This memorandum is prepared to inform and invite all who share our common history nationally and internationally. Preliminary, this document is intended to make contact and invite all of you who would like to contribute and participate culturally, informatively and/or spiritually to the 90th memorial commemorations of the end of the first world war here in West Flanders Belgium 2007. More particularly the Passendale organising committee is hoping to receive letters of interest from cultural groups, schools, sports clubs and return services groups of the commonwealth countries who have participated in the battles 1914-1918. For example the Passendale organising committee would be particularly interested to welcome some New Zealand groups such as a rugby team, and a Kapa hakka or Maori school, or return services groups. Multicultural events would add so much to the memory of these 90th commemorations.
We would also like to note that the Rugby world cup will concurrently take place in France during September and October 2007, just a few hundred kilometres to our south.
The allied forces of the Commonwealth today include many cultures and peoples, who all suffered with the tremendous losses of much loved soldiers. The region of Passendale would be honoured to welcome all the peoples who contributed to the end of WW1. Your participation is hereby welcomed, and we look forward to working with you to make this eventful 3 months a multicultural experience for the local Flemmish community as well as the hope that the international participants will enjoy the Belgian hospitality, and experience Belgium as it is prospering today.
This document includes detailed historic background information as well as:
* * * * * * * * * *Download the original pdf brochure here (2Mb 10 minutes on a modem download !)
The Battle Line:
This gruesome battle history inextricably links the communities of Mesen-Wijtschate and Passendale, especially as one battle was the prologue to the other. Both battles were also fought by the same troops (British, Anzac's, Irish...), and both sides were under the same Command for the entire battle period (Haig-Plumer and Rupprecht von Bayern).
Due to the WW1 battles fought here the communities of Zonnebeke, Heuvelland county and Mesen have a great deal in common. Each of the town comunities have maintained the landscape of the battle fields intact, with each county council continually investing time and efforts to bringing further facts and war- remains to light. Significant effort has also gone into the war exhibits of the recently opened Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917, in addition there has been considerable time spent on unearthing of the old railway bed as well as the planned visitor centre at Tyne Cot Cemetery in Zonnebeke, the restoration of Bayernwald and Letteberg in Heuvelland and the Irish peace memorial pillar and the planned youth hostel of Mesen. Guided by their common past the municipal authorities of Zonnebeke (Passendale), Heuvelland (Wijtschate) and Mesen are strengthened by their common history. For the first time the communities will commemorate their common history together in the year 2007.
In this initial presentation memorandum you will find an overview of all the currently planned events and exhibitions. Towards their realization in coming weeks and months several government agencies, museums and companies will be contacted, nationally and internationally. This presentation will be updated as participants will be confirmed and as components and contributions may be added or proposed. We hope that by September 2006 a final color brochure will be produced, in which all partners, sponsors, and contributors to this events calendar will be formally presented to the town councils, ministries, overseas interests and tourism organizations. The overall program will be substantively supported and coordinated by the Memorial Museum of Passchendaele 1917.
Our communities are united in bringing together this commemorative program and look forward to all who may wish to support and/or collaborate. To all who share our common history we look forward to hearing from you, and we hope you may be able to join us here in 2007.
Councilors culture and tourism, Mayors,
Franky BRYON (Zonnebeke) Dirk CARDOEN (Zonnebeke)
Geert VANDEWYNCKEL (Heuvelland) Bernard HEENS (Heuvelland)
Sandy EVRARD (Mesen)
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1917: THE GREAT OFFENSIVE OF FLANDERS
In the summer of 1917 British forces decided to break through the stalemate at the Flemish front. They wanted to push through to the ports of oostende and Zeebrugge, where German submarines were anchored. With this offensive towards the north they hoped to relieve the pressure from French troops in the south. The French had to contend with large-scale German battles of their own and were in urgent need of time to put matters in order in their own camps. (France and West Flanders have a common border)
After the debacles of 1916 at Verdun and at the Somme the Germans chose resolutely to defend their positions. At the same time British forces, believed to be able to end the war trough breaking open the front. The Germans the place their fourth and sixth army divisions under the command of crown-prince Rupprecht von Bayern in Flanders. With the fourth army von Bayern gets the best German defense staff chef, Colonel von Lossberg, who prepares for large 'Abwehrschlacht'. They decide to defend by digging in deep with bunkers and machine-gun emplacements and a relay system, first line troops, reservists and the special 'Eingreifdivisionen', which were ready on standby should the enemy be able to breaks through after all. In the Wijtschate curve troop lines are three deep and the Ieper curve is defended by six German troop lines deep. For Wijtschate-Mesen defense the Germans concentrate their efforts using their first line, in the direction of Zonnebeke Passendale between the third (Wilhelm) and the fourth (Flandern I) lines.
The offensive of Wijtschate curve and the offensive of the Ieper curve had very different results for the Brittish. Mesen 1917 became one of the most important successes of the whole war, while Passendale 1917 was without doubt the biggest catastrophe.
To break through the Ypres Salient, first the front line in the south, the Wytschaete Salient (better known as Messines ridge) has to be straightened. Between 1915 and 1917 the British had tried dozens of times to force their way through the high positioned German defences. From 1916 on they start one of their most important pieces of work: undermining the salient in 24 places with powerful deep mines. But the Germans are informed about it and try to counter attack with even deeper mine charges. A bizarre cat-and-mouse game develops, a game of mining and countermining, a particular type of warfare deep below the salient. Near La Petite Douve the British lose one mine charge to the Germans, and also in other places the charges’ locations are almost detected. Nevertheless, by the summer of 1917, everything is set for ‘Zero Hour’.
At dawn of 7 June 1917 nineteen mines are detonated simultaneously. It is the most powerful man-made explosion until then, triggering off a powerful earthquake. The desperation among the Germans is complete. The first lines are abandoned with high casualties, and a few hours later they even have to give up their second line. The New Zealanders take Messines and both Irish divisions capture the ruins of Wytschaete. It’s not before the third line, near Oosttaverne, that the Germans can hold their ground.The underground work of the Tunnellers, and the brilliantly conceived strategic plan by Plumer’s second army bring about an unmatched success. A week later the whole Wytschaete Salient has collapsed and Commander in Chief Haig can focus on the ‘Flanders Offensive’, better known as Third Ypres or the Battle of Passchendaele..
For Third Ypres, Commander in Chief Douglas Haig deploys General Gough’s fifth army. South of it Plumer’s second army is deployed. Haig and Gough have a major offensive in mind along a broad front. First the British artillery is to destroy the German defence lines, followed by a massive attack of the infantry.They are supposed to push forward as far as the Wilhelm Stellung, and if possible even to Flandern I.
On 12 July 1917 the Germans pound the first British lines with mustard gas, better known as Yperite. A bad start for the British artillery barrage scheduled to begin four days later. In two weeks’ time the British fire over 4 million shells on the German lines, which is two and a half times more than earlier the year before at the Somme. On the eve of the battle, near Polygon Wood, one of the biggest dogfights of the war takes place. No fewer than 94 planes are involved.
At the end of July the rain starts pouring down. The area, churned by shells, quickly turns into a swamp. After several delays, the nine divisions of the British fifth army finally set off. But the tank brigades soon get bogged down in the mud; the attempt gets stuck on the Wilhelm Stellung and has to be abandoned. In the space of three days the British have gained three kilometres of territory, only a bit more than half the amount they had hoped for.
On 10 August the British launch an attack on the heights surrounding Gheluvelt. To the Germans these are of utmost strategic importance: from there indeed they can hit the whole British right flank. However the attack fails: only the hamlet of Westhoek is taken. Mid August the action switches to Langemarck. After a few warm days a dry crust has formed on the mud. As a result tanks can be deployed again. But still they get bogged down.The break through seems further away than ever. At the end of August, the British Commander in Chief Haig understands that with General Gough he has made the wrong choice, and he passes the initiative to General Plumer again. The latter decides to fight the German Eingreifdivisionen applying their own tactics. He develops a step-by-step approach: limited but well aimed attacks instead of a massive offensive over a broad front. Plumer can now also dispose of two new corps: the first and second Anzac,
October 1917 is one of the wettest months of the century. Plumer and Gough demand the offensive to be called off, but Haig badly needs a victory. He also wants to prevent the Germans from attacking the exhausted French troops further to the south. What was initially the objective of the first phase, now becomes the ultimate target of the whole campaign: to capture the ruins of the village on top of the ridge – Passchendaele. In a few days’ time, the unremitting heavy rains turn the landscape into a quagmire in which humans, animals and machines sink. On 9 October it takes the British troops eleven hours from Ypres to reach their jumping off lines along narrow duckboardtracks. Getting the artillery forward is impossible and so the German positions cannot be shelled as usual.The Battle of Poelcapelle has a bloody end.
On 12 October the allies try to take Passchendaele but the Germans repel the attack with machine gun fire from their bunkers. Next day Haig gives the order to stop the attack. He has the depleted Anzacs largely relieved by Canadians.
On 26 October the Canadians set out for their ‘Road to Passiondale’ in the pouring rain. Five days later General Plumer gets even more troops at his disposal. Meanwhile the name of the village has acquired mythical proportions: ‘Passion-dale’, ‘the valley of suffering’.
On 6 November the Canadians manage to occupy the village, or what is left of it. They can make no further progress and on 10 November the offensive peters out on top of the ridge.
The result of Haig’s ‘Flanders Offensive’ is distressing: after 100 days the allies have advanced hardly eight kilometres.The human toll is enormous. 250,000 British killed, injured or missing, a quarter of the troops deployed. On the German side losses are just a bit lower.
After all, a British victory was simply not feasible.The British attacked with 57 divisions, the Germans defended with 88 divisions, a one to one and a half ratio. Nevertheless the Battle of Passchendaele determines the end of the war. Because the Germans are kept busy in the north by the British, they cannot take on the defenceless French in the south. During the Battle of Passchendaele they lose a considerable amount of equipment which the German industry cannot make up. Haig never got to Zeebrugge, but by means of his war of attrition he has deprived the Germans of the reserves which they will lack in 1918 to win the war. This ‘Materialschlacht’ of 1917 will finally finish them off one year later.
Literature about Messines-Wytschaete and in the first place Passchendaele 1917 is particularly extensive. Below are a few recent titles which offer a good survey, take special interest in the human side of the battle and which are easily available.
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For the commemoration year 2007 no less than six exhibitions are planned, five of which in Zonnebeke. The exhibition in Mesen-Wijtschate opens on 8 June and will be housed in rotation, the first three months in Wijtschate then for the next three months in Mesen. The five exhibitions in Zonnebeke open on 13 July and will be linked with a well marked visitor-route. There will also be a dedicated cycle path network linking Westhoek with Wijtschate-Mesen. All exhibitions will be open to the public till 11 November 2007.
Exhibition 1 (Mesen-Wijtschate)
Towards the end of 1914 the front got bogged down south of Ieper on the hillcrest of Mesen-Wijtschate. The British army had repeatedly tried to break through the German lines here, but all attempts had been in vein. In 1916 specialized Tunnelling Companies began with the underground mining of advanced German positions with the placement of 24 powerful underground mines for what was to be called "The magnus opus". When the Germans found out about the mining activities a cat and mouse trench and mining battle developed. Finally though on 7 June 1917, success was achieved with the simultaneous explosion of 19 mines, which caused the largest artificial earthquake ever (at the time) . The Germans were totally in chaos and scarcely a week later the complete German front around Mesen-Wijtschate had been recaptured. It was one of the largest British successes of the whole war. The exhibition explains the battle of the British Tunnellers and the German responses by means of rare photograph and film material, giving an overview of the fighting between 7 and 14 June and also showing the impact of the mine battle on the landscape. The exhibition runs three months in Wijtschate and three months in Mesen, in conjunction with the Mesen historical museum.
Exhibition 2 (Memorial Museum of Passchendaele 1917)
4 October 1917 the crucial day for the battle of Passendale. The start line of the attack was the roadline Zonnebeke-Langemark. By the evening the 3rd Australian division reached the location where current Tyne Cot Cemetery is today. There is a commemorative plaque of this attack under the cross of sacrifice at the cemetry. The old railwayline Ieper-Roeselarearea crossed through the area of this battle. This railwayline had been decommissioned since 1952. The local government of the province of West Flanders is currently constructing a recriational/tourist cycle and walkway route on what used to be the old railway line. This new cyclepath will form a physical link between the Memorial Museum of Passchendaele 1917 the Tyne Cot Cemetery cemetry. In 2005, prior to construction commencement extensive archaeological excavations were carried out. Several bunkers were unearth as well as the exceptionally well preserved remains of a British Lancashire Fusilier. It is the first time in Flanders that historic archaeological research of this scale has been carried out on first world war sites. The research findings are collected in an equally named book, 'The Road to Passchendaele'. The exhibition brings the historical and archaeological tale of the railway with photography, drawings, reconstructions and a vast selection of found artefacts. After 2007 this exhibition will travel to foreign museums.
Exhibition 3 (Visitor centre Tyne Cot Cemetery)
Tyne Cot Cemetery is the largest cemetery of the Commonwealth in Europe. There are 12,000 graves and on the rear-wall of the cemetory are the names of 35,000 more soldiers lost after 16 August 1917. Tyne Cot is the most important memorial site of the battle of Passendale, with 180,000 visitors annually. A brand-new visitors centre with car-parking and sanitary facilities will be completed here by the end of 2006. There will be background information concerning the cemetery and the thousands of soldiers buried and commemorated here. With the planning of the visitor centre particular attention was given to the interaction of the armies with the historic landscape. In 2007 some temporary information panels will also be on display to mention the role of the Australiën solgiars in Passendale 1917, in particular their stories of the fallen. The complete Tyne Cot project is a collaborative initiative of the municipality Zonnebeke, the Provincial government of West-Flanders. tourism Flanders, Europe and a private partner with collaboration of the Commonwealth war graves Commission and the Memorial museum Passchendaele 1917. Project costs will be 1,500,000 Euro. The official opening will take place on 12 July 2007.
Exhibition 4 (The old cheese-factory)
In 2003-04 the Army museum of Waiouru New Zealand ran an extensive exhibition about Passchendaele 1917. Two important dates are carved into the collective memory of New Zealand - 4 and 12 October 1917. On 4 October the New-Zealanders successfully conquered the plateau of s'Graventafel but they came stuck at the Ravebeek streem before the hill of Bellevue. On 9 October the British attacked head-on and on 12 October the New-Zealanders followed on. 12 October 1917 became the bloodiest day ever for the young New Zealand nation. In just four hours the NZ division counted 2700 victims! In commemoration of the young nations fallen a large monument on the plateau of s'Graventafel was erected by King Albert the First of Belgium in 1924. The exquisite New Zealand exhibition tells the story of 4-12 October and of the men who have fought here in the most terrible circumstances. It is the intention of the event organisers 2007 to bring (invite) this fabulous New Zealand exhibition to Passendale, and put it on display in the old Cheesefactory located on the historic WW1 battle terrain between ’s Graventafel en Bellevue. Passendale is not only known for its war past, but today it is also the centre of the well known Passendale-cheeses. In the restored old cheese factory of Passendale you can view the complete production process from milk to cheese. For the convenience of visitors there is a specious cafeteria with car-parking and playgrounds.
Exhibition 5 (Varlet Farm)
Varlet farm is a farm-house in the hamlet of Wallemolen. On 26 October 1917 the Royal Naval Division tried to force an opening at the left flank of the Canadian forces. However the attack stranded in mud around the Paddebeek streem. Again on 30 October and 5 November there were large scale attacks, sadly also without result. In these ten days nearly 2000 marines were disabled around Varlet farm. The story of the Naval Division is a little known aspect of the battles of Passendale. The current owners of Varlet Farm have a passion about the first world war and have for years collected everything they found in their fields. It is not a static museum with polished articles, but they display pieces of helmets, guns and bayonets, as they were unearth when the fields are ploughed-up each year. Lots of attention has gone to finding ammunition and is examined and displayed with a historical perspective. This is the story of thousands of unauthorised workers who earned a living unearthing scrap copper and iron between 1919 and 1930. The illegal dismantling of unexploded ordinance by unqualified people cost hundreds of lives, later the DOVO work completed the final clean up of the terrain. (DOVO= Belgium’s explosive ordnance disposal unit). The collection of war-relics is also examined in the framework of battle field archaeology, a specialist archaeology discipline. The collection is also referred to as 'The iron harvest' and 'The inheritance of Passendale'.
Exhibition 6 (Passendale-village)
Finally the Canadian forces began on the battle aptly named the 'road to Passchendaele'. They had to traverse the valley of Ravebeek and the hights round Bellevue and Crest Farm. When at last Crest farm was taken on 30 October, it took an other eleven days before also the church of Passendale came back in allied hands which was only one kilometre away. This final capture by the Canadians on 10 November 1917 officially finished the battle of Passendale. After the war the Canadian allied forces placed a national commemorative monument near the ruins of Crest Farm later linked with a new road to the Church of Passendale. Other than the aptly named "Canada Laan" very little remains visible of the very well known village of Passchendaele before WW1. On the occasion of the 90th commemorations in 2007, an exhibition is brought by The Passendaele Memorial museum, named after the book "A Legacy of valour" by Daniel Dancocks. It brings together an impressive collection of photographs, depositions, objects and reconstructions give together an exceptional insight of the Canadian presence in Passendale and depicting the total destruction of this village in the battle front. A lot of attention has gone to understanding the lay of the historic battle field and showing the current landscape and its relation to the war. The story is even brought further to life with actual family stories of Flemish villagers and Canadian troops who lost their lives in Passendale.
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All events are grouped together into five topic weekends, corresponding with the times particular phases of the offensive took place. The activities take place, as closely as possible to the historic location of the battles concerned.
Weekend 1 (Mesen-Wijtschate)
As a prologue to the battle of Passendale the frontline had be straightened at south of Ieper. This happened on 7 June 1917 with the explosion of 19 powerful deep underground mines, which together caused the largest artificial earthquake ever till then. One week later all objectives had been reached.
Thursday 7 June: Official commemoration ceremony for the mines-battle of 7 June 1917 in Mesen. Traditionally an Irish ceremony is held here near the impressive Irish peace-tower. In 2007 representatives of all countries involved in the battle will take part. (Picture below is the pavement in front of the church cemetry of Mesen, red poppies in the background, showing the costeline of New Zealand)
Friday 8 June: peace conference international conference with several groups from northern ireland and the Irish republic for improved cooperation and understanding in northern ireland. The meeting continues in the peace school, under the Irish peace tower.
Friday 8 June: Official opening of an exhibition brought here for the 90th comemmorations. Openings walk of the new permanent walkway around the mine battle grounds.
Saturday 9 June: A unique topic concert in the church of Wijtschate with music, text, photographs and film from and around the mine battles of 7 June.
Saturday Sunday 9-10 June: A special topic expert guided walks along the new mine path in Wijtschate. Several curiosities and displays will be positionned along the route of the walk and, will only be on show for this weekend.
Weekend 2 (Zonnebeke, Kasteeldomein)
On 12 July 1917 the Germans carried out an attack using mustard-gas (also known as Yperniet), this was a historic first. Four days later the allied forces counter attacked with never before seen powerful bombing in the direction of Passendale. For this reason 12 July 1917 was chosen as the beginning of commemorations in Zonnebeke with an international ceremony on Tyne Cot Cemetery. In conjunction with this commemoration day the traditionally held April museum-weekend has been moved to this weekend.
Thursday 12 July: The official international commemoration ceremony for the battle of Passendale will be held on Tyne Cot Cemetery. Just as in 1967 and 1987 the heads of state and governments of all countries involved in the battles are invited. Start Ceremonies commence at 3pm with the international opening of the new Visitor Information Centre at Tyne Cot Cemetery. Followed on by an oecumenical ceremony at 3:30pm. Prayers will be read by the Chaplain-General the of the Belgian forces and a Belgian bishop. Several military regiments have already announced that they will be present here. To received the state guests strictest security measures will be in force. The ceremonies are followed up with a VVIP reception on nearby castle grounds. For this reason the castle grounds will be exceptionally closed to the general public. This day is expected to be the highpoint for the commemorations of 2007.
Weekend 3 (Zonnebeke, castle grounds)
From 31 July till the end of august 1917 British troops tried to break through the front. Scottish units played a very important role here, especially the 9th, 15th and the 51st divisions. A topic weekend with the focus on Highlanders and Lowlanders in Zonnebeke...
Saturday: 22-25 Augusts: As a closing act, an organised four day walk of the IJzer: a 4 day walk dag of the IJzer, lead by Belgian armed forces. Thousands of walkers will walk former battle fields of the Westhoek. (One can participate on separate individual days)
Saturday and Sunday 25-26 August: Two gastronomic afternoons with Scottish specialities on offer at the castle grounds in a specially erected tent. There will be delicacies such as haggis and whiskies to taste. All accompanied with Scottish music that will take you to distant Scotland. (at least in spirit)
Saturday 25 August: unveiling of Scottish monument
Saturday 25 August: Taptoe
Sunday 26 August: topic walk - guided walk in the tracks of 9th, 15de and 51ste the Scottish divisions, also on 16 August 1917 the story of the south African troops.
Sunday 26 August: Highland games - Real ancient folklore... Scottish strong men show us how it's done, a local Flemish team will join the contest, with a small hope for glory. Other nationalities can have a go too...
Weekend 4 (Passendale, The old cheese-factory)
To reinforce the gruelling offensive, two Anzac regiments were added to the front in the mid September as boost to the campaign. However one month on, also the Australian and New-Zealand troops were ground to a halt due to the murderous German bunker and machine-gun defencive.
Friday 5 October: Gastronomy at the old cheese factory, well known for its culinary joys. An Antipodean theme weekend will open this part of commemorations. A well known Belgian chef will work with New Zealand and Australian ingredients to present a message from Australasia.
Friday - Saturday 5-6 October: International two day colloquium. A two-day conference with as title "The influence of multiculturalism on Passendale". Experts from all countries involved in the first world war in Flanders analyse what Passendale meant for their nations and their people. Also less well-known aspects of Passchendaele 1917 and the effects on their people take the stage here.
Saturday and Sunday 6-7 October: - Saturday: Bringing history alive on a one-of multi-day Anzac-walk, re-enactment organised by Australia and New Zealand. - Saturday and Sunday: Anzac re-enactment continues with a military parade, demonstrations, military hospital, and more...
Saturday 6 October: Topic walk double topic-walk in the tracks of the Australians, around Polygon Wood and on the old railway tracks Ieper-Roeselare. Departs from the Memorial museum.
Saturday 6 October: A double performance with Australian Aboriginal music and dance and New Zealand Maori Kapa hakka cultural group. A cultural experience never before introduced in Flanders!
Sunday 7 October: A topic walk encompassing the New Zealanders battle fields of 4 to 12 October 1917. The walk commences and arrives at the exhibition in the old cheese factory. A captivating discovery excursion in the most scenic part of Passendale.
Sunday 7 October: A New Zealand rugby match: New-Zealander David Gallagher the captain of the national rugby team at the time, died of his wounds on 4 October 1917 near the 's Graventafel table-lands. The only match the 'The All Blacks' lost during the world tour of 1905 was against wales...a unique New Zealand revenge match in Passendale is hoped for to take place.
Weekend 5 (Passendale, Central)
At the end of October 1917 the blooded and exhausted Anzac's were replaced with Canadian forces. On 30 October 1917 the Canadians arrived at Crest farm, but it took a further ten days before the ruins of the church of Passendale were taken, just one kilometre beyond.
Saturday Sunday 10-11 November: Book fair. A two-day international book fair with thousands new and antiquarian books about the Westhoek and 1914-1918.
Saturday 10 November: A study day about Flemish migration to Canada in the 19th and the 20th century and the unique link between both our countries.
Saturday 10 November: closing ceremony
Saturday 10 November: Memorial concert in the church of Passendale focussing on the Canadians in Passendale 1917.
Sunday 11 November: armistice
Sunday 11 November: Topic walk
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Visitor information centre Tyne Cot cemerery
The old railway
The Passchendaele Archives
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This is a translation of proposed text for a Flemish brochure in the making (This initial document was provided by Freddy Declerck Chairman of the Passchendaele Society in order to inform New Zealanders and whomever may be interested.) .... Translation of this document to be completed as my time allows; hopefully in the next fortnight or so. All the exhibitions and events will also be set out on this website, as well as a preliminary program for the commemorative events in 2007.
Websites of significance to New Zealanders visiting "Belgium war memorials" and "West Flanders" in particular:
Other useful links :