Visiting WW1 Battlefields, Ypres
Touring the historic Battlefields, Trenches and Cemeteries of WW1 - Ypres (Ieper)
The Town of Ypres, Belgium
A beautifully restored Town with much to offer in it's Museums
Arriving at Ypres for the first time and having no idea of it's history, you would instantly see a Medieval Town full of little streets and the large square without any idea that most buildings, although rebuilt as close as they were before, are less than a hundred years old.
In 1914, the German Army advanced with great speed, their plan being to sweep around northern Belgium, over the French border thus penetrating deep into their target of capturing Paris from all angles.
The British along with their speedily mustered Allies rushed accross the Channel and dug in around the town of Ypres and managed to stop the invaders in their tracks.
In late 1914, the 'first battle of Ypres' took place and the Allies made strongholds to the north, east and south of the town and finally took the town itself back from the German forces. All seemed OK for a while, but in Spring 1915, the Germans threw everything at them in the second battle and took very commanding positions on the hills around the town. It was during this time that Gas was first used and many hundreds suffered severe injuries and death.
My Great Uncle was one victim of the gas attacks and spent the rest of his life in pain, bad vision and mentally tortured by the whole experience.
For over two years the situation became stalemate although intense fighting took place on a daily basis, the town was more or less completely destroyed and the once green farmland was a mass of mud and blown away tree stubs.
Then in Autumn 1917, the Allied forces, during the worse rain for many years, started their advance to take the high ground at Paschendaele, now known as the third battle of Ypres.
After enormous casualties, the battle was won and this would bring about the beginning of the end for WW1, victory was in sight, the troops, although fatigued by the fighting, were in better spirits and advanced toward their dream of peace and re-uniting with their families at home
But, the fighting never really ceased right the way through to November, still the town of Ypres was shelled and still folk at home were receiving the dreaded telegram to say their son, father or husband would not be coming back.
After the War, with money given by the Germans in reparation, the town was rebuilt as close as possible to it's former glory.
Today, you can sit in one of the many Cafes in the main square and look onto the great Cloth Hall and in one sweep of the eye, view the Menin Gate, the memorial to all those lost during a terribletime.
The Cloth Hall
(pictured centre / bottom)
It is now the venue for a most large and fascinating Museum aptly named 'In Flanders Fields Museum'.
Once a year Ypres hosts a Cat Parade. This dates back when Cats were considered a symbol of the devil and witchcraft and our feline friends were thrown off the Ramparts in expectancy of ridding the Town of demons. Obviously, the cats thrown now are not the real thing.
Because of the Town's wealth, many defences were put up over the years and some of the ancient ramparts can be seen as you drive around the outskirts.
The Ramparts Route
The ramparts have been well restored and their is a designated route which takes you around the edge of the Town.
Leaflets and information regarding Ypres can be found at their Website http://www.ieper.be
Ypres is around a 90 minute drive from the port of Calais, but avoid rush hours if possible and check for Cycle Races going on in that area, they shut roads and can cause long delays
It should not be forgotten that in 1914, Belgium was classed as a neutral Country, but through the invasion and the next four years, many thousands of men - and families - lost their lives. A Memorial to the Belgium fallen just to the south of the Cloth Hall.
During World War One, Ypres was known as 'Wipers' to the Troops. The Town is pronounced 'Eeeeps' and it's proper Belgium name is 'Leper'