Moments of Silence in Flanders Fields and Passchendaele, Belgium

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:

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Driving in Europe — Andrew’s favourite! (J/K, it’s totally not.)

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The Cloth Hall (Lakenhalle) was rebuilt, after being completely destroyed in 1918.

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:

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He pretty much took this photo mid-run. His talents never cease to amaze me!

After this, I argued that I had seen a graveyard here in Ypres that we must stop at.  So we did.

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“A SOLDIER OF THE GREAT WAR KNOWN UNTO GOD”

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:

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Headstones at 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:

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“In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place; and in the sky The larks, still bravely singing, fly Scarce heard amid the guns below. We are the Dead. Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved, and now we lie In Flanders fields.”

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Taking a moment near the poppies at the 49th Division Memorial, Essex Farm Cemetery, Belgium.

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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.

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Trying to imagine these trenches in the midst of the Great War… cold, muddy, with shells flying overhead…

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:

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New British Cemetery near 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.

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2 responses to “Moments of Silence in Flanders Fields and Passchendaele, Belgium

  1. I did not know the specificity behind Flander’s Fields–like that it was because of one man’s particular death.

    My goodness. I just cannot fathom the feelings you’d experience being in a place like that.

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    • To be honest, I felt like I should have MORE feelings. But I was kind of distracted by being annoyed at how we wasted some time being lost prior to our arrival there. Stuff like that. Sensory overload!

      Like

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