I have just returned from one of the most special experiences of my life. I have literally trodden in the footsteps of my grandfather who was an officer during WW1 and visited the site where he won his medal 100 years ago on 20 October 1918.
I never knew my grandfather as I was only a toddler when he died in the 1970s, so sadly I have no memory of him. I learnt a few years ago from my aunt that he had received a military cross for bravery during WW1. At the time a distinction was made between bravery acts of the everyday soldiers such as privates who won a military medal and those of officer class (many were public school boys) who won the MC.
Jack was born John Morton Scott Jupp on 17 October 1897 and so he was underage at only 17 years old when he joined up on 26 March 1915. Initially he was part of the Artists Rifles where he would have received training to be an Officer. He was stationed in England at the start of the war but was transferred to the 2/10th Manchester Regiment (42nd East Lancashire Division) and was sent over to France in the early Spring of 1917.
One of Jacks first requests from his family was for a diary and he started keeping it in March 1917. It’s a very brief diary with little great emotion or detail but it was a great starting point for me to have some research done on Jack to find out more about his time in the army.
We set sail for Dunkirk, France on 18 October 2018. I had butterflies in my stomach as I saw the white cliffs of Dover receding behind me. I wondered how he must have felt. Was he worried about the submarines below him or the battles yet to come? After we arrived in Dunkirk we travelled across the border into Belgium to visit the grave of a man that my grandfather had mentioned in his diary, Sergeant G Archbold. On the 9 September 1918, he had tried to swim across the Yser Canal from the British side to the end of the Jetty on the German side to attach the Union Jack Flag. Sadly he failed and was swept away. He was found a few days later and buried at Ramscapelle military cemetery. A report of the incident was made in some papers at the time. If you believe in such things, please say a prayer for his soul for me and all the other brave members of the Manchester Regiment who died here. We found his grave and paid our respects, then moved onto the canal where it happened. This was basically the northern most point of the western front and the canal was ‘No mans Land’. My grandfather had also mentioned a plane that had come down at the end of the jetty, from which a machine gun was retrieved. In an original photo taken at the time, the wooden base of this jetty is very clear. Today, many new flats and shops have been built near the spot but it’s still very recognisable from the photos , Nowadays however it is full of people undertaking more peaceable pursuits such as fishing & sailing.
We then moved on to Bray Dunes where Jack had some R & R with his friends. Bray dunes is many hectares wide and I had no way of knowing exactly where he had stood but it was amazing to stand in the same area a 100 years on. I knew he had been here as it’s recorded in his own diary that he was billeted near here and in the battalion war diary. A photo also exists of Jack and some of his officer friends, obviously enjoying some R & R as there is a beer bottle in the photo and they all look very relaxed. I only wish I knew who the other officers were. Jack is on the far left of the photo.
The next day we made our way down towards Cambrai in France, via some of the villages that Jack had stopped in. They were nice to visit but gave very little feel for the war so we decided to visit some of the WW1 museums in the area. We found a fantastic little museum in Bullecourt. A local farming couple had dug up many items on their land over the years and donated their finds and the museum for future generations to see after they had died. There was even the remains of a WW1 tank. Next we went on to the Wellington Tunnels in Arras, a fascinating piece of history. Originally they were Roman and medieval quarries which had been expanded by the allies, particularly the New Zealanders to create an underground complex with the intent of surprising the enemy. We had Tommy shaped safety helmets to wear and descended down into the tunnels. We had an amazing young guide who flipped constantly between French & English and explained the history of the tunnels showing the many marks left behind. Just as in the trenches many tunnels were named after places back home to make it easier to find ones way around. The intention was to blow open the tunnels and launch a surprise attack of 24,000 men against the Germans with a diversion happening further down the line. It worked too but sadly the troops received no back up and they were told to wait a day which gave time for the Germans to reinforce. One has to wonder why.