A weekend with the soldiers

A trip for just three days seems a little bit too short when going from Sweden to Belgium, but in this case it was worth it.

Leaving a very stressed situation at work and then directly go on a trip down to the battlefields for a few days can maybe be seen as a thing to keep up the level of stress, but in this case it is just a very nice way of refueling some energy.

I had my list of about 10 places to visit, and I managed to visit almost all of them. Below you will see some facts about the soldiers and places that I visited.

The flight arrived late on friday, and I drove in heavy rain to the hotel in Ypres. The room was facing towards the market square, and gave me a calm feeling, seeing the old Cloth Hall rising in the lights of the square, and I felt it will be a very good start next morning, when going out to the soldiers. I managed to attend to the online meeting with the Great War Group on friday evening which always is of great joy.

The first place I visited was the Oxford Road Cemetery where the Swedish born soldier Charles Anderson is buried. He fought for the Canadian Engineers in the 2nd Tunneling Coy. You can read more about him in an earlier post.

It is always very moving when standing by the headstone, and I always try to photograph them with the little Swedish flag attached, shown in the photo.

From Charles Anderson it was not far to the Passchendaele New British Cemetery where I visited the Swedish born soldier of Andrew John (Anders Johan) Johansson, and the place where he is buried. I was completely alone this morning except for some traffic of farmers on the road outside, and I sat by Andrew John for a while, trying to take in the specific feeling of the area and the spirit of the soldiers buried at the cemetery.

On my way to the next positions I passed the places and the areas where the Swedish born soldiers David Fridengard Carlson and Eric Ostberg fell. David fought for the 42nd Infantry battalion in the Australian Imperial Forces and fell near the Red Line Objective, one of the lines to reach for the troops in the Campaign that day on October 4th, 1917.

Eric Ostberg fought for the 29th Canadian Infantry battalion and fell near the area of Abraham Heights on November 11th, 1917, just west of the large cemetery of Tyne Cot.

I drove towards Ypres and the took the road down south to the small village near the border to France, Ploegsteert, and visited the resting place of the Swedish born soldier John Mattson. He is buried at the Berks Cemetery Extension which is placed near the Ploegsteert Memorial to the Missing.

You can really feel the presence of the soldiers when you walk around the area. John fought for 8th Australian Infantry battalion, but I have not yet been able to find any information about in which area John fell that day of June 29, 1916. It was a great feeling to commemorate him in this area.

On saturday evening I attended to the last post ceremony in Ypres, which always is a great moment of peace, listening to the signal, and see the people who are there to visit the Memorial and its surroundings.

Every time I am at the Menin Gate Memorial I try to visit one of so far 20 Swedish born soldiers who have their names on the walls, and this time I visited the soldier who made me start this project, Oscar Wikstrom, who can be found on panel 29, among the other names of those from the 50th Australian Infantry battalion who doesn’t have their own grave.

On Sunday morning I decide to visit the area of Sanctuary Wood to locate the area where the Swedish born soldier Louis John (Lars Johan) Engstrom is assumed to have fallen on one of the days between 2nd and 5th of June, 1916. He probably fell in the area between Maple Copse and Sanctuary Wood, according to the unit diary of the 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles.

At this moment I also took the opportunity to try the Digital Trench Map tool from Great War Digital, which worked excellent. On the trench map picture below you can see some of the trenches that were present in the area at that time. (red lines). My position on the map is the red circle.

I went back to Brussels Airport knowing that I will be back in July this year, and will then also start to visit the Swedish born soldiers who are having their last resting places in the Somme area in France.

But I will also be back in Belgium, to visit this very beautiful part of West Flandern, which I feel so strong connected to. Who knows, maybe I have lived here in an earlier life? We will never know.


Looking back to the long weekend I spent in Belgium recently makes me happy, even if it from one perspective was really heavy, but these moments is luckily small in comparison with those moments I had when it comes to the people I met.

I am so grateful to have found new contacts during my journey in the history world, connected to my research.

The flight in itself was a disaster, but brought some good, when I could see more than I had planned, as I stayed one more day in the region. Below you will find some highlights during my research trip.

Before I went I planned to continue to visit some of the Belgian sites and cemeteries, one of these was new, and I had to take photos of their headstones.

Here I especially want to mention the great Twitter companion with a white cat as her profile picture, Danielle Roubroeks, who, the latest years, has joined me on my trips at the battlefield. It is great to have her company, she knows so much, and it is nice to exchange knowledge, both during the lunches at Hooge Crater Museum restaurant, and at the cemeteries, she has been “everywhere” and you can follow her work at her homepage here.

We met up on friday at the Flanders Field American Cemetery, which really surprised me with its very beautiful cemetery, chapel and visitor center. It is well worth a visit. I left the place with both photos of the headstones from the four Swedes that have their last rest there, but also with info that will lead me further in my hunt for more information about those Swedes. Thank you for the great company, Danielle!

Just to calm down anyone who thinks that I have put stickers on the stones, I say now that it is only small fabric flags, which are kept up by the moist on the headstones. Now we have sorted that out.

After the visit at Flanders Field American Cemetery we continued to some of the cemeteries where other Swedes are buried, such as Belgian Battery Corner Cemetery, to visit Swedish born soldier Gust Hallstrom, one of only seven Canadians at the cemetery, who died for the Canadian Labour Corps.

The trip went further to Dozinghem Military Cemetery, which is a really huge cemetery, and this day it was a lot of water still inside, and made the grass really muddy, probably from the great rain the day before. In the cemetery we visited Eric Ostberg, 29th Canadian Infantry Battalion. May Eric rest in peace.

The trip went on to Hooge Crater Museum restaurant, to have some of their eminent toasts with a suitable beer to that. Great as always. After the lunch we once again visited the place where Bertil A Lindh is buried, who fell just south of the cemetery, near the Bluff, when he was fighting for the 13th Canadian Infantry Battalion.

We travelled further in to the town of Ypres, where I have found one more Swede at the walls of the Menin Gate Memorial, William Eastland, who fought for the 11th Canadian Machine Gun Corps. William has no known grave.

On the rampart of the city wall, there is also right now a installation from the artist Jan Fieuw, Faces of war, with 139 faces carved into old railway sleepers. A installation that really makes you think about the individuals who once where involved in building the railways during the war.

We ended the tour that day with a nice beer at St. Arnoldus, City of Ypres, as usual, when we meet up at the battlefields in the Salient.

The rest of the Friday evening I spent with good friends from the region, which is always great, with good food and drinks (Belgian Beer, of course!)

On the day after, saturday, I had some vague plans, but decided to visit two of the woods that Paul Reed has talked about in his great Podcast, Old Front Line, which you can find where you find podcasts.

First stop, Plogsteert Woods, just around 20 minutes straight south of Ypres. I just say, wow … just follow the trail down south from the parking at the so called Christmas Truce monument, and head into the woods. Totally alone in there, totally quiet, when I visited the cemeteries in the area. Well worth a visit.

These cemeteries really made an impression on me.

I walked back to my car and headed for Polygon Wood up in the Zonnebeke area, and parked at the parking near Polygon Wood Cemetery. I walked the path through Polygon Wood Cemetery, and moved further into Buttes New British cemetery and ended up with visiting the bunkers inside the polygon Wood. So nice to walk these paths, almost alone this saturday afternoon.

I can really recommend a lunch at Johans restaurant, De Dreve, just 1000 m from the parking at Polygon Wood. Nice lunch and a visit upstairs in his small museum in the attic.

On saturday evening I had a meeting at 7 pm at the Ypra Inn, the pub near the monument of Menin Gate, to meet up with another Twitter contact, through his wife, Sara. I met hers Pete Smith right on time, what a nice guy! Amazing contact for further explorations at the French part of the battlefield, as they live in Flers.

It was not planned but we also met up with the two amazing ladies from Great War Group, Alexandra and Bethany, to together join the Last Post ceremony, which always is nice to attend to. After the ceremony we ended up at The Kleine Stadthuis for a good, warm Flemish Stew. What an evening it turned out to be!

On sunday I continue to visit another soldiers grave, who fought on the German side during the war. I went in to a completely empty cemetery, a very special feeling, to commemorate Markus Grundberg, who fell in battle April 13th, 1918. May he rest in peace.

As I got an extra day on monday, I decided to go to the soldier Karl Eskil Stromwall, who is buried at the Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery near Poperinge, west of Ypres. It was a beatiful morning, and for me he is a special soldier as he fought in a british unit, Leicestershire Regiment, and only 19 years old, died of wounds after a gunshot in his head, the clerk in London, who was born in Sweden, and ended up here. May Karl rest in peace.

What a great little trip, made me really warm in my heart after great moments, and this only makes me more eager to soon book my next trip to the battlefields in Flanders and in France.

I hope you will join me.