In the centenary year of the start of the First World War, a group of people from Quedgeley have made a pilgrimage to Dunkirk and Ypres to pay their respects to the fallen from both World Wars. Here Steve Smith, from the Quedgeley-based charity, Help if we Can, shares his diary.
The pilgrimage to Dunkirk and Ypres saw visits to many sites which attracted many others from all across Europe as well.
First stop was at the Beaches of Dunkirk where Susan Lugger from Tuffley laid a wreath on the Allies Memorial. Her father, serving with the Gloucestershire Regiment was one of those lucky enough to be taken off the beaches by the Royal Navy in the First World War.
Then on to Belgium where a wreath was laid by Steve Smith on the grave of Captain Noel Chevasse, the only soldier ever to be awarded two Victoria crosses as well as the Military Cross for his work in rescuing and treating injured soldiers from the battlefield whilst under constant fire. On to the Messines Ridge where the New Zealand cemetery was visited and which also has the church where Adolf Hitler was treated for injuries he received during the Great War. Staying at the Peace Village in the town of Messines visits were made to the Hill 62 Museum and the Canadian Memorial. The Gloucestershire Regiment Memorial at Hooge (where our piper played a lament and poppies were laid) and Tyne Cot Cemetery, the largest British Military cemetery. Here laments were played and wreaths laid.
At the Menin Gate ceremony, over 5,000 people gathered in the presence of HM The King of Belgium. Colours and Standards were paraded and the highlight was the laying of wreaths by the King and also for Severn Vale School in Quedgeley by Alexandra Kear, the Quedgeley Youth Parish Council by Amy Oram and for the Navy Training Corps by Maisie King, Ellis Gazzard and Matthew Sunderland. Alexandra and Amy were in school uniform and the cadets in their uniform.
The King stood with them whilst the Last Post and Reveille were sounded and during the wreath laying a choir of 60 sang and finished with the British National Anthem. Other wreaths were laid on behalf of Quedgeley Parish Council, the Fire Service, former members of the Gloucestershire Ambulance Service as well as current serving staff with the South West Ambulance Service as well as many others.
On the way home a visit was made to Ploegsteert, known to the British Army in World War 1 as Hyde Park Corner. Here Alexandra Kear (aged 14 years) said the Act of Homage and Maisie King laid a wreath for the Navy Training Corps on the grave of 14-year-old John Condon believed to have been the youngest soldier in the uniform of the British to be killed in World War 1. After the short Act, young people scattered poppy leaves on many of the graves in the cemetery.
Many people, especially at the Menin Gate and Ploegsteert came up to say how marvellous the youngsters had been, credit indeed on their schools and organisation.