed loudly, wiping his eyes clear of his tears.
"I'm sorry," he said.
"You don't need to be," she replied. "He's your brother,"
"I just wish he was still here with me,"
Eve lowered her hand onto his, gently placing her fingers between his. "I'm sure he is,"
Wally gave little nod and looked at the grave again. He still remembered when he had close to death. When he had been shot on the Somme all those years ago. He been really lucky. The bullet on the side was not very serious as it did not penetrate very far and the one that had struck him in the chest had somehow gone right between his heart and his lung by inches. It was lucky, very lucky. It took him a long time to recover and when he had done, he was sent home to England to work in the agricultural part of the army to help Britain eradicate It's food shortage problem caused by German U-boats sinking ships bringing in food from the Commonwealth territories. It was during this time he learned time that Hal had died and it was one of the last times he went home again, him and his parents absolutely devastated by him dying.
When the end of the war finally came, he reunited with Eve in her home village and stayed there with her and her mother to help them, learning how to speak French as he did. As for his parents, he did keep in touch with them, but he barely went back home, thinking it was too painful for him to go back there after what had happened on his convalescent leave. He just felt it was best not to go back. And for Moe and Hans, he did meet up with them again not long after the end of the Second World War during a coach trip. Both were married and had children of their own. They had all lived through what was perhaps the most dangerous parts of their lives, but thousands, no…millions more…they had not.
After the end of the war, the rise of the Nazis in Germany did strike fear into them for what they were doing and they did have a feeling that war would eventually be coming back to Europe. This had led them to flee back to Britain, and it was just in time because two years after, Nazi Germany invaded and took over France, along with Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg. They spent the last five years in Britain, during which both of Wally's parents had died. They remained in the country until Hitler and his Third Reich were defeated and they returned home and raised their son from there and well that was it. They have lived the last thirty odd years here with happy and sometimes hard parts in their lives but they had coped.
Wally, however, had never forgotten his friends. Robert, Aiden, William, who he learned had died of his wounds in hospital, or Adam. He always remembered them, especially his brother. He and him had gone into this together. If only they could have left it together.
He always did wonder a lot after the Great War if their sacrifice had been worth. If the between ten to sixteen million lives killed during the war had been worth it. For a very long time, he thought no, it had not been worth it, even when the Second World War had come, he had still not changed that even though Britain had not wanted to go to war in 1939 like they had done in 1914. They were forced to go into the Second World War. It was only by luck, courage and the fact that for almost a year they were the only thing standing between Hitler and him achieving his dreams of world domination that they had held out until Russia and eventually America, who had also joined the Great War in 1917, just after Russia had withdrawn because of a revolution that overthrew the Tsar, had joined that Europe was freed and Nazi Germany was defeated. He still kept to believing that World War One had not been worth it until when he had come here on that coach trip with Hans and Moe and other veterans. It was then he had learned that even though the Cold War was heating up around them and the threat of nuclear annihilation was forever looming over the world, and still was today but had simmered down much by now, that he had realised that their sacrifice had been worth it.
It had been worth it because they had showed everyone that war was not a lovely little game or a glorious adventure as it had been portrayed in 1914. It was a meaningless slaughter of people fighting people, people of the same race as them, just with different cultures and languages and ways of life. They were still people and in the Great War, they had all been fighting for freedom. All of the soldiers from Britain and It's Commonwealth, France and It's colonies, Russia, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy, the Ottoman Empire, Serbia, America, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece…all of them had been fighting to ensure the freedom of others.
After a moment, Wally stood up, looking down at his brother's grave. Eve stood up with him.
"I just wish he could have come home, Eve," he said. "He did not deserve this,"
"No one in the war did, Wally," she replied. She looked around them to see the sun shining brightly down onto the cemetery. This place had been made on the blood of soldiers from both sides. Today, they were going to be with their future loved ones. She was certain Hal with them now.
After a few moments, Eve placed her other below his hand from which she was holding.
"I'll leave you with him for a moment," she said quietly, kissing his hand and walking away back down the path to meet up with her son and his wife, leaving Wally alone.
For a moment, Wally just looked down at the grave of his brother, thinking of all their past memories. Then, he stood at attention and gave a salute to him, honouring him as a fallen hero in an inhuman war.
"Take care of yourself, Hal," he said, lowering his hand. "I'll see you soon one day. Say hello to mother and father for me," and he turned and walked back up the path, looking up at the large cross atop the concrete pillbox in the middle of the cemetery.
His brother and his friends, along with everyone else who had died in the war. All of them were gone, but they would never be forgotten.
.Wallace Burtt lived on with his wife Evelyn Knight and his son Harry in Ruesnes, France. He barely spoke of the war to anyone, apart from between him and his wife and those he had met on the coach trip to France. He died in 1992 at the age of ninety five. He was awarded the British War Medal at his funeral.
.Evelyn Knight lived happily with Wallace Burtt and her son in Ruesnes. She comforted him after the death of his parents and he returned the favour when her mother died in 1956. She gave birth to their son in 1937 in Britain just before they fled to Britain to escape France before it was invaded. She died in 1994 at the age of ninety seven.
.Moe Harrison went to continue working as a carpenter in London after the end of the Great War. He married his wife, Elisa, in 1932 and they had two children, a daughter born in 1936 and a son born in 1945. He died in 1989 at the age of ninety three.
.Hans Gibbs joined the merchant navy after the Great War. Whilst on a trip to Canada, he met Michelle, who he later married in 1928. They had one child, a daughter named Jessica, born in 1934. He died in 1992 at the age of ninety four.
.After the injury of his brother, Hal Aston Burtt went on convalescent leave to see him and his parents in early 1917. He did not know of the argument between Wally and his parents. On September 30thof that year, he was shot dead by a German sniper whilst advancing across No Man's Land during a trench attack.
First of all, I would like to thank everyone who had read this story since It's beginning almost a year ago now. It has been a very tiring work, but in the end worth it.
Secondly, many of you may wonder how I was inspired to write this Fanfic. Well, in October of last year, me and my dad had gone to Ypres to visit the many cemeteries and Menin Gate to watch the ceremony held there every night at eight o'clock. I found it to be an amazing trip, probably the best I have ever been on, and we had visited Tyne Cot and I found the experience very moving at actually knowing that for a village much smaller back in 1917 than it is now, and also one that was literally blown to pieces by the fighting, thousands of men had died in trying to claim it. If anyone does plan on going to the trenches, I would recommend it for it will be worth it.
My third and final note is that I would like to personally dedicate this Fanfic to all soldiers that were lost in WW1, WW2, Korea and all other wars since then for were it not for their sacrifice, we would not have the freedom and rights we are entitled to today. Also, this is to be dedicated who have and still are fighting for the freedom of others today.