From Diksmuide and on to Ypres
After our exploration around Diksmuide and the Trench of Death and Yser Tower, covered in my blog post Travel: Beautiful Belgium and WW1 history Part 1, we continued our Belgium journey to the beautiful city of Ypres (leper).
We had booked another AirBnB for our brief visit and what a find it turned out to be too. ‘Casa Martini della Corte‘ is the beautiful and stylish home of Gie and Huberte who have lived in Ypres for over 30 years. Inside the city walls and just a short 5-minute walk to the Menin Gate, the BnB was perfectly placed to explore the town, very quiet and comes with free parking in their garage!
Gie warmly welcomed us with a fresh cup of coffee before showing us to our lovely room. Now armed with lots of local tips as to where to go and great places to eat we couldn’t wait to get started.
We set off on foot in the afternoon sun to explore some of the city before dinner. We headed towards the city ramparts that are the best-preserved ones in the country apparently. The ramparts now form a route through natural tree-lined parks and moats around the historic city centre and are a fine place to start your visit to Ypres.
The Menin Gate
Our walk led us towards the famous Menin Gate which is an impressive and well known memorial to 54,896 Commonwealth soldiers who fell with no known grave before 15th August 1917 in World War 1 on the Ypres Front.
The gate is built on the site of where British troops left for the Western Front and each night at 8 pm, the very moving Last Post ceremony by the Ypres Fire Service takes place under the gate arches. We attended on a Friday evening in September and were astounded by the number of people who attended, and the respect still given to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
Our evening meal location, recommended by Gie, was the fabulous Depot restaurant at Menenstraat 18. With a lovely atmosphere and friendly staff, a reservation was a must as the restaurant was very busy. I had Gravlax which was absolutely delicious!
The Cloth Hall
After dinner we wandered into the ‘Grote Markt’ square in the centre that the Cloth Hall, now home to the In Flanders Fields Museum, dominates. The population of Ypres expanded rapidly from the 11th Century as Ypres become the most successful textile city in Flanders. The hall was one of the largest commercial buildings of the middle ages and was constructed in the 13th Century. Sadly the building and most of the old city laid in ruins following artillery bombardment during World War 1. Following the war however, the building and large parts of Ypres including the impressive Sint Maartenskathedraal next door were meticulously reconstructed back to their former glory.
After a fabulous breakfast and saying goodbye to Gie and Huberte, we headed in to town to continue our site seeing and visit the cathedral and the ‘In Flanders Fields’ museum housed in the Cloth Hall. The museum does not set out to glorify war, but to suggest its futility, particularly as seen in the West Flanders front region in World War I and is well worth a visit.
We collected our car vowing to return to this beautiful city (and BnB!), and continued our trip towards Ghent stopping at Tyne Cot Commonwealth War Grave Cemetary and the near-by Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917.
Tyne Cot Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery
Tyne Cot is beautifully maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and is the biggest war grave cemetery in the World. This area on the Western Front was the scene of the Third Battle of Ypres, also known as the Battle of Passchendaele, and was one of the major battles of the First World War.
It has the graves of 11,968 WW1 war dead from Commonwealth Countries of which only 3,606 have been identified. Around the eastern boundary of the Cemetery stands the Memorial. It bears the names of some 35,000 men of the British and New Zealand forces who have no known grave, nearly all of whom died between August 1917 and November 1918.
The Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917
The Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 presents the story of the First World War with a particular emphasis on the Battle of Passchendaele. This battle in 1917 is known as one of the most horrific battles from the First World War, with almost 500.000 men killed in just 100 days for a movement of the frontline of merely 8 kilometers. ‘Passchendaele’ not only became a concept in the history of the First World War, it also became a symbol of the great futility of the violence of war in all its horror.
Our visit part 3
The Ypres Tourist Information Office is located on the ground floor of the Cloth Hall and has lots of information and helpful staff to help you plan your visits to Ypres and the surrounding area.
There is also a Commonwealth War Graves office on 33 Menenstraat, the street leading from the Grote Markt (market square) to the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing. Staff are on hand to help you find any ancestors who are buried/remembered on any of the memorials and cemeteries worldwide. You can also do your own search on their website. https://www.cwgc.org
The Great War website has also lots of information on WW1 sites in the area: http://www.greatwar.co.uk/