They’re Proud & Honoured to be the bearers.
This was mine & Gary’s third visit to Ypres, however, previously we hadn’t been able to give the city the dedication it deserved, although, it certainly gave us a taster to return. When I say taster, I did manage to grab a Belgian chocolate waffle, the wafting scent is just too irresistible.
We love digging into the history of any destination we visit, however, with Ypres and its surrounding landscape, it has it coursing everywhere.
Mindful that the WWI centenary falls in 2018, we wanted to discover how Ypres carries such a significant mantle for the rest of the world.
And oh, boy they do it well.
Not to be beaten
The Flemish city of Ypres is a lovely size to stroll around, with the heart of the town being the Grote Markt (Market Square) and welcoming streets and lanes leading off.
The Market Square was completely destroyed during the war, however, with the thoughtful restoration, you wouldn’t believe it.
Gabled homes peering down onto the bustling streets below, and the eye-catching Cloth Hall that was so meticulously restored back to its Medieval style prior to its pre-war days.
In Flanders Fields
The poignant In Flanders Fields Museum was a place we particularly wanted to visit, as we had heard that the exhibition was incredibly touching and in a small way conveyed some of the atrocities that these heroes went through.
With our tickets purchased for the museum and the 231 step climb up to the top of the Bell Tower, we head in, furnished with our “poppy bracelets”.
The wristbands are such a great idea, the red poppy contains a microchip, and once you have waved it over the Wi-Fi symbol, you key in a few of your demographics, and this allows you to access personal stories around the museum of four individuals who lived through WWI.
It opens your eyes
As you stroll around the exhibition, there is so much to understand and comprehend. The museum gives you an incredible thought-provoking insight into the reality of the war.
Moving stories and photographs of folks from of all walks of life, poems read out by ghostly silhouettes.
One story that particularly caught my eye was that of Louis de Mahieu, an Antwerp volunteer that died of his wounds on the battlefield at Warwick Farm on 31st August 1918.
To his fellow soldiers, he was unknown at the time, and they made a cross out of a wooden chair as a provisional resting place.
Louis de Mahieu’s body was not found until almost a year later in July 1919.
For the extra couple of euros to climb the Bell Tower, it really is worth it. The incredible views across the city and beyond are fantastic, if only it had been a brighter day we’d have seen even further.
Stretching out below across the Grote Markt you can see the Court of Justice in the foreground then the astonishing Menin Gate beyond.
The search goes on
Within the museum, they give you the opportunity to search any victims from the war, and you’re able to find the cemeteries or monuments where their remembrance can be found.
As you come to the end of your journey through the Cloth Hall, it’s entirely incomprehensible that bodies are still being found today.
In Flanders Fields
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
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.Major John McCrae
Menin Gate Memorial
This has to be one of the most poignant memorials to the Ypres Salient there is. The construction of this incredible arch was completed in 1927 and straddles the road where hundreds of thousands of troops would have marched on their way to the frontlines.
The Menin Gate commemorates more than 54,000 soldiers from Australia, Canada, India, South Africa and the United Kingdom, who died before 16 August 1917 and have no known grave.
So many wreaths and so many messages are left by individuals, regiments, schools & charities to honour these gallant soldiers.
As you can imagine in and around Ypres, there are so many cemeteries, that even with my fixation with visiting these places of remembrance, that there are only so many you can see in one day.
The war cemeteries around the world are lovingly maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC). Along with the Menin Gate, we also visited Ypres Reservoir Cemetery which has 2,613 Commonwealth servicemen of which 1,034 of the burials are unidentified.
We took a stroll around the ramparts of the city, and yes, we came across Ramparts Cemetery at Lille Gate. The cemetery is reasonably small and is built on a dugout which overlooks the riverbanks, there are 198 burials of which 8 are unidentified.
The Last Post
I must say this was one of the most moving services I have ever attended. This ceremony doesn’t care which walk of life you are from or your background everyone is welcome, young and old, families and friends.
The Last Post Ceremony has been held at 8pm every evening since 11th November 1929 (except for a period during the WWII when Ypres was occupied by Germany).
At precisely eight o’clock the service starts, traffic around the magnificent arches of the Menin Gate Memorial has already been stopped, and the buglers from the local volunteer Fire Brigade begin sounding the Last Post beneath the gate.
Silence falls upon the crowd & heads are bowed, many tearful faces, young and old as the last Post is played out.
All around existing servicemen & veterans are wearing their proud uniforms lined with their thoroughly deserving medals. As our little tribute, we donned our Passchendaele poppy pins that we purchased in 2107.
Where we stayed
Our accommodation for the two nights we were in Ypres, was at the Novotel Leper Centrum, and it was undoubtedly central, only about a 5-minute walk to the Menin Gate. Slight mix up with our air-conditioned room, however, the friendly staff efficiently resolved it. The car parking facilities here are fantastic if you’re on a road trip.