The battlefields of WWI around Ypres, the land known as Flanders Fields, lie in peaceful farmland. This month marks the 100th anniversary of my country’s entry into the long, muddy, bloody conflict. To honor those who fought – from about 50 different countries – here’s a look at Flanders Fields today.
Tyne Cot Cemetery
Lying near the town of Passchendaele, the site of three major battles, this cemetery is a memorial to fallen soldiers from the U.K., Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. It’s telling that out of the 12,000 graves, about 8,000 names are unknown. These battles were so brutal that many of the young men could not be identified.
Unexploded shells continue to surface as farmers plow and construction crews dig. People trying to handle the ammunition are still dying from accidental explosions. We saw some of these shells on a farm, but everyone in our tour group chose to look, not handle.
Hill 60 – Battle of Messines
This area is preserved as it was during the war. Tunnels dug under here were mined and blown up under enemy lines. The close proximity of the front lines is noted by signs in the sidewalk. And a German bunker survives.
A German Cemetery
Field Dressing Station and Cemetery
This field dressing station was where medic John McCrae worked. He is the author of the poem:
In Flanders Fields the poppies grow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce hear amid the guns below.
We toured Flanders Fields with Quasimodo Tours. The couple who runs this company lives in the area and is extremely knowledgeable about WWI. The van picked us up at our hotel in Brugge, and it was a day of immersion in history. I highly recommend this company! Here we are with our excellent guide, Phillipe.
In case you missed it, check out the previous post on Ypres and the Menin Gate for that portion of the tour.