We wanted to visit the WW1 sites and so on Thurs 21st Dec a small group of us went on a guided tour of Flanders Fields. Philippe & Sharon are the owners & guides of Quasimodo, a local tour company, and friends of Diana & Chris. Really was an excellent tour and Philippe’s level of knowledge was outstanding.
During the entire war period, from 1914 up to 1918, Ypres was the scene of some of the most important battles in the first World War, later referred to as the Great War.
The Ypres Salient is the area around Ypres in Belgium which was the scene of the heaviest battles during the Great War.
In the trenches all around Ypres extremely bloody battles were fought.
Many of these battlefields have left their traces in the landscape around Ypres and there is a strong sense of maintaining these sites so as to honour those who died and to remind mankind of what happened 100 years ago.
We started off by visiting the German cemetery at Langemarck. The bodies of many German soldiers who died in Belgium were repatriated – those who remained were buried in mass graves. This cemetery was in sombre contrast to the allied cemeteries – black plaques in the grass and black granite pillars bearing the names of those interred there. German cemeteries are tended by visits from German soldiers every few months.
Tyne Cot Cemetery:
The largest Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery in the world. The Commission ensures the cemeteries are lovingly cared for and that records of those buried are maintained. As the photos show, the day we visited was grey and misty – atmospheric and in keeping with the place.
There is a suggestion that the name of Tyne Cot was given by the Northumberland Fusiliers, seeing a resemblance between the many German concrete bunkers, or pill boxes, on this site and typical Tyneside workers’ cottages (Tyne cots).
Total burials: 11,965, of which 8,369 are unnamed
Bunkers and Craters:
This site was anonymously purchased after the war and given to Belgium in order that the site could be preserved and not ‘dug up’ and developed because of the number dead never recovered from the site. It is a sobering place. Nature is reclaiming the site with trees and bushes but the bunkers (both allied and German) remain.
The Brooding Soldier:
There are cemeteries to all the allied forces including ANZAC and Canadian. The Brooding Soldier memorial commemorates the Canadian First Division’s participation in the Second Battle of Ypres of World War I which included fighting in the face of the first poison gas attacks along the Western Front.
The Brooding Soldier- . Frederick Chapman Clemesha sculpture.
Unearthed ammunition – the Iron Harvest:
Farmers continue to unearth shells, bombs etc and Belgium has to manage the process of making safe at considerable cost to the country. It is not expected to be complete for many many years.
Essex Farm Cemetery & Field Dressing Station:
The Field Dressing Station, very close to the front line, was the first medical treatment and assessment centre for wounded soldiers. They walked, were helped by other soldiers or brought out on stretchers. The help available was pretty basic, some were sent onto other facilities or repatriated. But many did not survive and were buried in the Essex Farm Cemetery alongside. There is a grave to a 15 year old – alleged to be the youngest soldier – but there are known to be others so young who died.
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.
Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (November 30, 1872 – January 28, 1918) was a Canadian poet, physician, author, artist and soldier during World War I, and a surgeon during the Second Battle of Ypres, in Belgium. He is best known for writing the famous war memorial poem “In Flanders Fields“. McCrae died of pneumonia near the end of the war
No visit to Ypres and the Flanders Field sites would be complete without attending the evening Last Post Ceremony at the imposing Menin Gate in Ypres – memorial to 55,000 missing soldiers.