Every night at eight o’clock there is a memorial for all fallen WOI soldiers at the ‘Menin gate‘, the ‘Last Post‘. Yesterday there were air cadets playing bagpipes. Monday an orchestra and choir performed ‘You raise me up‘. Both times there was a big crowd and complete silence during the ceremony.
Today we went to the ‘In Flanders Field Museum‘. It is a multimedia experience. There are films depicting ‘people’ [actors really] talking about their experience during the war. It was so well done. The one I liked most was of four soldiers – German, French, Belgian and English – talking about the Christmas Truce of 1914. A night in which there were many unofficial cease fires. Soldiers from both sides went into no man’s land and exchanged food and souvenirs, even took photo’s together. I think this is maybe the best illustration of the pointlessness of this war. There was no hate between both sides, they were just doing the jobs they were supposed to do. Unlike most wars when people fight for their ideology and are intricately motivated.
The picture is me and my dad reading an information plaque earlier this holiday. My mum gets credits for taking the photo.
Today we went on a car ride visiting a lot of interesting places. We choose to do the ‘Ypres Salient Route‘, which is one of multiple tourist routes sign posted in the area. We started at the place where John McCrae wrote the poem ‘in Flanders field‘. This poem is the reason poppies are integrally linked to the great war. There was much to see there. I was walking around when I had to go through a gate up an embankment when I slipped an almost fell face down in the mud. Now my pants, shoes, hands, phone and the route book are dirty. Right afterwards I dropped my phone on the cement floor of a shelter. I felt very clumsy, but it still works so I can’t complain. Interesting fact the cemetery is the final resting place for the youngest soldier to die in the war, the boy was only 15.
Our next stop was ‘Yorkshire Trench and Dugout‘. However most of it was closed for renovation, so we didn’t see much of it.
The following two memorials are on the same street.
‘Carrefour des Roses‘ isn’t that impressive, but it remembers the victims of the first chlorine gas attack. [The Germans used it, opening up a seven kilometre wide gap in the Allied line. However they didn't think it would be this successful so they didn't have enough reinforcement. The Allied were able to reform their line.]
I really liked the ‘monument Francis Ledwidge‘. Ledwidge was an Irish poet who died doing road work. On the monument is printed the poem ‘soliloquy‘. I thought it was beautiful. We also visited his grave which was in the cemetery also on the same street.
We also stopped at the ‘Canadian Forces Memorial‘. Most memorials here are plaques or crosses, this one was different and quite beautiful and designed by a soldier who was a Canadian Great War fighter himself. It depicts a soldier looking down, it’s big and solemn. It really impacts the area. The picture shows only the top, but it was massively tall.
The next stop was ‘Deutscher Soldatenfriedhof Langemark‘, the first German war cemetery we went to this holiday. It was really different from the Commonwealth ones. It had concrete shelters incorporated, no headstones and mass graves. All stones had multiple names or read ‘x unknown German soldiers’ or sometimes both, up to about 25 a stone. There was also a massive grave with 44,061 soldiers buried.
There also was a kind of visitors centre, although it was more a corridor with three video screens. They had short three-minute screenings. They showed disconnected pictures and film. One recruited people to help the ‘Volksbund‘, the German equivalent of the ‘Commonwealth War Graves Commission‘, who take care of war cemeteries.
Another one seemed to show the historical development of the war. I started with a map of the region and ‘Oorlog!’ [War!] written across, as the translations in German, French and English showed the map became more and more red. It was like there was suddenly a war and there was no other choice than show up. Which might have been the case for the Belgians and the French, even less so for the Commonwealth as it was a choice to join the fight, but definitely wasn’t for the Germans.
I have been to Berlin and there are many museums dealing with mostly the second world war and each of them showed more understanding of the role Germany played in history. I think they could have done much better.
At this point we went of route, most of the things to come we already saw the last two days. We weren’t ready to go home however and stopped by the ‘Yser Tower‘, which houses a 22-story high museum. It opens one week from today, so there wasn’t much to see yet. Our next stop was The ‘Trench of Death‘, which was also closed, as it was neither Tuesday or Friday. This was the point both sides were closes together, many Allied soldiers died in this trench. Even though we couldn’t go in, due to it being surrounded to barbed wire, we were able to walk around the area and see the trenches. There we ended our tour.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
Today we went hiking. We didn’t go very far, just about 8 km. On our way we stopped at a Canadian cemetery. There were five men working in big white suites cleaning al the headstones. This is almost 100 years after these people were buried. Yesterday in one of the museums we heard that the ‘Commonwealth War Graves Commission‘ has 120 people full-time employed to keep up the cemeteries. I think it’s admirable how much respect this shows.
Other things we saw on our way were trenches, craters [a remainder of exploding mines and artillery], memorials and a museum. The museum [Sanctuary Wood, hill 62] was weird. It was more a collection of everything they could find what has some semblance to the war. Which is not wrong per sé, but in combination with the cats, the stench [it was really bad] and the complete lack of coherence or explanation, was not a success. Even so I would recommend others to pay the 10 Euro entrance fee, because it is also the site of an impressive network of trenches. We saw some of them reconstructed in the ‘Memorial Museum Passchendaele‘. The big difference however is that the ones we saw today weren’t as clean as those. [Cleanliness was the main problem for this museum.] This gave a better impression of how life would have been back than.
Only three more days of holiday left.
Yesterday I went on holiday with my parents. We are in Belgium in Ypres. The area around Ypres, also known as Ypres Salient, is were many battles were fought during World War I. Yesterday we already saw two military cemeteries, a French and an English one. Today we went to ‘Tiny Cot Cemetery‘, it was massive. It is the largest Commonwealth war cemetery. It has 11,956 headstones, although not every soldier is also buried there, because many soldiers were ‘lost’ during the war. 8,369 of the graves are for unidentified soldiers. Also there is a list of names engraved in the wall with 34,984 names. These are names of those lost soldiers. Initially they were to be listed on another monument, Menin Gate. However after 54,896 names there was no more room, so they finished the list here. So that makes in total 89,880 soldiers who weren’t identified after the war. The total number of casualties on the British Empire was 1,226,597. The total number of casualties of this war was 16,563,868. That means about as much people living in The Netherlands now. It’s truly insane.
We are staying here until Friday. More cemeteries, memorials and museums* are on the agenda.
* In Dutch this would be musea, because it’s a Latin word and in Latin the plural would be musea. In English however it seems incorrect and it bugs me. Although maybe it is just a faulty spelling corrector.