Bloody Hooge Crater!
Let me take you back to Belgium and continue the story of my pilgrimage. We were up bright and early, well before they finished serving breakfast anyway, and hit the road. Again, out of the kindness of my heart, I offered to drive but was met with a perfectly synchronised chorus: “NO!” Ah, suit youselves.
We left Ieper and I must admit I was sorry to leave. It’s a nice little town and the people are friendly, I could live there and be quite a happy little chap. We journeyed through unremarkable countryside that had once been churned to mud and pockmarked with shell holes, scarred with barbed wire and soaked with the blood of so many; it was hard to picture the scene on that morning with the sun sitting so warm in a clear blue sky.
We were heading for the aptly named Hooge Crater, a First World War museum and cemetery. I said that after they took the top off the Messines Ridge they should have called it the bloody hooge crater. Afterall, with the amount of explosives they used the crater would be BLOODY HUGE! The museum is something you must see if you visit the area. There are exhibits showing life in the trenches, weapons, uniforms and other memorabilia and film footage shot at the time. I couldn’t help thinking about how easy life is for us now, how would I have coped without a warm bed and a tv? How would I have coped with not having my home comforts, sitting shivering in a muddy trench with my clothes and feet soaking wet?
There was a soundtrack playing in the background, old songs from that era. Suddenly one came on that I recognised: some bloke singing “Keep right on to the end of the road,” a song that has been adopted by the supporters of a certain football club located just a couple of miles away from my team. That was it, I turned to my uncle who had heard it and was already chuckling, expecting me to react: “I’m off, is there anywhere I can go without them lot getting on my sodding nerves with their stupid song?” Fortunately I had reached the end of the museum tour and the exit door was there, I left in a huff.
“What’s wrong with him?” My sister asked.
“What isn’t?” replied my uncle.
Outside the museum was the biggest shell I have ever seen, which is not difficult really because I haven’t seen many, but you will see it’s scale in the photo above, stood next to the distinguished looking gentleman who has the misfortune of being my uncle, although he maintains… “it could have been worse, I could have been your aunt.” We sat and had some lunch on the terrace of the museum’s cafe, before heading across the road to the cemetery there. After that we bundled back into the car and set off into the wilds of Belgium heading for Tyne Cot, alas another story for another day.