Monday, August 27, 2012

Passendale & Ypres, Monday, August 27

Today’s weather was much improved. It felt like a warm fall day and we were comfortable in short sleeves.

Did I mention that there are a lot of cows in Belgium? Sometimes the cow’s fragrance wafts into the car as we drive by, causing unjust accusations that someone is let a stinker go.

Our first stop was at the Canadian monument at Passendale. It was so green, peaceful and silent except for the breeze whispering through the trees and our footsteps. It’s hard to believe that so much devastation had taken place there.

Next we went to the Tyne Cott Cemetary. There was an information area and speakers that named soldiers and ages one after the other after the other. Most of the ones I heard had died in their twenties.

We stopped at another Canadian monument of the Brooding Soldier. This is probably the monument that impressed me the most. At all the monuments there is a place to sign a book of memorium. At this one, there was someone named Marion from Oakville who had been there shortly before us today.

There was a really interesting Passendale Museum, once again in such a peaceful setting. We even were able to go into a replica of underground bunkers.

Next we went to Essex Farm Cemetary where John McCrae had written in Flanders Fields. Being here and going to all these sites, really gives a person a better understanding of the poem and the Flanders Fields.

This whole area is dotted with cemetery after cemetery and memorial.

We visited the Hill 60 Cemetary before driving down the lane to the museum. There are so many graphic pictures of the war scenes and death in the museum, taken at the time. Behind the museum we could walk through the actual Canadian’s trenches.

The lane going to Hill 60 is lined by Maple trees.

A short distance away was the Hooge Crater Cemetary. Unfortunately, we couldn’t go into the museum because it was closed on Mondays.

We drove into Ypres. We stopped at a store called The British Grenadier which is run by a Canadian man who moved here to record every single Canadian war grave and then after having lunch toured the “In Flanders Fields” museum (which is located in the rebuilt Grote Market).
This is one fabulous museum that really puts human faces to this war. We also climbed up the bell tower (which started freaking me out a bit as we climbed higher and higher, but I couldn’t turn around and go back because the stairs were narrow and only one way).

The view across Ypres and the countryside was amazing. During the WWI 1914-1918, this city was completely destroyed and they later rebuilt it the same as it was before 1914.

We closed the museum down at 6pm and then did the whole walk of the ramparts, visiting Ramparts Cemetary that had a beautiful location by the river.

We watched a choir practicing before heading down into the Menin Gate for the Last Post Ceremony which takes place every night at 8pm. It was crowded. Tonight, they had a girls choir from Ottawa singing as well. They were wonderful. They sang that God and country hymn (it was sung at Princess Di’s funeral) and Abide with me. The ceremony ended off with “God Save the Queen” (which a number of British people joined in) and “Oh Canada”. There is something moving about singing along with our anthem in an instance such as this. Actually, the whole ceremony was moving.

One of the things that really impressed me today was that even though the graves are almost 100 years old, every one of the cemeteries was meticulously cared for. Not only was the grass perfectly cut, but all the graves were carefully planted and cared for and all the monuments were standing straight and clean.

In Belgium there are over 600 separate WWI cemeteries

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