On February 12th-14th 2010 I visited some of the battlefields and other sites of World War 1 on a school trip in Ypres, Belgium.
Langemark German Cemetary
The first place we visited was the Langemark German Cemetary, which is one of the few german cemetaries in Belgium. It contains a mass grave in the centre for those who are unidentified, and the names of the unidentified remains are around the side are on large slabs around the edge. Around the cemetary are graves of identified soldiers.The gravestones have as many as 16 names on them each, along with the dates of the deaths. In total there are just under 25,000 soldiers buried here.
On the far end there is a life-size statue of four mourning soldiers, which was created by Emil Kreiger. 3 bunkers remain in good condition too around the edge of the cemetary.
On 1st June 1940, during World War II, Adolf Hitler visited this cemetary. Hitler was particularly interested in the student graves, which he and his followers saluted.
The Yorkshire Trench
The Yorkshire Trench was uncovered in 1998 by a group called the Diggers.
The trench has been reconstructed exactly where it was originally, the only exception being the solid wall instead of sandbags. This means you can walk through the trench to find out what it was really like. It was very tight and narrow down there, and it is almost impossible to imagine what it must have been like living in one of them.
The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing is in Ypres, Belgium. It is dedicated to the memory of British and Commonwealth soldiers who were killed in the Ypres Salient of World War I and whose graves are unknown.
Following the Menin Gate Memorial opening on 24th July 1927, the citizens of Ypres wanted to express their gratitude towards those who had given their lives for Belgium’s freedom. As such, every evening at 20:00, buglers from the local fire brigade close the road which passes under the Memorial and sound the Last Post. Except for the occupation by the Germans in World War II when the daily ceremony was conducted at Brookwood Military Cemetery, in Surrey England, this ceremony has been carried on uninterrupted since 2 July 1928.
At dinner we visited the centre of Ypres (or Ieper). It is a beautiful city which, despite being almost completely destroyed in World War I, had been rebuilt to look almost identical to how it looked before.
The main sites were the Cloth Hall and The Menin Gate (see above) which we visited. The Cloth Hall has the ‘In Flanders Field’ museum located inside it
In Flanders Field Museum
The In Flanders’ Fields Museum is devoted to the study of World War I and occupies the second floor of the Cloth Hall, Ypres in Belgium. The building was virtually destroyed by artillery fire during the Battles of Ypres and has been reconstructed. The curator, Piet Chielens, is a World War I historian. The museum is named for the famous poem by Canadian John McCrae.
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.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Essex Farm Cemetary
The Essex Farm Cemetary is a few miles from the centre of Ypres. The cemetary was designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield , who also designed the Menin Gate. The 1199 burials at the cemetary, though there are 1,185 graves in it.
The most notable grave was that of Valentine Joe Strudwick, who was killed in action on 14th January 1916, just 1 month short of his 16th birthday. He was one of the youngest fatalities of World War 1.
Some graves simply read ‘A Soldier of the Great War – Known unto God’ which meant that the remains of the soldier could not be identified.
Tyne Cot Cemetary
The Tyne Cot Cemetary was the last place we visited.
Tyne Cot Cemetery in Belgium is the largest Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery on the Western Front. Tyne Cot occupies part of the strategic high ground from which the Germans looked down across the Allied forces and is a historic site from the Battle of Passchendaele.
Within its flint walls are the graves of almost 12,000 casualties from the First World War, 8300 of them unidentified. The entire rear of the cemetery is occupied by a curved Memorial to the Missing, commemorating a further 35,000 soldiers who have no known graves. In total the cemetery covers an area of 34,941 square metres.
While there we saw the remains of some German Bunkers, as well as some of the more notable graves such as that of Australian captain C.S Jefferies who received the Victoria Cross for leading several parties of men in an attack that resulted in the capture of six machine guns and sixty-five prisoners, before being killed himself by machine gun fire.
Back in the days just after the first war, the German Cemetery was a little different. There where wooden crosses for the known soldiers.
Langemark has also a tank Cemetery. In 2009, Langemark placed a monument for the tanks that got stuck and sunk in the mud.
You can find original photo’s of the Cemetery and the sunken tanks on this website: