Visiting the past

Ypres, Belgium
Tuesday, July 11, 2006

My mother has four uncles who fought in WWI - in Gallipoli, Somme, Ypres, Bullecourt, Poziers and lots of other places. She wrote a book about them and although I have read the book I can't remember who was where and when. So the BOSS's history lesson for the day was to be WWI - we booked in for the Flanders Field tour in Ypres and caught the local train there.

It is a charming little town and it has one of the best Tourist Information Centres ever. We got a room instantly, overlooking the town square - the only problem was that it was on the third floor - again!

Looking around the town with all its lovely old style buildings, it was hard to believe that it was totally razed in WWI and rebuilt in the original style in the 1920's.

Our battlefield tour was in a minibus with 6 other tourists and a brilliant guide Christine. She was a local resident who had lived in Ypres all her life and who obviously loved the subject of WWI. She had brought with her old photos of the countryside, before and after shots and maps to give it all some perspective. She did not get bogged down with battles or dates or other boring stuff and held our attention for 4 hours. Even the BOSS admitted that she learnt* something!

We were taken around to all the villages and bunker sites and cemeteries then on to the original trenches still preserved from 1918. It was really fascinating.

We got back to town at 6pm and instead of attempting to climb 3 flights of stairs to our room, we just settled in to a restaurant and ordered dinner. (I then made the BOSS climb 3 flights of stairs to get the computer). Dinner was adequate but the waiter was rude so we departed for the Menen Gate which is just around the corner.

The Menen Gate was built on the road where the soldiers passed to go to the front. There used to be two lion statues on either side of the gap but the Aussies nicked them after the war and took them back to Australia. They put them outside the War Memorial in Canberra and in 1936, Belgium very graciously, decided to allow us to keep them.
The gate was built in 1927 to commemorate all those who had died but did not have graves - there are 54900 names carved into the gate. Every night at 8pm the local volunteer fire brigade play the Last Post. They have done this every single night since 1927 with the exception of a few years when the Nazi's didn't let them. It was a very short but incredibly moving ceremony.

* I wanted to type learned but the BOSS insisted it was learnt. I reckon learned sounds better so could someone please pass judgement on my grammar and confirm that I am right! And no cheating and looking it up on Google... I already tried that but I am none the wiser.

01 Ypres rebuilt
Ypres rebuilt
02 Ypres cathedral rebuilt
Ypres cathedral rebuilt
03 Ypres cathedral
Ypres cathedral
04 Ypres buildings
Ypres buildings
05 More Ypres buildings
More Ypres buildings
06 A map of the battles
A map of the battles
07 The bunkers where soldiers were patched up
The bunkers where soldiers were patched up
08 In Flanders Field poem
In Flanders Field poem
09 Canadian memorial
Canadian memorial
10 One of the many cemeteries
One of the many cemeteries
11 Another cemetery
Another cemetery
12 Live shells still found in the fields by farmer
Live shells still found in the fields by farmer
13 A clock made out of shells
A clock made out of shells
14 The trenches
The trenches
15 Menen Gate
Menen Gate
16 The Last Post
The Last Post
17 The Menen Gate memorial
The Menen Gate memorial reads: Here are recorded names of officers and men who fell in Ypres Salient but to whom the fortune of war denied the known and honoured burial given to their comrades in death.
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