The area of north-west Belgium and north-eastern France, known as Flanders, saw some of the most intense fighting of WW1, as the Allies held the small amount of Belgium not occupied by the invading German forces, principally the area around the town of Ypres, known as the Ypres Salient.
In his famous poem In Flanders Fields, Lt Col John Macrae memorably recorded the moving sight of white crosses amidst the poppies. Today, Flanders accommodates some 157 beautifully-maintained Allied cemeteries and memorials, museums, restored trenches and many notable military landmarks.
THE TOWN OF YPRES (IEPER)
Our tour visits this beautiful medieval town and may include a visit to the celebrated In Flanders Fields Museum. Although never actually occupied during WW1, the town was almost constantly bombarded by German guns and the townsfolk were evacuated. By 1918 it lay in ruins. However, after the war, the returning townsfolk were determined to rebuild their town. Using photographs and the original plans, the town has been reconstructed to create a replica of its medieval self, with Town Square, Cloth Hall and Cathedral.
WE WILL ALSO VISIT A SELECTION OF THE FOLLOWING SITES:
Brandhoek Military Cemetery
This was a busy medical dressing station in the Great War where there are now three cemeteries. We visit the grave of one of only three holders of a double Victoria Cross. We spend a little time observing the mix of regiments and nationalities commemorated together.
Nestled between residential homes and open fields, Brandhoek cemetery is a touching memorial to the sacrifices of so many – and illustrates how, in modern times, life in the area goes on side-by-side with history.
Here you can see a simple yet moving front line memorial, and explore the dressing station bunkers where Canadian surgeon Lt. Col. John McCrae penned his famous poem In Flanders Fields. The cemetery includes the grave of one of the youngest soldiers to die on the front line, Valentine “Joe” Strudwick, as well as that of a VC and other interesting graves.
Hill 62 & Sanctuary Wood Trenches Museum
Just below the strategically-vital Hill 62, where there is a Canadian memorial, visitors can explore the Sanctuary Wood network of trenches left more or less as they were at the end of the Great War in 1918. They become very muddy in wet weather, making for an authentic trench experience.Often regarded as the highlight of the tour, especially by younger visitors, the Sanctuary Wood trenches and museum give a truly ‘hands-on’ insight into life in the trenches.
Langemark German Cemetery
After visiting Allied cemeteries, the German cemetery at Langemark comes as a complete contrast. Visitors pass through a dark vestibule into a sombre garden.
Overlooked by four distinctive art deco statues, Langemark commemorates the First Battle of Ypres in 1914 when some 3,000 young German recruits were killed. It includes a mass grave containing nearly 25,000 German burials, a further 10,000 soldiers buried within the grounds, and a memorial to the Students’ Regiment.
A picturesque town close to Ypres, Poperinge was far enough behind the front line to provide R & R for Allied soldiers from the horrors of the trenches, but also where ‘deserters’ were court martialled and executed. The tour may include a visit to the cells where British deserters were held and the shooting post where they were executed – a poignant memorial.
Tyne Cot Allied Cemetery
Situated on Passchendaele Ridge, the scene of heavy fighting during the Third Battle of Ypres, Tyne Cot is the largest Allied cemetery in the world.
From Tyne Cot’s excellent visitor centre you can look across the land where some 245,000 British troops were lost in the mud of Flanders Fields, and compare the scene from a panoramic photograph taken at the time with the modern view.
Vancouver Corner Canadian Memorial – The ‘Brooding Soldier’
The iconic 11-metre tall Memorial of the Brooding Soldier commemorates the loss of life in the first gas attack by the Germans in 1915, which caused heavy Canadian casualties. Tragically, this was before the invention of gas masks – the soldiers had only soaked handkerchiefs for protection. The sheer scale and beauty of the Brooding Soldier is a powerful and memorable testament to the bravery of the Canadian soliders commorated here, the horrors of chemical warfare, and the potency of memorial design.
The Yorkshire trenches have been restored with concrete-filled sandbags, preserving them for posterity.
The Menin Gate, built by the British Government and opened in 1928, commemorates some 54,000 British and Dominion (Commonwealth) soldiers who died on the Ypres battlefields and for whom there is no known resting place. The moving Last Post Ceremony is held here every evening. If you request when booking, your school or organisation can participate in the ceremony by laying a wreath – a poignant experience.