We were based in Ypres, a pretty little town that takes no more than 15 min to walk across, has been here since it was founded about 1,000 AD, and that WW1 flattened. Eradicated. Laid to waste. There's no building in this town that was standing after the war. Everything was rebuilt, and in the case of the main buildings, from the original plans. Like the great Cloth Hall, which was the home of the silk and fabric trade that this city was known for for about 1,000 years.
|Cloth Hall and the Grote Markt main square|
|The outside, complete with flying buttresses|
|The rather gargantuan interior|
|50' tall walls with access for protected boats|
|One of the entry gates|
|Now a road tunnel|
|Gives new meaning to the term "hanging out"|
|The Ypres-Ijzer Canal|
In 1914, using the Von Schlieffen plan, the Germans planned to invade France by running an end-run around the fixed French Maginot line defenses through Belgium. The Belgians didn't like this and slowed them down. The British and the French arrived in time to stop the Germans moving forward, and did so in a semi-circular arc of 5-10 km radius around the town of Ypres. And there, for 4 solid years, neither side could gain enough advantage to move the line despite 4 main multiple-month battles. They (and when I say "they", I'm talking both sides) dug into to trenches. The blew up a LOT of mines, especially under the trenches. They (the Germans first, then the British and French) tried mustard gas, phosgene gas and chlorine gas. They tried flame throwers for the first time ever. They tried tanks for the first time ever. They put down so much artillery that on average, one shell exploded every square meter of ground. They turned the place into a swampy wasteland devoid of trees and full of rats. And with all this work, the line moved back and forth just 5 km between the towns of Ypres and Passchendale several times between 1914 and 1918. This four years resulted in over 300,000 Allied forces killed including over 90,000 missing, and total casualties in both sides broke 1,000,000.
We started our tour about 5 km north of town where the bulge that starts the semicircle begins. Here, Yorkshire Trench was unearthed in 1992 when they wanted to turn the land into an industrial park. It not only features a trench, but (now flooded) access to one of the many underground bunker/command posts that were used by the British, plus the added bonus of seeing what three years of war achieved here.
|1917 on right. 1914 trench under the boardwalk|
|From inside the trench|
|The old and the new; down into the bunker|
|The gas cloud shaped memorial|
|Bunker at Cheddar Villa|
|This one was once a German HQ|
|The Brooding Soldier|
|Why it's here|
|Between the crosses, row on row|
|Some 8,000 are unknown|
|Known and unknown|
|Note the back wall...|
|A little closer...|
|Names, names and more names|
|Damaged but intact|
|Okay, so I focused on the wrong thing|
|The Canadian Memorial at Crest Farm|
|Towards the town of Passchendale|
The Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI), in which Karen's dad served and Karen's nephew-in-law currently serves, have a memorial near here. In May 1915, they withstood a fierce German attack with substantial losses but gave up no ground.
|The memorial, with a Canadian flag|
|50th Anniversary Plaque|
|A plaque as old as me|
|Peaceful and idyllic if you forget why it's there|
|Pretend for a moment the trees aren't there|
|Imagine living, eating & sleeping in here|
There aren't a lot of trenches still left. There are also some on Hill 62, also referred to as Mount Sorrell.
|A typical zig zag British trench|
|Muddy to me, probably dry to someone back then|
However at Hill 62, you also get to see what artillery shell holes looked like, because they are still here and not filled in.
|Again, for a moment, imagine the trees are not there|
|They are literally a step apart|
|How many hit the trenches themselves?|
|The memorial from the Hill 62 trenches|
|Ypres, a mere 4 km away|
Just north of Ypres lies an Advanced Dressing Station...
|The bunkers of the ADS|
|In Flanders Fields, the poppies blow|
|King Albert memorial to John McCrae|
|Inside one of the ADS bunkers|
|Menin Gate, from the Ypres side|
|The inside of the gate|
|Lots of names|
|They seem to go on forever|
|A lot of names|
|A whole lot of names|
|Nowhere near all of the Canadian names|
We rode 63 km around the edge of the battle lines and saw less than 10% of the cemeteries, memorials and markers that are within a 30 min drive of Ypres. We visited incredible museums, some great, some full of junk, showing the weapons, life in the bunkers, life in the trenches, filled with the sounds and the smells of the battlefield that the soldiers endured for 4 years. I have tons of photos of it all, but they don't add value to this story. It took us 20 min to bike across a strip of ground that took the Allied forces 4 months to fight their way across on one particular occasion. Farmers today continue to unearth fragments of war. The still-charged gas canisters they find are stockpiled because they still don't know how to dispose of them.
Our ride only served to hammer home the tragedy of it all. Poet and philosopher George Santayana said "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
Let us never forget, and let us not do this again.
|Tombs of the unknown|