Ypres is pretty and civilised, a charming little place whose streets are peppered with smart little bars, patisseries and boutiques. A century ago it was all so different.
I read somewhere this was “Britain’s cockpit of war,” apt words. Too close to the Channel ports to relinquish and almost impossible to prize from the Germans during World War 1, four massive battles were fought around Ypres, often over the same ground. Just about everywhere here, every piece of earth and every place you look there is a story of heroism and heartache. So many young men from both sides lost their lives here.
After the Great War the whole town was flattened, there was pretty much nothing left. Hard to believe today, it looks just like a charming medieval town. However if you look carefully you can see the stones are not worn by time. The town was rebuilt brick by brick after the Armistice.
We spent the morning in the museum “In Flanders Fields” getting a tour of the harrowing war years one by one. After a picnic lunch we headed just around the corner to St George’s Church. Built as a memorial to British and Commonwealth troops who died in the first World War, it was also planned as a place for bereaved families to visit. Every single item inside the little church is a memorial. We looked at the vast numbers of school plaques on all the walls remembering former pupils killed in that awful war. A quiet and still place where reflection comes easily.
A walk around the town ramparts makes for a very pleasant stroll, inadvertently we came upon the Ramparts Museum. A very quaint pub was a good place for us to rehydrate then we had a look in the little museum. More like someone’s shed rammed full of interesting war “stuff” these kind of places seem very common in this area.
The Ramparts Cemetery is close by, our first experience of the war graves. A beautiful setting overlooking the water with row upon row of white crosses. Some have no name, others have names and ages – all are far too young.
We made for the main square in the early afternoon, picked a quaint little restaurant and feasted on plates of hearty beef stew washed down by a foaming glass of beer before it was time to head to the Menin Gate.