Remembering the 58th Battalion in France and Belgium

In September 2002, Four Friends of the 58th (Benjamin Keevil, Gordon MacKinnon, Kevin Shackleton, and Ian Waldron) spent 10 days in France and Belgium following the footsteps of the 58th Battalion during the Great War. The Four Friends visited many cemetaries and memorials, read the 23rd Psalm, and left a Canadian flag in front of some of the headstones to remember those soldiers and officers who never returned to Canada. Here is a brief itinerary of the trip that was originally prepared by Kevin Shackleton.

Western Front 2002 Itinerary

September 4, 2002 - Wednesday
4:50 p.m. Arrive Toronto International Airport (YYZ) Ė Terminal 3
7:50 p.m. Leave Toronto International for Paris (CDG) via Montreal on Air Transat TS104

September 5 - Thursday

10:50 a.m. Arrive Charle de Gaulle (CDG) Airport
With any luck we could be out of the airport and on the highway north to Beaumont Hamel by 1:00 p.m. in our Citroen C5 station wagon.

We could stop at Tommyís Cafť in Pozieres and the Thiepval Memorial to the missing on the Somme battlefield if we make good time. Beaumont Hamel is the best preserved battlefield on the Western Front and there is a new interpretive centre that opened since my visit in 2000.

We spend the night at Avril Williamsí Tea House/Bed and Breakfast and we will have dinner there at least one night if not both nights. She puts on a great spread with lots of wine. There are usually other visitors with similar interests. (011-3-3322-762366)

September 6 - Friday

During the day we could visit the area around Courcelette. The 58th fought to the west of it in mid-September 1916 and to the northeast in early October during the Battle of Ancre Heights (Regina Trench). It was in this area that Archie McKinnon was wounded. Dinner at Avrilís if everyone is agreeable.

September 7 - Saturday

We move to the Amiens battlefield and visit Crouy Cemetery to pay our respects Cpl. H. Miner, VC before meeting Marc Pilot and the Luce Maple Leaf Committee. I understand Marc will guide us around the battlefield between Hourges and Demuin. That evening I believe there will be a party for us and I intend to offer some small Canadian type gifts to our hosts. Marc arranged outstanding accommodation for us. (Marcís tel number is 011-3-3322-422088).

September 8 - Sunday

We drive to the Vimy area in order to visit the memorial and the battlefield to the east of the Grange Tunnel. The 58th Battalion followed the leading waves of the 7th Brigade from the area of the Grange Tunnel toward La Folie Wood. I want to see how far east we can go through the preserved battlefield and craters to see if I can find Stafford and Pulpit Craters, the scene of the Balloon Trench raid in December 1916. If we make good time in the morning there are other sites around the ridge that we can visit. There is a good interpretive centre south of the memorial. We stay two nights with M. and Mme. Peugniez at 17 Rue Paul Verlaine in Fampoux, east of Arras. (011-3-3321-550090)

September 9 - Monday

We are in the middle of the Arras battlefield of August to September 1918 and I propose to follow the route of the 58th to Cambrai. I believe Ian will be looking for the graves of Lt. Lorne Bean Craig and Pte. Chester Baker who were killed in this phase of the war. There are a number of old dugouts and bunkers from the Great War in the region and we might want to keep an eye out for them.

September 10 - Tuesday

Ypes, Mt. Sorrel, Menin Gate. We will drive north to Belgium and go to Hill 62, the scene of the 58thís attack on Mt. Sorrell. It was in the area behind the Canadian lines that saw Walter Matthews, David Waldronís good friend, killed in June 1916. We will help Ian find his grave. Benjamin has requested that we also visit the German Cemetery at Langemarck. Depending on time and weather would could do it this day or the next as it is near the Passchendaele battlefield. I was also thinking of trying to visit Skindles and Gingerís. Gingerís may have been the site of the dinner after which Lt. Jucksch liberated a case of champagne. It may be possible to see the guest book to see if Lt. Durie was at the dinner in November 1917.

We stay overnight at Varlet Farm the home of Dirk and Charlotte Cardoen-Descamps right on the battlefield. However, as of 2012 the B&B at Varlet Farm has closed.

September 11 - Wednesday

Thanks to Gord and Don Jukes we have some trench maps of the 58thís positions at Lamkeek Farm in front of Passchendaele and at Vindictive Crossroads north of the village. This is the battlefield on which Benjaminís grandfather, Lt. Albert Skill, was killed on October 26, 1917.

We will likely attend the Menin Gate ceremony on both nights while we are there. There are several museums near the Mt. Sorrell battlefield and one large one in Ieper (Ypres) itself. Time and weather will dictate if we visit them. Varlet Farm is our lodging again.

September 12 - Thursday

We drive south to Lens to visit the area around Hill 70 and Nunís Alley. We may also try to find Mason House where Lt. Durie was killed in Dec. 1917. We are also close to the Arras and Vimy areas so we could pay second visits to these locations, if we missed anything earlier. Overnight at Fampoux. (011-3-3321-550090)

September 13 - Friday

We are not going to be in any rush this day. We are headed for Villers-St. Paul north of Ch de Gaulle airport. I intend to visit the Forest of Compiegne to see where the Armistice was signed. We may be able to take in a few other sites if anyone has places they want to see south of Lens. Soissons and Chateau Thierry could be reached on the drive south if we go a little out of our way.

We stay overnight at the Comfort Inn that has a restaurant.

September 14 - Saturday

Our flight out of Ch de Gaulle (CDG), Air Transat TS583, leaves at 2:00 p.m.

We are less than an hour from the airport at Villers-St. Paul. If we leave at 9:00 a.m. we should be there in plenty of time to drop off the station wagon and get checked through security. We are scheduled to arrive back in Toronto at 6:30 p.m.