In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
– Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae
On Sunday, July 16th, we left Ghent around 8:30 in the morning to make our way to Bruges. The bulk of our day would be spent surveying the fields of Flanders in and around Ypres, Belgium, where 500,000 men breathed their last breaths in the trench warfare of World War I. It may have been only my experience, but I remember seeing very little in the way of World War I historical sites in my life. It was a sobering treat to visit this rather small section of Western Belgium, the Ypres Salient, where so many suffered and died.
As we were entering Ypres, we passed this cemetery, one of many dotting the surrounding countryside.
We parked our rental car in the main square of Ypres.
I love this many-dormered roof.
The Grand Cloth Hall, which houses the In Flanders Field Museum. It’s hard to believe that everything in Ypres is less than 100 years old because the town was totally destroyed by the first world war. Winston Churchill had hoped Ypres would not be rebuilt as a testimony of the devastation of the war, but local citizens had other ideas.
Perhaps the reason I’ve heard less about Ypres than Normandy is that most of the dead and wounded Allied Soldiers in Flanders belonged to the British Commonwealth countries of England, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. We first visited the Menin Gate and the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres, then the nearby Passchendaele Museum, then the Tyne Cot cemetery, the final resting spot of 11, 956 British Commonwealth soldiers, and finally the German Military Cemetery at Langemark, where 44,324 Central Powers soldiers were buried (along with two misidentified Brits). It was during the First Battle of Ypres that the famous Christmas Truce occurred, in which the Germans and the British exchanged gifts and kind words, singing Christmas Carols together.
Farmers have barns full of artifacts dug up while plowing their fields. It is not unusual to find human remains.
This tree in the Flanders Fields museum died in 1974 after living for 177 years. The black marks in this cross-section were made from exploding grenades and missiles.
The tree continued to grow around these damaged areas.
An example of the human remains often discovered when excavating. An attempt is made to identify the soldier and notify the families.
In front of the Passchendaele Museum.
A photo of the fighting conditions at the Battle of “Passiondale,” as the Brits called it. This battle was the Third Battle of Ypres, one of the deadliest of the entire war.
The Passchendaele Museum has a simulation of the British underground “dugout” tunnels, used as their headquarters. Cindy stands by the recreated sleeping quarters.
The dugout hallway.
Strikingly beautiful artillery juxtaposed with a very somber theme.
The museum also had a reconstruction of the shallow trenches with slotted walkways to try to keep soldiers’ feet out of the mud.
You’ll notice the trenches evolved and were distinct based on what nation built them.
More trenches at Passchendaele.
Enjoying a sandwich at the local bistro adjacent to the museum.
The entrance to Tyne Cot Cemetery, the final resting place of almost 12,000 British Commonwealth soldiers. It takes its name from the German blockhouse (a small fortification) on this site which was taken by the British and named “Tyne Cottage” after the river in England.
So many of these tombstones are marked like this one: “A soldier of the Great War, known to God.”
Two soldiers buried here, one known and one unknown.
The tallest cross in the center is the location of Tyne Cottage.
Notice how these stones are not arranged in nice neat rows? That’s because these graves were not placed after the war, but during the war, when this cottage was a makeshift medical station. The area next to it became an impromptu burial ground.
There were a few scattered poppies around the cemetery.
Wheat field across from Tyne Cot.
One of the German pillboxes (fortifications) contained within the cemetery.
At the German Cemetery at Langemark, a rare site dedicated to the invaders. Here over 44,000 enemy troops are buried. It’s dull and drab compared to the British cemeteries nearby. The Treaty of Versailles forbade the German WWI cemeteries from using white stone.
This is a mass grave of 25,000 dead unidentified German soldiers.
Around 2:30 in the afternoon, we drove our rental car 40 minutes northward to the well-preserved gothic town of Bruges. Unlike our experience in Ghent, we found our hotel, Hotel Adornes, easily and settled in to our 3rd-story room with an idyllic view of the canal which traverses the front of the hotel. The scenery from our window is indescribable. Wow!
The canal-side Hotel Adornes
The amazing view from our room.
Looking out our window at Hotel Adornes in Bruges
After a little rest, we walked through cobblestoned streets and across bridges over serene canals to have dinner at L’Estaminet (according to the restaurant, the name is derived from the question asked by Spanish sailors upon their arrival at the pub in the old days, “Estan Minetas?” or “Are there girls?”). We finally tried the third piece of the Belgian food trinity, beer (in addition to waffles and chocolate). Actually, the Belgian are also big on their French fries, which are usually served with mayonnaise for dipping. But, I wouldn’t say they are internationally known as a French fry country.
Statue of Jan van Eyck, one of the two most famous painters of Bruges.
Dinner at L’Estaminet
Wonderful Bakes Spaghetti and brew, Brugse Zot, one of the locally brewed beers.
And another local brew, Straffe Hendrik
After dinner, Cindy and I wandered through Bruges for a little while, stopping off in the Markt (Market Square) and in Burg Square before making our way to our hotel for a restful evening.
Passing over the canals as we walk through the “Venice of the North”
City Hall on Burg Square
On the way back to our hotel, we stopped to enjoy a number of local couples doing the Argentine tango in the Fish Market. Very cool!
Another quaint canal view.
Lovers on the bench overlooking the hotel-front canal.
Yet one more view from our window.