Hill 62, Sanctuary Wood, Ypres
Well preserved Trenches, Museum and Cemetery
Hill 62, Sanctuary Wood, a popular WW1 Battlefield Tour stop, is about three miles east of Ypres off the Menin Road. Upon arriving, it’s quite hard to imagine the reality of what happened nearly 100 years ago. When we went, it was a beautiful sunny day, the birds were singing; and the greenery of the trees was immaculate, all in all a complete reverse of what it was like then, when every shred of green had been blown apart by Shells which raged 24 hours a day for nigh on four years. It just confirms though that even Battlefields can’t beat nature, only on a temporary basis anyway.
In some ways it’s a place you need to visit on a dismal day to get the full atmosphere maybe.
Sanctuary Wood was named that because during the early WW1 War years, it was a way behind the front line and a place for Servicemen to take refuge. But as time went on and the front lines of the Ypres Salient Battlefield changed, because of it being on a hill top, it became a strategic ‘must’ for both sides. The shell holes remain as do a few tree stumps still showing bullet holes in them.
All around are little wooden crosses left by Visitors, even in the long and dark underground tunnels, people have paid their respect.
You can see why. From what I can imagine it to have been like, the noise and human destruction going on must have been horrific.
To the day they died, neither of my Grandfathers ever spoke about it, not once.
The WW1 Museum, although quite small, has a lot to offer; many photographs and ‘artefacts’ dug up post war. There are some old 3D viewers for you to look through and see hundreds of photographs, they don’t show any form of censorship (if it’s called that) and some of them portray some extremely disturbing scenes of sadness and death.
A few meters down the Road is the Military Cemetery designed by Sir Edward Luyten, it is like the many hundreds of others all over France and Belgium, very symmetrical clean and spotlessly kept by the War Graves Commission.
How we look after them is a merit to the Commission and long may they live on.
I’ve visited quite a few Military Cemeteries from both the World Conflicts and there hasn’t been one yet where I haven’t shed a tear in. The fact is that only a few graves have the names of the person who is in them and some have up to six Servicemen in each. A typical wording on the stones ends with ‘Known to God’.
You imagine these young men saying brave farewells to their loved ones and that would have been their final moment of peace, the train rolling out the Station, the waves, the tears, the Boat crossing to France or Belgium and the sound of Battlefields getting closer with every step.
What must have been going on in their minds? then to think there are still situations like that going on today.
However, should you ever be that way to or from somewhere and especially if you have kids, take time out to visit these places. It took me a long time to do so and I regret that now.
Indeed, we must never forget.
Tourist Information Sites
Ypres Tourist Office ! Visit Flanders | Tour Northern France | BrugesTourist Office | Tourism Belgium