Friday, 17 July 2015

Traces of the First World War

Of course, sadly, Belgium is known for more than its beer and chips and many choose to make a pilgrimage to the battlefields of WWI. It was something I felt I wanted to do, perhaps should do, at least once in my lifetime. Although I have not been able to trace any family members who were killed overseas, I do remember one great uncle who had a prosthetic arm as a result of injuries he received during WWI, though he never spoke of his experiences. The tour I chose took in the city of Ypres, a central point in the long stalemate between German troops and the Allied Forces, plus one of the Commonwealth War cemeteries and a small museum called Sanctuary Wood.

Sanctuary Wood, in the so-called Ypres Salient (a salient is a battlefield feature where the front line projects into enemy territory) is one of the few places where the original trenches can still be seen. The front line around Ypres moved back and forth over the four years from 1914 to 1918 and was the scene of some of the worst and bloodiest battles of the Great War. Thousands of soldiers lost their lives and many thousands more were maimed in body and mind. For all the horror and carnage, only some five miles of territory was lost and gained over those four long years.

The small museum owes its existence to a farmer, who simply collected up the artefacts he found on the land around. It is all displayed in rather a muddle but is no less interesting for that. In fact perhaps one comes away with a stronger sense of the chaos and futility of war because it is not all tidily and slickly presented.


  1. I recognised the shot of Sanctuary Wood when I saw it on the feed. I've been to the Ypres Salient several times and it never fails to astonish, move and humble. The concentration of war over a relatively small area for four years has left an indelible mark, evidenced by the sheer number of cemeteries and amount of detritus of war (that still turns up). It is still dangerous - 2 men were killed by an WWI shell the day before I got there on my last visit. But unless we have personal experience by being in or having relitives in the services, most of us cannot comprehend from books or TV the reality of war. In the UK, we are incredibly lucky. It should be mandatory for people to visit places like this, to try - and fail - to understand, but at least to help drive home that, as Churchill said, 'jaw-jaw' is better than 'war-war'. Thanks for posting this Jenny - hope you visited other sites whilst there and we can look forward to more excellent photos.

  2. My great uncle fought at Ypres. Mags lost two great uncles, now resting in Arras. Her grandfather lost an arm at the Somme. But you don't need to have lost ancestors to be moved in these surroundings, do you? I've never been, but feel, as I get older, that I should make the trip.

    1. I'm glad I went Martin. It was a very good tour too, Riviera Travel.

  3. An impressively informative post. Many of us have read dry words in books, but without being able to visualize or internalize the horror of the days spent on the front.


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