Ypres: The Menin Gate

It is a somber place, the Ypres Salient, where so many young men perished between 1914 and 1918. I have begun a series of hikes around the many battlefields, following Paul Reed’s excellent guide: “Walking Ypres”. However, my exploration of the Ypres Salient rightly begins at the Menin Gate, a memorial to the British and Commonwealth soldiers missing from the beginning of the war until 15 August 1917. It was then that 55,000 names of missing men had been reached and additional names would be recorded on other memorials around the Salient. However, for the missing from Commonwealth countries: Australia, Canada, and South Africa, all their missing from the Ypres Salient are recorded at the Menin Gate. The memorial was built in the 1920s and unveiled in July of 1927. At the unveiling of the monument, Field Marshal Herbert Plumer, 1st Viscount Plumer, who had led forces in the Salient during the war, most notably at Messines Ridge, famously said of those with no graves: “They are not missing, they are here.”

Originally, the gate was an opening in the 17th Century walls built by Vauban which led from the medieval market town of Ypres to the town of Menin some miles away to the east. During the war, the opening in the walls led to the front, and as the war progressed, hundreds of thousands of men would pass from the town through the destroyed portal to the trenches and dugouts which surrounded the tenuous British position in the salient. Ypres itself came under increased German shelling throughout the war and was almost completely destroyed by the armistice in 1918. Soldiers passing from Ypres through the ruined walls to the trenches were said to joke: “tell the last man through to bolt the Menin Gate.”

Beginning in July 1928, only interrupted during the German occupation during the Second World War, the Last Post Buglers’ Association has played the Last Post at 8 pm each evening under the arch of the Menin Gate. In fact, as Ypres was liberated by Polish forces in the Second World War, the ceremony was bravely resumed by local firefighters while fighting continued in the town. It is a moving ceremony and a credit to the Belgian allies of Great Britain, the citizens of Ypres, who have maintained this somber tradition for almost a hundred years. Each night, traffic is stopped and visitors stand silently as the buglers play in unison the Last Post, which echoes under the gate and among the 55,000 names of the missing. It is fitting to feel overcome by a sense of loss and tragedy at such a moment.

For more information on the Last Post Buglers’ Association, or to schedule a wreath laying at the Menin Gate, visit their website: https://www.lastpost.be/en/ceremonies/participation

Cambridge Military History – in Belgium!

Dear reader,

It has been a while since my last historical research posting, as you have surely seen! The reason is simple, after many years of living in Cambridgeshire, England, we have relocated to Belgium.  As any reader of history knows, Belgium’s short history from independence in 1830 through the World Wars and the Cold War, and for millenia before that, has been one of battles and warfare.  From Waterloo to Ypres, there is much to explore and write about here on the continent!  My historical explorations have already begun!

I don’t intend to change the name of the project, http://www.cambridgemilitaryhistory.com will continue as is so as not to lose the many readers and friends I’ve made via this site.  I’ll continue as before and look forward to sharing my research and experiences here in Belgium with you, and certainly there will be a connection to the United Kingdom throughout my future writings!

-BW

Historical Photos from the 303rd Bomb Group (H)

An amazing thing recently happened.  A friend of mine, stationed at RAF Molesworth, the old airbase of the 303rd Bomb Group (H) in the western part of Cambridgeshire, came by my office.  He brought me a box of old photographs – all photos from airmen and officers of the 303rd, part of U.S. 8th Air Force, taken during the Second World War at RAF Molesworth.  He asked if I wanted them.  Of course! I was amazed.  They are wonderful historical records.  On top of the stack of photos – there must be 70 – there was a handwritten note, which read: “Dupes of WWII photos donated by Malcolm Magid, plus copies from old JAC XO, CAPT Mewbourne.” This note tells me quite a few things, namely the photos were in the posession of the Joint Analysis Centre (JAC) Executive Officer (XO), who was a naval officer (the acronym CAPT is only used for a U.S. Navy Captain, the other branches of the U.S. military use different acronyms: Capt., CPT, or Capt).  The JAC command has only been at Molesworth since 1990 – so that gives some idea of the timeline of the photos ownership.

More importantly, Mr. Malcolm James Magid was a B-17 copilot who survived the war and passed away in Atlanta, Georgia on 16 May 2012 at the age of 88.  He was stationed at RAF Molesworth and flew 35 missions over Germany during the War.  He was highly decorated, even being made a Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur by the President of France for his aid in the Republic’s liberation. 

2LT Magid

2LT Malcolm Magid Service Photo, thanks to the 303rd BG(H) Historical Society

For the photos themselves, I asked myself what to do?  First, I thought I will scan them in and post them here as a record of the brave men who served at RAF Molesworth, and in honor of Mr. Magid.  Secondly, I will attempt to find Mr. Magid’s family (an obituary published in a local paper lists his descendants) and see if they would like these photos returned.  If that effort is unsuccessful, I will contact the U.S. Air Force Historical Society and the 303rd Bomb Group Historical Society to see if the photos can be added to their collections.  More to follow.

For now, please enjoy these photographs.  I think you may feel as I do that these men are all so very young…

2LT Magid

This appears to be 2LT Malcolm Magid standing infront of a B-17 undergoing maintenance.

Air crew in front of B-17

B-17 Crew in front of aircraft.  I am (moderately) confident that 2LT Magid is kneeling in the front row on the far left, wearing the peaked cap. The officer in the front row, third from left, is striking in how young he looks.

B-17 Cockpit

B-17 Cockpit.

B-17 Wheels Up Landing

Photo of a B-17 after making a wheels-up landing (the aircraft is in remarkable shape).

Hell's Angels Board with Colonel

Written on the negative is “COL. Heller… [illegible]” Colonel Heller was the 360th  Squadron Commanding Officer, a subordinate unit to the 303rd Bomb Group (H).

Inside the Nissen Hut

Inside a Nissen Hut.  Of note: under the cot are flying boots, uniform dress shoes, and tassled loafers.  The airman in the background is playing solitaire.