This past summer, we visited some World War I (or, Great War) sites in Belgium. We could have done it much better than we did. We were in a hurry, we had a reservation awaiting at a restaurant, and we were driving ourselves. Which is to say, Andrew was once again at the wheel of a rental car in Europe:
We arrived in the city of Ieper, which is Flemish, as this area of Belgium is Flemish. But to us, it’s better known by the French name of Ypres. I think we were expecting more signage than there was, and we had no map, so we parked the car, and being unsure if we were parking illegally, we left Steve with the car and Andrew and I bolted to the visitor’s centre to locate actual maps.
As we ran through the streets of Ypres together, Andrew would periodically pause in his running to take these fantastical photos:
After this, I argued that I had seen a graveyard here in Ypres that we must stop at. So we did.
Seeing these graves in person was a striking experience. But there were many more…
We piled back into the car and found our way to Essex Farm Cemetery:
The Canadians joined the British and French effort here in 1915. Nine days after their arrival, 22-year-old Lt. Helmer left his dugout and was killed immediately. In sorting out his grief at the swift and tragic loss of his friend, Major John McCrae composed the now-famous poem:
We then visited the Yorkshire Trench in Boezinge — it’s a few kilometres away, in an industrial park, behind a Peugeot garage of sorts. So if you try to go there… just know that even when you think you’re really lost, you’re probably actually on the right track.
There are hundreds of sites like this throughout northern France and Belgium. We will return someday and visit more. On this occasion, we visited one more — Passchendaele:
To this very day farmers are finding shells from World War I throughout their fields. A LOT of shells.
I’m not really sure how to conclude this post… nothing seems quite right. Maybe I should talk about my feelings? But really, I was mostly frustrated that I couldn’t connect well to the amazing and horrible things that happened here, and what it means for my life today. Because we were running late and fumbling with maps. We will return someday, and be more contemplative. This is what I say now… though sadly, history has a way of repeating itself.