Peace and Remembrance in Flanders Fields, Belgium

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The lovely modern farm fields of Belgium and France are dotted with villages, beer-brewing monasteries, and church steeples. It’s difficult to imagine this idyllic landscape filled with mud trenches and home to the horrific battles of World War I during the early 20th century. Today Flanders Fields, Belgium is an important monument for peace and remembrance.

View of Flanders from the Ypres Belfry

View of Flanders from the Ypres Belfry (Photo credit: Claudia Laroye)

Flanders for peace

Flanders, Belgium became the epicenter of the war effort during the Great War conflict between 1914-1918. A million soldiers from over 50 countries, including the United States, were wounded, missing or killed in action in the Flanders Fields region.

The town of Ypres, a prosperous Flemish market town dating to the Middle Ages, was completely destroyed during the war. Its most impressive symbol and landmark, the magnificent 13th-century Cloth Hall (Flanders was famous for its textiles) overlooking the Market Square, was burned down in the early part of the war.

As a result of its accidental place in WWI history, modern-day Ypres and surrounding Flanders region has been shaped by the remembrance of war, and exists as a shrine to a hopeful legacy of peace. It’s an excellent place to begin teaching yourself and your kids about WWI history, the terrible cost of war, and the importance of remembrance.

In Flanders Fields Museum is a must visit in Ypres, Flanders

In Flanders Fields Museum is a must visit in Ypres, Flanders (Photo credit: Claudia Laroye)

In Flanders Fields Museum

The excellent In Flanders Fields Museum offers an interactive, multi-media experience of World War I, from the point of view of soldiers, medical staff, and residents of Ypres. Every Museum visitor receives a personalized poppy wristband that enables tourists to hear age-relevant information at digital kiosks in their own language. You can follow the lives (and deaths) of local Ypres children, 16-year old British soldiers, a Canadian doctor, and others involved in the conflict. The multi-media experience is a powerful way to make the past come alive for those of us who have no experience or memory of war.

The Museum does a really incredible job of explaining the complex reasons for the Great War. The displays of propaganda and artifacts are eye-catching (without being gory) for children in particular. Through the use of audio and videos, In Flanders Fields Museum takes the visitor back in time to better understand the war’s impact upon real individuals and nations.

Your museum entrance includes a chance to visit the Cloth Hall Belfry. From above , you can see the city of Ypres and the surrounding farmland that was once the site of muddy trenches and bloody battlefields.

Essex Farm

Part of the fame of Flanders comes from the poem, In Flanders Fields, written in 1915 by Canadian doctor John McCrae. The poem is a strong witness to the death of young men on the front, buried under white crosses with delicate red Flemish poppies dotted in between. Essex Farm is now a cemetery, but in 1915, it was the site of concrete dug-outs that served as medical stations for war wounded, including Dr. McCrae, who wrote the poem here before his own death.

Red poppies in the sandbags of the Trench of Death at Flanders Fields, Belgium

Red poppies in the sandbags of the Trench of Death (Photo credit: Claudia Laroye)

Trench of Death

The Trench of Death remains as the last remnant if the Belgian First World War trench system. Experience the trench yourself after visiting the interpretive center to learn of war history through pictures, witness accounts and videos. Walk along the sandbagged walls, imagining what it would have been like during a raid or offensive exercise, poking your head above to view No Man’s Land, but in safety.

Tyne Cot Cemetery

The largest in the British Commonwealth, In Flanders Fields holds 12,000 buried soldiers from England, Canada, Scotland, Australia and many of England’s colonial holdings of the 19th century. It is a profoundly moving place of loss with its simple, white headstones. You cannot help but be struck  by the number of the white crosses, row on row, as the In Flanders Fields poem. The wall that surrounds the cemetery is a memorial to missing soldiers, bearing the name of nearly 35,000 men from the United Kingdom who were never found.

The sombre and moving cemetery at Tyne Cot, Flanders, Belgium

The somber and moving cemetery at Tyne Cot (Photo credit: Claudia Laroye)

Menin Gate

In Ypres, the war is remembered every day. At one entrance into the city, the In Flanders Fields provides a window to the past. The Gate is inscribed with the names of nearly 55,000 missing men who have no known graves, and whose names are listed by rank, regiment and nationality. It is gut-wrenching to read so many rows of names, imagining that these were once men, or more often, just teenage boys.

The Last Post ceremony has taken place every evening at the Menin Gate since 1928 (with a pause during WWII) over 30,000 times. The ceremony was created as a form of remembrance by the citizens of Ypres. Every evening at 8 pm, the road passing under the gate is closed for the ceremony of the Last Post, a farewell call to soldiers played on the trumpet. The commemoration and placement of wreaths is particularly large and moving each November 11th, in recognition of Armistice Day and the official end of World War I (as well as Veteran's Day and Remembrance Day). Attending the Last Post as the sun sets will complete a visit to Flanders Fields in the most memorable and lasting way.

Have you visited Flanders Fields, or other war memorial sites in Belgium or France? Share your thoughts below.

About Claudia Laroye, The Curious Travel Mama

Claudia Laroye lives in Vancouver, Canada, with her husband and two sons (ages 18 and 20). She started travelling at a very young age, and has never stopped. She’s had the fortune of visiting more than 20 countries on four continents, and has also lived abroad in Sweden. Claudia is passionate about family travel and about educating children through the travel experience. She is the author of the thetravellingmom.ca, and contributes to many online and print media publications. Connect with Claudia on Twitter as @travelling_mom.

Comments

  1. Mama Munchkin says:

    Wow… what an incredible spot to take the kids. I haven’t even thought of traveling to Belgium but maybe we should add it to the next Europe itinerary we create. I love incorporating educational aspects into our trips. It’s something more recent for us but I have come to learn that it enlightens me almost more that the kids.

    • Claudia Laroye says:

      Thanks for your comment, Amber! It is well worth the time to visit sites that educate parents and kids about important human history and world events. Whether it’s Pearl Harbor, Ypres, or Vimy Ridge, there is much to learn about and appreciate in today’s world. The power of travel is incredible that way!

  2. margaret Collins says:

    I am planning a trip to Flanders Fields next June to commemorate 100 years of my grandfather’s death during the battle of Messines. He iis buried where he fell (Flanders Fields) Does anyone know if the white crosses contain names?. His name rank regiment etc is shown on Menin Gate.

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