During the war, my great grandfather Arthur Baynes was a Lance Corporal with the Royal Engineers Regiment, fighting in the trenches near Ypres. Arthur was near the town's cathederal when it was hit by a shell. The next day he walked into it and found the wrecked organ's ivory and ebony keys scattered about. Being a practical chap, though apparently not a terribly God-fearing one, he collected the keys and some fragments of the oak confessional box. A cabinet maker by trade, he used a penknife to carve the wood into a trinket box for his wife and inlaid it with some of the ebony and ivory. He took the rest of his war spoils home and used to beautify tables and other furniture. My aunt now has the trinket box.
My great grandfather, Arthur Baynes. They say he was a bit of a devil.
So when Lauren and I went to Ypres, I was pretty keen to track down the place my ancestor pillaged. Trouble was, I mistook the cathederal for the town hall, so we ended up at another church. As this one had also been destroyed during the war and in any case, we are not exactly sure if it really was the cathederal that curious Arthur had pillaged, we grabbed a snap of it.
Then, as we hurried off to a chocolate shop, I realised where the cathederal was, and took a slight detour.
Imagine walking into this after it had been shelled.
The land around Ypres is much like it was before WW1; low hills covered in fields and patches of trees. It's a pretty place and, like Gallipoli, is strange to think that this was the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting ever. We got an idea of what it would have looked like at an excellent museum, which was crammed with photographs, slides, uniforms and the various shells, weapons, helmets and other paraphenalia the locals had dug up over the years. They had also kept a section of trench-crossed, shell-cratered battlefield intact.
There were four major battles here during the war. In just the third battle, which is also known as Passchendale, about half a million men were killed. Half a million.
Among the dead were 3,596 New Zealanders - making Passchendale the deadliest battle in our history. Many of them are buried at Tyne Cot Cemetary, the largest Commonwealth war graveyard. Tyne Cot also contains the Memorial to the Missing - the soldiers whose bodies were lost in the mud. There are nearly 35,000 names on it, 1,176 of them New Zealanders.