6th November 2013: Wandering in a Flanders Field

Melanie Gibson-Baton was Wye Historical Society's second speaker of the season. She lectured a sizable audience at the Society's November meeting on the subject of 'Wandering in a Flanders Field'. Mrs Gibson-Baton, having lived for a while in Bruges, has personal knowledge of many of the sites and towns connected with different phases of World War 1. She explained that her interest was initially aroused when she set about looking for the grave of her great uncle whom she finally found buried in Essex Farm cemetery. Tracing the beginnings of WW1 Mrs Gibson-Baton went on to describe the critical position of Belgium particularly in the early months of the war as the German advance towards Calais was checked when the sluices of the River Yser were opened and a large area of land was flooded.

The lecture continued on a topic by topic basis, providing glimpses of different aspects of warfare (such as the system of trenches and bunkers and the use of mines), the contribution of distinguished airmen of different nationalities, down to the role dogs played as carriers of messages. Also featured were some of the towns (e.g., Ypres) that suffered, a number of famous battlefields, some of the monuments that were erected to memorialise events, and the Menin Gate. Other topics included were a British, French and German cemeteries, TocH, the rebuilding of Flanders, the little known contribution of the Chinese (a proportion of whom stayed on in Belgium after the war) and Hitler's war record. The lecture was richly illustrated throughout with photos dating to the war years as well as with recent photos taken by the lecturer, and by the work of artists who painted, in particular, the ruined and desolate landscape of the battlefields.

All in all Mrs Gibson-Baton's easy lecturing style, her copious illustrations and the fascination of her subject matter captured the attention of her audience throughout and made for an extremely interesting evening.

Jenny Oram