Unbelievably still only on the first day of our continental adventure the B.E.F. (Bilston Expeditionary Friends) finally set of towards Ypres with little hope of catching the Mennin Gate ceremony at 2000hrs as it was already 1930hrs and not even Mr. Morris drives that fast.
We found our way in fairly easy but must have missed a turn because it was only after we had parked up and started hoofing it that we realised we had missed the directions given to us by Charlotte at about 78 r.p.m. At least Annette and Andrew had remembered the name of the restaurant and we new it was near the "Wool Hall" (think that's what it was called) the main cathedral like building in the centre. I had of course slipped into semi shutdown mode while Charlotte was giving directions. Well what's the point of going with somebody else if you have to pay attention all the time?
Anyway there was a rather sad attempt at a carnival going on in the town square(Note: for real street party see Berlin 2002 days 1 & 2, Reichstrasse) but even at about 2015hrs it seemed almost a memory of what might have been. Nevertheless, we saw the restaurant (damned if I can remember the name) and went over and gave the secret code greeting(Charlotte's baps are big and round, but we do not knead them tonight) as arranged between Charlotte and the proprietor to indicate we were her guests and would like a free drink with our meal.
The food was pretty good for Johnny foreigner stuff and to my surprise even Adam got stuck in without moaning. The free drink I thought was a bit of a let down, too girlie for me, like a watery Sherry but both Andrew and Annette liked it. I got some beer down my neck and we recharged our batteries before a walk about the square and reccy of the Mennin Gate before returning to the farm for another beer and bedtime.
I have to say Charlotte's selection of beer was pretty damn good even if on the heavy side. There was nothing under 6% which appeared to faze Andrew who it would seem prefers watered down gnats piss served by buxom wenches at extraordinary prices. We all managed to down a couple before fatigue got the better of us and we eventually went of to bed with some sort of schedule for tomorrow worked out.
At this point I'd like to break the narrative for a moment to comment on how clear the objectives of our visit to the Passchendale front were in Andrew's head. I had half listened to him saying he wanted to try and trace his grandfathers "footprints" and that he knew he had been in the area. What only became clear on our arrival was that as a sign of defiance, that I wholeheartedly support, his grandfather and other ex-servicemen had pelted the mayor of Wolverhampton (during the Great Depression)with their medals as a sign of their disgust at the treatment they received on their return to Blighty. Not only that but he had then burned all his papers, paybook etc. relating to his service in the Great War.
This meant of course that he became an "invisible" soldier, no regimental number to guide us but only Andrew's remembered bits of conversation with his granddad, as he like so many other veterans did not like to discuss the war. With great tenacity and a good deal of reasearch Andrew managed to piece together the most likely areas that his grandfather had visited and I for one am convinced we follwed in those footprints(maybe it should be footsteps but you hear those not see them) for at least part of the way if not over large areas where he served. Full marks Andrew.
So before we move on to day two, apptly titled "Charlotte's Baps", just a quick mention that i slept well but Annette found the bed a little hard on the back. Being a proper gentleman I sugested she lie on top of me to get more comfortable but sudenly the bed was not so bad after all!!!