On a bright Friday morning, our group of 35 members of St Mary’s and their friends gathered at Church to start our 4 day pilgrimage.
We had been planning this for over 6 months, and the anticipation of the trip was high. Our nerves were calmed when our coach arrived, and Steve, the driver was an immediate calm and reassuring presence.
We headed off to Canterbury, where our Pilgrimage was to start with a Eucharist service in the Jesus Chapel in the Crypt of Canterbury Cathedral. This set the scene for our Pilgrimage, and our Vicar led a beautiful service where we had also some spare time to explore the Cathedral.
We then returned to our coach and went off to Folkestone for our reservation on the Shuttle to take us to France. We arrived at our destination of Merville in the evening and our accommodation was in a beautiful retreat and conference centre managed by the Diocese of Lille. There was also a Chapel as well, where we held morning and evening prayers.
Friday evening we had a very interesting talk by Richard Wilkinson, explaining about the Ypres Salient in the Great War.
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,
Scare heard amid the guns below.
Saturday started off with breakfast,and armed with our packed lunches we set off on the coach to Ypres. We visited the museum in Ypres and the market, and then went to the Essex Farm Cemetery, Yorkshire Trench, Welsh Memorial, Langemark German Cemetery and briefly stopped at Hill 62. At each stop, our Vicar read a very apt and moving poem, and we had quiet times for reflection.
We then returned to Ypres for the Menin Gate ceremony which took place at 8PM. Richard Wilkinson lay a wreath at the Menin Gate on behalf of St Mary’s.
Back at Merville, tired physically and emotionally but also now having this strong sense of being part of a Pilgrimage.
Sunday started again with breakfast, and the excitement of seeing what was in our packed lunches. This became a regular event during our stay.
We had arranged to attend the English Church in Ypres for their Sunday morning Eucharist which was being presided over by the Archdeacon of North West Europe, The Venerable Dr Paul Vrolijk. We were also treated to a 70 strong choir from East Grinstead who were on a tour and had arranged to sing at the service.
After the service we visited Tyne Cot. Tyne Cot is where the battle of Passchendaele took place, and is an extremely moving Cemetery which affected us all. From Tyne Cot we moved onto Hill 60, and then to Le Touret where Sarah Macnab laid a wreath to her great uncle who is commemorated at the Memorial there.
We returned to Merville where we spent an evening together, and Paul had written his ‘Another Pilgrimage’.
Monday was our last day, and we left Merville and headed to St Omer where the group split, some deciding to go to the hypermarket and others visiting St Omer. We then headed back to Calais to catch the shuttle to Folkestone and the drive home to Battersea.
The Pilgrimage was an experience and an emotional journey for us, but we all made new friends and brought us closer together. There was talk about us going on another Pilgrimage in 2019…watch this space!
Poem by Paul Holleley (pdf)
(with apologies to Geoffrey Chaucer)