Friday, 5 September 2014

Ypres - A town that never forgets

Ypres, a town that never forgets - a town that can't forget?  One hundred years since the start of the First World War, Ypres is the focus of the pilgrimage that many thousands of tourists make each year.

Ypres (or Ieper as it is officially known) is located in the west of Belgium, just one and a half hours by car from Calais which makes it very accessible.  As you near the city, you begin to spot cemeteries by the side of the road or in distant fields.  The Commonwealth ones are the most recognisable, with their matching white headstones.  We had visited Tyne Cot Cemetery, the largest of all the cemeteries in Belgium, several years ago.  This time we visited the Essex Farm Cemetery where the famous poem In Flanders Field was written.  
If you are going to visit a Commonwealth Cemetery or Memorial, then I highly recommend this leaflet produced by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission for a basic introduction.

Ypres itself is a small medieval city, largely rebuilt after the war.  Its town square is dominated by the Cloth Hall building which you could be forgiven for thinking is a cathedral.  The Cloth Hall is home to the In Flanders Field Museum which Papa Owl assures me was worth the €9 entrance fee (Little Owl was desperately in need of a nap, and I wasn't sure she was quite ready for a museum!).

A short walk from here is the Menin Gate, a most impressive structure which dwarfs the nearby buildings, over fifty thousand names are engraved on the gate, all of whom died during the war and who's bodies were either not found, or not identified.
Every night at 8 o'clock, the Last Post is played during a short ceremony. We arrived not long after 7 and the crowds had started to form.  Papa Owl headed into the gate itself, while I found somewhere to sit with Little Owl outside.  Here is Papa Owls words on the ceremony:

"The ceremony is a simple act of remembrance centred around the playing of the last post. Wreaths are laid and the exhortation is read. On some occasions, including ours, a  visiting band plays some hymns. I stood at the back and started taking to some Ypres locals who attend every day without fail. They told me about one of the buglers who only missed one day in 60 years. My impression was that the people of Ypres are still immensely grateful for the sacrifices made by the soldiers of Great Britain and the Empire 100 years ago."

As always with traveling, meal times get out of any resemblance of normal, which is even more noticeable with Little Owl in tow.  Breakfast had been on the ferry, lunch was ice cream at about 4 o'clock and dinner was yet to happen.  However, at 9 o'clock there were still plenty of restaurants open around the main square, many of them family friendly with other children dining.

The next morning gave me the chance to look around the shops.  There isn't a large shopping area, with several small retails parks located outside of the centre.  Nearly all of the shops are closed on Sundays, and many of the independent shops are closed on Monday mornings too!  

Ypres is a small beautiful city which is still completely in the shadow of the war that started over 100 years ago.  I cannot help but wonder what it must be like to grow up in such a place.  To have your life dominated by such a devastating event that happened so long ago.

Ypres, a town that never forgets - a town that can't forget?

If you are visiting Ypres, then check out my review of Hotel Regina


1 comment:

  1. Ypres is a town I'd really love to visit. I think I'll wait until Potato is old enough to understand some of what he's seeing though. I can imagine that the atmosphere at the last post is quite breathtaking


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