I don’t really need to explain what happened between the year 1914 and 1918. The First World War meant dead for millions of people. Many of them died fighting in Belgium. While it is not our brightest part of history, it’s definitely a part that can’t be forgotten. It was part of history where the whole world was involved.
The ‘Great War’ leads many tourist towards Ypres and the many graveyards surrounding it. I’ve been there two times myself, and it seems to me that the majority of the tourists are British.
If the weather is nice I suggest you take a bike tour, like this you can really explore the region, and I think it’s more fun to go by bike than by car. In Ypres you can rent bikes, and most tours also pass here.
The bike tour that I rode brought me towards the John McCrae Site. This is the place where John McCrae wrote his famous poem “In Flanders Fields”. It’s a ‘small’ graveyard, next to it you can also see bunkers. This poem, along many others were discussed in my English classes. The poems, the songs, the facts, the stories … it all leaves a deep impression
I continued my way along the canal. You see the difference between the German cemeteries and those of the others. Very sober, dark stones.
Next is the memorial for the first gas attack in Ypres, there were many Canadians who died during this attack. I personally find this a beautiful monument, it’s very simple, yet it says a lot.
The biggest cemetery is Tyne Cot, a British cemetery. The amount of soldiers buried here is 11.596. Carved on the walls another 34.957 names of missing soldiers. There is also a visitor center with more information about the battle of Passendale, a.k.a. Passiondale. If you enter you hear the names of the people who are buried here. I took my time here to read, and to take it all in. I think this, along with the Last Post (which I will talk about later) left the biggest impression on me.
Before returning back to Ypres I also stopped at the Polygon Wood Cemetery, not the most touristic one. It might be a bit odd to say, but I ‘liked’ this one the most. What I mean is, I was here alone, it wasn’t close to any roads so it was also very silent. I believe that the graveyard had more the ‘feeling’ it should have. The coldness, the awful things that happened, no tourists surrounding you, so you can really take a moment of silence.
The second day , I mostly stayed in Ypres. I went to the ‘In Flanders Fields’ museum. Here you can also look up more about your family, and what happened to them during the First World War. Also the ‘Museum aan de IJzer’ is worth a visit. You start all the way at the top, where you can look around you and see how much was destroyed during the war. Then you go down, learning more about the war. They also recreated trenches for you to walk through. I also took a stop at the graveyard of Vladslo, where you can find a statue of Käthe Kollwitz.
In the evening I walked around in Ypres, at 8 pm I went to listen to the Last Post, which is under the Menenpoort. It’s amazing to see, that still every day, people from different countries come together to remember what happened, in Flanders fields.
I hope that lots of people will be able to see this for themselves. Doesn’t need to be specifically about the First World War or in Belgium. Many awful things happened in the past, whether we like it or not, they are still happening. I think it’s sad, I hope that our generation or future ones can really learn about our history, and that they won’t make the same mistakes. Let’s treat each other human. Let’s make sure that love, respect and solidarity comes before things like hate, money and power!