From Diksmuide we continued down the river Ijzer to Ypres. The moorings are basically at the end of the canal, just a 10 minute walk into the main square in town.
We arrived on Friday and took ourselves off to the Last Post memorial at the Menin Gate. Adrian and I went with Chris and Diana Grant when we did our day trip to Flanders Fields in December. The Last Post is sounded every evening, with different groups, countries, presenting. Tonight (day after Anzac day) there was a native Australian playing the didderidoo. The day we left Ypres a Welsh male voice choir was featured. It is packed every evening, but is still moving – particularly as the crowd is asked to remain silent and not to applaud afterwards – the crowd just disperses.
The whole area is littered with memorials, cemeteries and museums. We can only assimilate so much. We decided to visit 2 WW1 museums whilst in Ypres – Passchendale and In Flanders Field museums.
Memorial Museum Passchendale 1917:
The museum at Passchendale is sited in a beautiful former country house, surrounded by a beautiful park.
This is at odds with the story the museum tells of the circumstances of the Second and Third Battles of Ypres which were fought here. In 1917 the war took a turn for the worse when chemical weapons – gas – were introduced. In April 1917 the first gas attack was aunnched by the Germans when they unlocked 6000 cylinders of chlorine gas, causing a greenish yellow cloud to spread towards the allies, and panic among the troops. Both sides used chemical weapons and you could ‘smell’ the gasses used in a display in the museum – much exclaiming from the school kids who did so! I remember very clearly having to read First world war poems as a schoolgirl …. ‘Gas, boys, gas….’ Must have been horrific.
Much was made of the fact that wounding the opposition caused more problems for the armies than simply killing them as their comrades tried to rescue them and move them off the battle field.
Trenches and dugouts were a big feature of this part of the war and examples are available to visit. Strange to compare the green grass and wild flowers there now with the pictures of devastation of the landscape then and the mud, mud, mud.
In Flanders Fields Museum:
This museum is housed in the rebuilt Cloth Hall in Ypres. The whole of the city was virtually destroyed in the war and rebuilt afterwards – recreating the town Grot Mrkt. It looks lovely now but is less than 100 years old.
This museum focuses on the people involved in the war and uses interactive displays and film footage to get the horror across.
I was particularly moved by the presentation (using actors) concerning the 1917 Christmas truce at the front, when troops from both sides met in no man’s land to wish each other ‘Happy Christmas’ and share cigarettes etc. You could hear the strains of Silent Night, sung in both German and English, throughout the museum. It was my father’s favourite carol.
Also the presentation regarding care of the wounded (again actors) presented from the viewpoint of the medical personnel – doctors and nurses. Caring, treating soldiers who would then either die, be sent back to the front or perhaps be sent to the firing squad because they had run away from the front.
I found the section on archaeology surprising interesting. Using aerial photography of the landscape & crops, they are able to highlight areas for possible digs and pull together further information about the history of the war.