Belgium – Ypres, World War 1

Preparation:  3 Tips

  • brush up on what led to  World War I! I read The SleepWalkers by Christopher Clark
  • consider booking into or taking a private tour of the various battlefields and cemetaries in the area
  • plan to allow 2 to 3 days to see the main sights

See Ypres Gallery

 

 

 

                 A German Cemetery >

Preparation

Ypres (Ieper)

We stayed at the Appartment Menin Gate House  using Booking.com and the place, the location and the owner were all first class. The owner was at the time the Chair of the Committee that overseas the daily Menin Gate Ceremony. If you can stay withing walking distance of the town center its definitely a bonus.

The place to start is the excellent In Flanders Field Musuem, the old clothe trading hall in the center of the town,  This will give background and perspective to tragedy that was Ypres, Paschendale and WWI.  You can also arrange, or find out about tours, other sights and pick up information.

The Restoration of Ypres

The town itself is worth exploring, the walls, the ‘moat’, the cathedral and of course the many cafes and in the evening the various pubs and restaurtants.
The photograph of the center of Ypres before and after the war are a testament to the magnificent restoration that has taken place making the whole area a memorial to the tens of thousands of casualties.

Ypres, Belgium

Where my Grandfathers trod?

The next day we had determined to explore the various sights and memorials in the surrounding area.  I was especially interested in the Battle of, and village of Paschendale.  Both my Grandfathers had ended up as teenagers in Flanders and both ended up being injured with, I think, shrapnel and taken back to Britain.  As a small child I vividly recally one of my Grandfathers explaining his arm injuries and showing me the sowing he did in hospital as therapy.  They were, I learnt lucky as the carnage was awful.
I was able to find the West Riding Memorial (that’s the old name for what is now West Yorkshire) along with a map of the trenches in the area, all named after towns and villages I knew in West Yorkshire,  In 1917 my grandfathers were 18 and 19 and mere boys; what horror they endured.  Seeing the muddy fields, the memorials and learning about the first gas attacks was a sobering and moving experience for me.
 
We took part in a private tour arranged by Frontline Tours – worth every Euro!
After a thorough exploration and study of the Battle of Pashendale we also visited the German Cemetery where Hitler later visited too and you can see these photographs of him there too – this visit convinced him further of the need to restore Germany from WWI defeat.  At Hooge you see the Crater Museum and elsewhere there are trenches to walk in that give a feel of the soldiers life
So many battlefields and memorials it is easy to gloss over the significance and awfulness of each individual place.
Each evening there is a short service at the Menin Gate.  Make sure you go especially if you have children as it reminds us of the cost of war.
My favourite and most poignant fact deals with the proud Allies achievement of, after the first 6 weeks of war, Ypres (thats also Ieper) was never again in German hands.  Of course, the town 4 years later at the end of the war, was deserted and uninhabitable.  The futility of war!
The next day blessed with glorious spring weather we rented bicyles and set off to explore more memorials, Larch Wood, Bedford House, Sanctuary Wood and more.
Getting to Ypres (Ieper).  Of course by train it is pretty easy with an frequent service from Brussels and Bruges.  Coming from London on Eurostar you can get off at Lille and make a change or two and get to Ypres.  A car can be handy but it is by no means essential.

Gallery

 

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