Sunday, 20 April 2014

Ypres - Part One

Easter hols and we had booked a short holiday to Ypres, Belgium to tour the sites of interest along the front in the area, pay our respects at various memorials and enjoy some fine Belgian beer/chocolate/etc.

However, things certainly did not go according to plan in the few days before. My Mum had been in a nursing home for a little while and was suffering very badly with Alzheimer’s. She took a sudden turn for the worse and it was clear that the end was near. Sadly she passed away a couple of days later. Rest in peace Mum.

Naturally this meant we had to juggle a few things but thankfully my brother and sister were on hand to help Dad sort immediate and important matters.

Eurotunnel were very helpful and waived the £84 (approx. 100 Euros) re-booking fee and off we went, slightly later than planned. It seemed a little disrespectful at first but taking a pragmatic view we knew that there was little more that we could do, at least in the short term. Although we did keep in touch whilst away.

Anyway, this is the first in a series of blog posts about our trip to Ypres. Given that we packed quite a lot in to 6 days I’ll probably mix in posts about other topics (e.g. painting, shows, etc.) rather than purely Ypres stuff.

Day One
It was a lovely warm sunny day and given the rather hectic nature of the previous few days we decided to take it easy and begin with a stroll around the ramparts. The medieval ramparts were re-worked by Vauban so there’s not that much to see but it was a pleasant walk anyway.

Part way round we came across one of the very many CWGC cemeteries that are scattered right across what was the Ypres Salient.

Interestingly this contained the graves of a number of Maori soldiers from the ANZAC force. Something I’d not seen before.

Continuing along the path we arrived at the Menin Gate, inscribed with the names of more than 54,000 British & Commonwealth soldiers who fell in the area but have no known grave.


Nearby was a newer monument commemorating the contribution made by soldiers from India.

We headed for the Grote Markt  (i.e. main square)  and a spot of lunch followed by a visit to the Cloth Hall and the new “In Flanders Fields” museum.

The views from the top of the Belfry are amazing – although the weather was by now a little cloudy. It’s up 231 steps! On a clear day you can easily spot distant landmarks such as Tyne Cot cemetery, Messines, the Hill 62 monument, etc. This is a shot looking across to the Menin Gate.

The “In Flanders Fields” museum is packed with interesting displays and information. However it lacks a particular “route” which I think would help a visitor be guided through the key events in the war. Also, we went on a Saturday so it was incredibly busy – a quieter time would best – but still worth seeing.

British Toffee Apple Mortar

German Anti-Tank rifle (the recoil must have been immense!)

An extract from the "Wipers Times"

The museum also issue you with a 'smart' wrist tag styled as a poppy; when you first log in you can supply your name, age and area of birth. Then, as you go around the museum you can use the tag to activate displays that will show you some information about soldiers from your area. These smart displays are noted by the "o))" symbol that you can see reflected in the picture of the Anti-Tank rifle above. A very clever idea!

We had planned to attend the Last Post ceremony in the evening, but when we arrived at about 7:50pm it was so busy that we couldn’t even get close, so we decided to come back another night. So a tip if you’re visiting is to get there early!


Phil said...

Nice post!

Sidney Roundwood said...

A fine post Matt, and also a sad one. Very sorry indeed to hear about your Mum. Rest in peace. Thinking about you and your family at this time, mate.

VolleyFireWargames said...

Sorry to hear about your Mum passing it is with sadness the advancing of age and passing of those we hold dear - nice post on Belgium museum - I spent 4 months in Scotland in 2011 but never got over to Europe proper during my visit overseas.

Lurkus Spleen said...

Hi mate,
really sorry to hear about your Mum.
Nice to see you enjoyed your time in Belgium, I must admit its on my list of places to visit what with all the WW1 battlefields and the Waterloo site.

Cheers, Steve.

Matt said...

Many thanks for kind comments chaps. Much appreciated.

More details of our Belgium trip to follow soon.



Monty said...

Very sorry to hear about your mum. May she rest in peace.
My heartfelt sympathy to you and your family.

Otherwise a very interesting post. I'm looking forward to part 2.