Dennis Bater visits the Western Front
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Dennis Bater's Visit to the WWI Western Front

Dennis Bater (shown right) writes: After returning from a very interesting and moving visit to the Western front, Carolyn and I were asked to give a talk to the Hatherleigh lady's British Legion on our visit.

It (the war) all happened just across the Channel from Dover but in talking it all soon comes back to our area where so many of our young men at the beginning of the 20th century lost their lives. Many came from Hatherleigh and the surrounding villages, Northlew being the village that lost the highest percentage of its young men in the country. Only in the last 10 to 15 years has a monument been placed there to commemorate them.

Unfortunately we did not visit the 'Devon's' cemetery but I have got hold of some information while there from a handout. Here are three pictures - the first is the entrance to their cemetery, the second is of the cemetery itself and the thrid shows its location near Mametz.



Hellfire Corner 1916

After the talk I was told by two ladies (Olive Reynolds and Silvia Smith) that their fathers' service had involved passing Hellfire Corner at times during the war. ''Why the rush?'' The reason was this was one of the most dangerous points on the Western Front as German artillery was trained on this cross roads not far from Sanctuary Wood. Silvia told me some of her father's tales. One was about a lady in the area who befriended the troops and was helping. It was soon discovered that she was an informer and was signalling to the enemy when troops were moving in the area. We won't ask what punishment was carried out! Our pictures below show the crossroads in 1916 (left) and the scene today (right).


Christmas Truce

There are so many stories. We were taken to the site of the famous Christmas truce. This lasted for almost a week, not just for one day as is mostly believed. During the truce an agreement was made to bury the dead as there were many in the area. After intervention from the top, the truce was stopped and fighting resumed and those that shook hands earlier went back to the business of making even more dead (such stupidity!)


The Menin Gate

This has to be seen! It lies at the north eastern exit from Ypres in Belgium and 70,000 names of soldiers whose bodies have never been found are listed on its walls. A 'Last Post' ceremony takes place here every day - even on Christmas Day - and has done so since 1920 (except for the duration of WW2. YouTube has many videos of it. Again, it's so moving ...and the ultimate Last Post! One lady form the Scottish Borders told me she was only attending to keep her husband company, but a few weeks ago her sixteen year old grand daughter had attended and said she saw Nan overcome by it. Many visitors are children.



Many of the headstones in cemeteries have small stones placed on them, or some memento left in front. I found I had a stone still in my Camera bag from our recent visit to Perth Australia. I was going to take it back for the collection I have at home. It then it struck me to leave it here, where there are so many Australian troops lying. In the picture you see Carolyn leaving it on a headstone marked 'a Soldier from Australia' with no known name and 'known only unto God'.


And finally ... Sanctuary Wood Cemetery.
Hellfire Corner and the Menin Road - mentioned above - are in the distance.

All photos supplied by Dennis Bater.

Dennis Bater has written a book of his busy and eventful life and career as a fireman, councillor,
fish and chip man, postman and various other occupations.
It includes many anecdotes about Hatherleigh, its residents and surroundings. FIND OUT MORE HERE


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