The Great War. Two words that should never be put together. It claimed an estimated 17 million military deaths, with 20 million wounded, over four bloody years.
When most people think of Belgium, their first thoughts are beer, chocolate, frites and a cruise on a P&O ferry from Hull. How many stop to think of all those killed in Flanders fields? I did indulge in the local cuisine but this trip was about paying respect to The Fallen.
The trip started in Ypres, or as the Tommies called it, ‘Wipers’ due to its awkward pronunciation.
Belgium has invested heavily to help pay respect to all involved in the conflict. This was proven at the In Flanders museum
Visitors are given a headset to listen to your guide and a poppy wristband. Enter basic details on a touch screen and you are able to relate to a similar person’s experiences in the war, not all with happy endings.
Our journey continued on to the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917. This offers a historical overview of the war and life in a British dugout. You can also walk through trench lines used by both sides.
Tyne Cot Cemetery has to be seen to be believed –the largest Commonwealth War Graves cemetery in the world where almost 12,000 soldiers are buried.
I confess I had a blonde moment here looking for a gravestone with the South Yorkshire regiment on it. Back then Sheffield was part of West Riding and many soldiers served for West Yorkshire.
The next cemetery was probably even more shocking. The actual area used for the Langemark is not large and there doesn’t appear to be many gravestones. However, there is one mass grave which alone contains almost 25,000 German soldiers.
After returning to the Novotel in Ypres, we walked to the Menin Gate where every evening at 8pm, since 1928, the Last Post has been played and wreaths laid in memory of lost souls. Hundreds watched this procession and as soon as the first two notes of the bugle call were played, you felt the tingles go down your spine. Very moving.
The evening concluded with a delicious meal at De Fondere which fuelled us for the following day.
More cemeteries were visited on Sunday as well as Talbot House in Poperinge. This was established In 1915 by Neville Talbot and Phillip “Tubby” Clayton for soldiers of all ranks and provided rest and recreation. The town was one of only two places in Belgium not under German occupation. It is known as the hop capital and is home to Hopmuseum which, of course, we visited and sampled the produce!
I will return to Ypres over the next four years during the 100-year anniversaries and I can recommend it.
It is worth checking your family history to see if you have any ancestors here as there is a good chance you will be able to locate their gravestone.
Info: P&O Ferries
In Flanders Fields Museum: In Flanders fields Museum
Memorial Museum Passchendale: Passchendaele
Talbot House: Toerisme Poperinge
Ferry: Hull – Zeebrugge service starts from £75 per person return, based on two people sharing a cabin, for a two-night mini cruise which is the overnight crossing, a full day to explore, and overnight return. That includes coach transfers to Bruges if required. Or take a car: a two-night motorist mini cruise is from £95 per person, again based on two sharing a cabin.
Hotel/Restaurants: We stayed at the Novotel, Ypres. Rooms start from £75 per room per night on a early bird deal. We ate at Brasserie Kazematten on Saturday lunchtime which is part of the St Bernadus Brewery, Watou Sint Bernardus We ate at Defonderie Restaurant on Saturday night. Set menus for lunch start at €14 for two courses.