Our visit to George's resting Place
We, that is my Dad, (Edward Roy Kissack), his wife (Rita Ann Kissack), my wife (Karen Ann Kissack) and I went to France between 15th - 19th June 2003. This page is a record of that trip in so far as it is relevant to Kissack Genealogy and George Kissack (1892-1917) specifically.
Why? Why go to France? It began with a growing interest in researching the Kissack name, from initial contacts with Rev Rex Kissack through his book 'Seed of Isaac'. This led to research on our own particular branch of the Maughold Kissacks and the setting up of a Kissack website to share the information throughout the world. This research led to George Kissack, my great Uncle; brother of my granddad and unknown uncle to my Dad. We traced his emigration to Canada and there, thanks to Canadian archives, uncovered his attestation papers for his enlistment into the Royal Canadian Regiment and his return to Europe to fight in the great war (WWI). Further research revealed his death at Vimy shortly before the great Canadian victory there. The Commonwealth War Grave Commission identified his resting place and so began a plan for my Dad and I to visit (The initial planned trip was extended by a few days to allow our wives to join us and to see a bit of France in that area).
Travel - We travelled to France via the Channel Tunnel and drove to Hennin Beaumont where we were to be based for the 4 nights on a bed and breakfast arrangement.
Day 1: The first full day was devoted to the initial impetuous to the visit - Paying our respects at the graveside of George Kissack. We knew roughly where the cemetery was and headed off on a very warm and sunny day to Arras, intending to go North to Mont St Eloi. A wrong turn in Arras, led us to take an alternative approach to Mont St Eloi, but we quickly located the D341 road and the Ecoivres turn off (just south of the Mont St Eloi turn off). Just as you drive into the village of Ecoivres, you see the sign to the military cemetery off to the left. The cemetery itself is an extension to the village cemetery and is kept in immaculate condition. On our arrival the grass had been cut and the gardeners where edging grass around the 2000+ memorials. We had seen a plan of the cemetery and knew where George lay, so it did not takes us long to find him. We pondered as to whether any other members of the family had been here before, and thought it unlikely that any blood relations had. It was a beautiful day and couldn't have been better for the opportunity to pause and think of George, and all he went through, of his early death and the tragedy that war brings.
Following our visit to George's grave we stopped in Mont St Eloi for a drink. Mont St Eloi stands on a hill a short distance from Ecoivres and it was used during the war as an observation post - you can see why from the top as it commands views out particularly to the north and east. The ruins of the old abbey still stand. In 1793 it was largely destroyed and the job was completed in WWI and WWII until all that stands today is the two 45m high towers - an impressive sight all the same.
From Mont St Eloi we travel NE to Vimy. A large part of Vimy ridge has been given to the Canadians by the French in recognition of the sacrifice of Canada. Atop the ridge lies the impressive Vimy Memorial Monument. It commemorates the 11,000 fallen who have no known grave and marks the victory of the Canadians at Vimy Ridge. It was at Vimy for the first time that all four Canadian divisions joined together. It would have been here that George was serving with the Royal Canadian Regiment (within 3rd Division, 7th Canadian Infantry Brigade), and here he would have met his death or mortal injury (because the exact circumstances are unknown to us). Today the Vimy site is largely untouched. Visible trenches are fenced off, with warnings t hat unexploded ordinance may still lie in the area. Similarly the guide reminds us that the whole area remains a grave for missing soldiers who's remains have not been found and given a proper burial. Some of the trenches have been reconstructed (with concrete to take the wear and tear of visitors) and the forward trenches of the Canadians and Germans are very close. There are deep craters visible, with names like Edmonton Crater, that are the results of charges being laid at the end of long tunnels burrowed under the enemy lines. Tunnels were also used for safe transit to/from the trenches and also for command posts and officers billets. These tunnels survive today and tours are given that allow you to get a feel for what it would be like underground at that time. The limestone is very soft and would have been relatively easy to tunnel, but not under the circumstances of that day. Remains of rifles and other military equipment are on display in the tunnels and in displays in the visitors centre.
Day 3: Days 3 and 4 were to be days when we saw a bit of France in this area. It is functional rather than pretty. Relatively flat with coal an obvious industry in the area. The towns of the region are typically continental and it is hard to imagine that many were raised to the ground during the wars, and only later rebuilt - a job very well done. What struck us most where the number of military cemeteries that cover the area. Whilst our map may show one between Arras and Cambrai, the journey reveals many many more, a pattern repeated on almost ever road we travelled on.
Day 4: On day 4 we decided to visit Belgium. Ypes (or Ieper) was our destination, only an hour's drive away. Again many cemeteries mark the journey and surround the town itself. The impressive town centre 'cloth hall' rebuilt from being almost raised to the ground. It's Cathedral, looking like it has stood for centuries, till you see the rose stained glass window, given by the British army and RAF and are reminded that this building too, was badly damaged during the wars. We visited the 'In Flanders Field' museum which like so many things in this area reminds people of the war to end all wars, that sadly didn't. With the recent release of the RCR war diaries we discover that George joined his unit to the west of Ypres and got his first taste of trench warfare at Ypres. As we sat at the base of the Lille Gate and enjoyed the afternoon sun, it was difficult to imagine that 87 years earlier (10 July 1916) George had probably marched out of these gates himself. The RCR Diary records:
"Fine day. RCR relieved 52nd Bn. Regiment going by train to ASYLUM (Ypres) from there led by guides of 52nd Bn. HQ, "A" Co, "B" Co and "C" Co proceeded via Lille Gate to trenches, "D" Co going via Mennin Gate straight to front line. relief quite good, completed about 1.30am 11th. Line extends form Bombing Post Gourock Road to trench R.63 to trench R.74 and includes a garrison in the culvert under Menin road. "A" Co in right of front line and garrisoning Yeomanry Post. "B" Co in centre, 1 Platoon in Roslyn Street. "D" Co in left, 1 platoon Leinster Street. "C" Co support in Halfway House, 1 platoon Leinster Street. Raiding party of 38 OR kept at halfway House also. HQ Tuileries."
Day 5: Homeward bound today. Past more reminders of the war, and leaving George and the thousands of others killed in the area to Rest in Peace.