Dead Wake by Erik Larson

Dead Wake by Erik Larson was published back in 2015 and it’s subtitled The Last Crossing of The Lusitania. It’s a great read with the chapters swinging between what was going on on The Lusitania during the last voyage, so that the reader gets to know some of the actual passengers and crew, and the experiences of the crew of U-20 the submarine which torpedoed the ship.

But first we’re told about what was going on in the life of the American President Woodrow Wilson the year before. He had just lost his wife and was thrown into a bit of a depression, but just a few months later he met Edith and was more than somewhat bowled over by her. Throughout this time the US carefully preserved its neutrality, despite many American travellers being caught up in German attacks on ships.

Having ‘done’ World War 1 at school I had been under the impression that it was the sinking of The Lusitania which had brought the Americans into the war, I can’t have been thinking because obviously it was in 1917, two years after the sinking that the US entered the war. I suspect there was much gnashing of teeth among the allies at the attitude of the American President, but it seems that he was busy trying to get Edith to marry him!

Given the lack of care that the ship was given when it entered the more dangerous Irish Sea as it steamed towards its destination of Liverpool, it looks like The Lusitania with its many American citizens on board was being used as a tool to galvanise the President into action – it didn’t work.

There’s also a lot about the movement of U-20 and its Commander Schwieger. I don’t think that life on modern submarines is very different from the WW1 subs, with the lack of space and recycled air, but it is interesting to read of all the movements of U-20, of course they were all logged.

This book is well written and researched and I really felt that I got to know some of the people involved, including the many who had drowned. The author mentions the poem written by “a Canadian physician caring for the wounded at a nearby aid station in Boezinge”. It’s a pity that he didn’t give him a name-check. He was John McCrae, obviously of Scottish descent, you can read his poem In Flanders Fields here.

Lest We Forget – Armistice Day

For Armistice Day this year I thought you might be interested to read the blogpost that Jack @ A Son of the Rock wrote about our visit to Essex Farm, Ypres, Flanders a few years ago. This was where Lt Col John McCrae wrote the poem In Flanders Fields.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae

Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres (Ieper,) Flanders

Essex Farm Cemetery is located on the banks of the Ypres-Yser canal by the site of the Advanced Dressing Station where Lt Col John McCrae was serving as a medical officer when he wrote his famous poem “In Flanders Fields.” I have blogged about him previously in connection with the McCrae Memorial at Eilean Donan Castle in Lochalsh, Scotland.

The cemetery contains more than 1,000 graves. Unusually for a Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery its Cross of Sacrifice is located right at the entrance:-

Essex Farm Cemetery Ypres, Cross of Sacrifice

Graves from northwest:-

Graves at Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres

From southeast. Note Yorkshire Memorial on the canal bank:-

More Graves at Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres

From northeast:-

Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres, Graves

From south. Again note Yorkshire Memorial (which I shall come back to):-

Graves at Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres

Graves from Yorkshire Memorial:-

View of Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres

Graves from north, Yorkshire Memorial to left:-
Graves at Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres

A tree trunk has grown round the gravestone of Private J MacPherson, Seaforth Highlanders, who died on 5/7/1917, aged 33:-

Commonwealth War Grave, Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres

Symbolic of the fact they fought and died over the same ground the cemetery holds a German grave, Franz Heger, RIR, 238, 7/8/1916:-

German Grave, Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres

Grave of Rifleman V J Strudwick, The Rifle Brigade, 14/1/1916, aged 15, said to be the youngest British Empire casualty of the Great War. (There may be some doubt about this.) It is nevertheless a focus for remembrance:-

Youngest Casualty, Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres

John McCrae Commemoration stone. Written in four languages, French, Flemish, English and German, with the poem itself also inscribed on the memorial along with a facsimile of the handwritten manuscript:-

John McCrae Commemoration, Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres

The bunkers at Essex Farm Cemetery where John McCrae worked as a medic:-

Bunkers at  Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres

Bunker interior:-

Interior of Bunker at Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres

Another bunker interior:-

Another Bunker at Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres

Bunkers, looking back up to Essex Farm Cemetery grounds:-

Bunkers at Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres

Information board with a photograph of how the bunkers appeared during the war:-

Information Board Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres