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.
This is part of the poem written by John McCrae, a Canadian military doctor, who was serving in Flanders in 1915.
Flanders is the northern part of Belgium, and is the area which saw some of the bloodiest fighting during the 1st World War, especially around the town of Ypres. Everywhere you go in this area there are reminders of the war, from the huge war cemetery at Tynecot, to the smaller cemeteries that are dotted all around the countryside, all still beautifully maintained.
There is a much starker German cemetery at Langemarck.
Probably the most evocative place is Hill 62, a couple of miles from Ypres. After the war, a Flemish farmer returned to reclaim his land, only to find it covered by British trenches, used when they were defending the hill during the 2nd battle of Ypres in 1915. He filled in some of the trenches, but left a small section untouched, and started a small museum with some of the artefacts he found on the land – weapons, guns, shells, and other military equipment. Over the years, he and his descendants collected more memorabilia, including a large number of photographs which can be viewed in 3D through old stereoviewers, and the museum is now visited by thousands of people every year. It is still privately owned, now by the grandson of the founder, who has extended the original museum to include a café and gift shop (and, I confess, the worst cup of coffee I ever had in Belgium – but that was a few years ago, so maybe it’s improved by now!)
|Remains of trenches at Hill 62|
Another privately owned museum stands near the Hooge Crater, which was formed by an explosion of 1700kg of dynamite in an underground tunnel constructed by the Royal Engineers, in an effort to destroy a German fortification which gave the enemy too good a view of the British front line. Originally a chapel was built in the early 1920s at Hooge to commemorate the fallen, and this was bought by family in the 1990s who renovated it and turned the adjoining small village school into a museum and café. The museum houses the weapons collections of two enthusiastic collectors, some of it now very rare. The café also makes very good cheese and ham sandwiches!