Podge’s Belgian Beer Tours

Tour 71 / Beer & Battlefields 2014

Thursday 22 May – Monday 26 May 2014

This great Beer & Battlefields Tour in this special centenary year 2014 takes in some unusual Western Front experiences which you won’t find on other WW1 Tours.

As usual we have the services of Siobhan McGinn who has now almost completed her Birmingham University MA in First World War Studies. She will be giving us the benefit of her latest research in her specialist subject, beer on the Western Front.

Lissenthoek Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery.

We start early with coach pick-ups at Ipswich, Colchester, Chelmsford and as agreed in Kent and make our way to Folkestone for our 09.20hr Eurotunnel Train. We make our way across northern France, following the route soldiers took to the Flanders battlefields, stopping on the border for lunch and a beer at a fantastic Flemish café. We spend our first day of the tour in a behind the lines experience, close to the front, but just out of the extreme range of most German field artillery. We then make our way to the beautiful and moving Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, the second largest Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) cemetery in Belgium at 10,000 burials of the First World War, situated here at the site of a Casualty Clearing Station. There is a superb new visitor’s centre here telling the story of this unusual cemetery, which has a number of Chinese Labour Corps burials too. We make our way closer to the front to the behind lines town of Poperinge, well-known to British and Commonwealth soldiers for out of front line rest periods. We hope to pay a visit to the immortal Talbot House, ‘Toc H’ to experience the unique atmosphere of this house, unchanged from the time soldiers rested here. We then make our way north to the village of Alveringem and a visit to the excellent Café De Snoek, attached to the Museum of Thirst in the Great War, an old pre-WW1 brewery. Francine has a great beer list here where soldiers once indulged in the ‘consolation of bad beer’ from this wartime brewery that prospered in this tiny unoccupied part of Belgium during the war. Evening check in at the friendly Hotel Oude Abdij in Lo-Reninge (which has a great bar and was formerly a brewery in WW1) for a group evening meal and a talk from Siobhan McGinn on WW1 (currently studying British Expeditionary Force (BEF) Morale and Discipline for her MA British First World War Studies).

Soldiers at Talbot House Poperinge.

For our second day of the tour we head to the south of the Ypres salient and beyond, to Fromelles, just over the border into France. We drive down through the salient following the front line south of Ypres past Plugstreet Wood and St Eloi (where tin hats were used for the first time in 1916) and down to Vanuxeem Beer Warehouse where we have an opportunity to replace our empties and buy beer for taking home from this huge warehouse. We continue south, past Armentières to the village of Fromelles where we will visit some sites associated with the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) and the action here of 19 July 1916, when newly arrived on the Western Front, the 5th Australian and British 61st (South Midland) attacked a 4,000 yard section of the German frontline centred on a notorious strongpoint called the ‘Sugar Loaf’. The Australians suffered casualties of over 5,500 killed, wounded and missing and 61st Division 1,500 killed, wounded and missing. Recent research revealed information in German archives of a mass burial near Pheasant Wood, untouched since the war. British and Australian authorities excavated the area in 2009 and Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery was created in 2010 to re-inter the 250 soldiers found, and 75 soldiers have been identified and named through DNA. The search continues. We will also visit the nearby Australian Memorial Park situated on the battlefield itself, including the original German blockhouses and the Cobbers Statue memorial. We will also go up the road to VC Corner CWGC to see this unusual site where 410 unknown Australian soldiers killed in the Battle of Fromelles were there are no grave markers but individuals are commemorated on the wall, which is currently having some of the names of the unknown removed, as they have now been identified from Pheasant wood. This area is also the site of earlier forgotten actions in the war, principally the battles of Neuve Chapelle (10-13 March 1915) and Aubers Ridge (9 May 1915). We will be looking at the BEF presence in this area throughout the war and some sites associated with the grandfather of one of our travellers who served in this sector.

Cobbers Statue, Australian Memorial Park, Fromelles.

We travel back into Belgium for lunch followed by an afternoon and evening in the centre of the Salient, the immortal Ypres. Flattened in the war from German artillery on the Passchendaele ridge and subsequently totally rebuilt, we will take a walk around the only part of the city that survived the war, the old city walls. We will take in the Klein Rijsel Cafe and Museum for a visit to their small private collection and a ‘Peace Beer’ followed by a visit to the Salient’s most beautiful small cemetery, the Ypres Ramparts CCGC. From here we make our way round to the brand new micro Kazematten (Casemates) Brewery built into and under the ramparts where we hope to have a brewery tour and taste of their beer. Just a little further round is the newly opened St Bernardus Kazematten Café, again built into the stone caverns, this time on the site of where the Sherwood Foresters found the printing press on which they printed famous Trench Journal The Wipers Times. Carrying on we finally reach the Menin Gate, the site of the imposing white memorial inscribed with the names of more than 54,000 men whose graves are not known. And who died in the salient up to 16 August 1917, after that date the names appear on the panels at Tyne Cot, a further 35,000. Opened in 1917 this site was chosen because of the hundreds of thousands of men who passed through it on their way to the battlefields. It is most famous for the last post ceremony that takes place every evening at 20.00hrs and is very moving. We will arrive in time for those who would like to experience this brief ceremony in this special centenary year. Time free in Ypres for a snack or drink followed by a late evening return to our hotel in Lo. Copies of Podge’s Ypres Bar Guide and map will be distributed.

Ypres then...

Ypres then...

Ypres now

And now.

On the Saturday we are delighted to announce a day on the Belgian Front – the Ijzerfront including an afternoon cruise on the Seastar boat down the Ijzer River (the battle front) to the coastal town of Nieuwpoort, where the trenches fell into the sea. We start by driving down to Boezinghe, the point where the British held front met the Belgian held sector; we drive towards Dixmuide, our pick up point for the boat, and visit several important sites to the Belgian Army and Flemish people. We have lunch before boarding the boat (which has a specially stocked bar) and which takes us from Dixmuide to Nieuwpoort along with an expert local Belgian battlefield guide. On arrival at Nieuwpoort Siobhan will guide us on a brief walking tour of the Ganzepoot Complex and war memorials, explaining how the Belgian’s flooded the local area with the sluice gates here, stopping the German advance in this sector. We then make our way to the nerve centre of the Belgian Army at the time of the flooding of the Ijzer, the lovely town of Veurne for a free evening, armed with Podge’s Veurne Bar Guide and map, and time for a beer and something to eat. Last stop before a late return to the hotel is at the fantastic Kunstmaecker Café in Steenkerke, with a brilliant beer list full of rare and quality beers.

Ganzepoot (Goosefoot) Nieuwpoort

Ganzepoot (Goosefoot) Nieuwpoort.

On the Sunday we will explore the South Salient and the Battle of Messines (7–14 June 1917) that was the prelude to the Third Battle of Ypres (31 July - 10 November 1917) (often called the Battle of Passchendaele). We will particularly follow the New Zealand and Irish troops in this battle, visiting the New Zealand Monument and the Samuel Frickleton VC Memorial, both in the town of Messines. We may visit the newly opened Messines Town Museum too. We will visit the Pool of Peace - Spanbroekmolen a huge water-filled crater created by one of the 19 mines blown by the BEF at 3.10am on 7 June 1917 that immediately killed 10,000 German soldiers. We will also visit the Irish Peace Tower and hear about why it was built and here about the actions on this commanding ridge, which both the 16th Irish and the 36th (Ulster) Divisions took part side by side.

New Zealand Memorial Messines

New Zealand Memorial Messines

The afternoon is devoted to soldiers behind the lines experiences, with lunch followed by a visit to a rare WW1 brewery (Six-Colpaert) in Reningelst, which largely survived the war and continued brewing and was used for Divisional Bathing Parties - of which Siobhan will tell us more on tour. The brewery is open and has a nice tasting room where we can have a refreshing Rookop, a local Flemish brown beer made by De Plukker Brewery, especially for this place. We next make our way to a bar Café Den Hertog, mentioned in WW1 National Archive papers as being troublesome and frequently put out of bounds to soldiers in this sector, mostly for serving after hours (20.00hrs). We make our way into Poperinge for an evening free, armed with Podge’s Poperinge Bar Guide and map. Late return to hotel. We are still working on the itinerary for our last day of the tour, but we return on the train at 19.50hr from Calais. The above is subject to change until closer to the tour date and we have firmed up the full itinerary. Contact Podge for more details, or to book this Tour now.

Tour Price: £470 per person based on sharing in a twin or double room

Single Supplement: £140

If you are travelling alone and want to share a room with another traveller please contact Podge as we are regularly able to pair up travellers in twin rooms to avoid the need for payments of Single Supplements.

All detailed itinerary times are local and approximate. All food and drink (apart from those marked with an asterisk* on the detailed itinerary) and all passport and insurance costs are each traveller’s responsibility. Personal insurance is not included in the Tour price, but is strongly advised, as is carrying the European Health Insurance Card available online, by phone or via the Post Office.

If you would like to join us or have any questions please call Podge on +44 (0)1245 354677 or send Podge an email. Please also contact Podge to get details of how to send a deposit of £100 per person for this Tour. Full balance payable five weeks before departure.

Included in the cost of this Tour: Hotel accommodation and breakfasts; Hotel city taxes; Luxury coach travel on a 49 seater coach with toilet; All Brewery visits, tours and brewery beer tastings; Entrance fees to attractions, museums and historical sites; All other items marked with an asterisk on the individual detailed tour itinerary; Copies of Podge’s City Bar guide and Map for the town or city where we stay or spend some time on Tour; Free still and sparkling water on the coach; Pick up from Ipswich (Crown Street Layby), Colchester (Southway Chapel St South Layby) or Chelmsford (The Woolpack, Mildmay Road). Arrangements can be made for different joining points on the way to Folkestone or even on the other side of the channel. Tour terms and condition here.