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.