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REMEMBRANCE

Remembering yesterday today

Story by Ed Harrison November 9th, 2014

visiting flanders fields

IN JUNE 2014 I WENT ON A SHORT TRIP TO YPRES, BELGIUM, TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE FIRST WORLD WAR CONFLICT AND PAY TRIBUTE TO THE FALLEN SOLDIERS WHO LAY TO REST IN THE REGION. FROM 1914-1918 THE HOMES AND FIELDS OF FLANDERS WERE TURNED INTO A BATTLEFIELD, AND A MILLION SOLDIERS WERE WOUNDED OR KILLED. THERE IS NO OTHER REGION THAT TELLS THE STORY OF THE WAR IN SUCH DEPTH.

DAY 1: THE IN FLANDERS MUSEUM

On the first day we visited the In Flanders Fields Museum, located in the main square of Ypres on the second floor of an old Cloth Hall. We discovered this medieval-style building was painstakingly reconstructed between 1928-1967 after it was left in ruins as a consequence of the war. As we got to the square we found a marching band performing the opening ceremony for the Centenary directly outside the museum - we couldn’t believe our timing!

On entry we were provided with interactive Poppy Bracelets which enabled the digital displays to adjust to your name, age and nationality. The exhibition began with the events leading to the outbreak of the Great War, then guided us through different aspects of the events through interactive touch screens, video projections and soundscapes. There was a particular focus on stories of individuals within the larger picture of the war, and the affects it had on the thousands of people of different nationalities who were involved.

There wasn’t a trace of the glorification of war; rather the museum provided us with an intense perception of the futility of war, especially as seen in Flanders 100 years ago. The exhibition opened my eyes to the immense complexity of the conflict, and mass loss of human life that came as a result.

We left the museum feeling thoughtful and deeply humbled.

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“There wasn’t a trace of the glorification of war; rather the museum provided us with an intense perception of the futility of war, especially as seen in Flanders 100 years ago. The exhibition opened my eyes to the immense complexity of the conflict, and mass loss of human life that came as a result. We left the museum feeling thoughtful and deeply humbled.”
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“Though we cannot begin to imagine the atrocities faced by our soldiers 100 years ago, to see beautiful places like this reserved for a handful of them to rest is deeply moving.”
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DAY 2: THE WAR MEMORIALS

On the second day we hired bikes and cycled a round route of Ypres, stopping off at some of the war cemeteries and memorials scattered across the region. Some of the cemeteries were enormous, with vast rows of gravestones stretching out for hundreds of yards. Others were smaller, more intimate cemeteries, tucked away in secluded spots off the cycle track. All of them were tranquil and beautiful places for quiet reflection.

The cemeteries are built and preserved by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission who do an incredible job in maintaining them. Though we cannot begin to imagine the atrocities faced by our soldiers 100 years ago, to see beautiful places like this reserved for a handful of them to rest is deeply moving.

As evening arrived we walked to Menin Gate, an impressive memorial dedicated to the missing British and Commonwealth soldiers who have no known graves. Every evening here the traffic is stopped and observers gather for the sounding of the Last Post, where Buglers call to attention at exactly 8pm and sound the “Last Post” call, which is followed by a minute‘s silence.

It’s incredible to think this simple but moving ceremony happens every night and has done for 100 years.

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Flanders, Belgium