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AXMINSTER: Legion visits battlefield for First World War centenary

Thursday, 12 June 2014

MEMBERS?of the Axminster branch of the Royal British Legion Women's Section stood in silence to remember former members, Jean Smith and Janet Harris, who passed away at their recent meeting. During the business section, the chairman reminded members that this year's garden party would take place on Friday, July 11th and members from other branches had been invited to attend, together with the Phoenix Ladies Club. The chairman related the recent Royal British Legion Devon County trip to the Battlefields of the First World War and showed photographs of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemeteries visited around Ypres (Passchendaele), Loos and Arras in Northern France. For many members, this was a first trip to the battlefields and dressing stations in Ypres Salient; the sheer number of soldiers killed was very difficult to comprehend with many remaining undiscovered whilst others are buried in graves alongside their comrades. Gertrude Jekyll designed the flowers in front and behind the graves planted with roses and other flowers which can be found in English churchyards. The youngest was a 15-year-boy called Jack Strudwick, buried at Essex Farm Cemetery, where Canadian John McRae, soldier and surgeon, wrote the epic poem “In Flanders Fields”. Poignantly, members heard skylarks singing overhead whilst they reflected on the terrible carnage and appalling loss of life experienced by so many. In this area alone there are 176 cemeteries and, contrary to popular conception, 56 Generals died in the Great War, along with vast numbers of officers and thousands of soldiers. More than three million horses also lost their lives in the conflict and those who survived were often shot or left behind. Later that evening, at the Menin Gate Ceremony which has takes place every day of the year, two standard bearers from Devon County dipped their standards during the Last Post and Devon county bugler Derek Payne laid a poppy wreath in memory of the Devonshire Regiment casualties. A Service of Remembrance was also held by the Axminster party the following day at Dud Corner, near the Loos Battlefield, in front of the Devonshire Memorial Wall and a further tribute laid. The group also visited Vimy Ridge and saw the massive Canadian Memorial to 60,000 Canadians killed during the conflict. Undetonated bombs still litter the woods and craters nearby, and during a violent thunder and hail storm members were evacuated for their own safety. The next meeting will be held on Friday, June 13th when a speaker from the Red Cross will be talking to members. Visitors and new members also welcome.

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