Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Ieper, Tyne Cot and Langemark Cemeteries 20 September

After a leisurely breakfast at the hotel the four of us drove (well actually Richard drove with three tagging along) back into Ieper. Our objective was to pay a visit to the In Flanders Fields Museum. Located in the very grand Cloth Hall -- destroyed along the entire town during the war and rebuilt after -- this museum was worth the trip to France.

Upon entry to the museum each visitor receives a poppy bracelet with a microchip inside, which activates the chosen language for the visitor. The history of the war, particularly in Ypres are told with incredible poignancy through personal stories across several nationalities. The use of interactive media was, we all thought, very well done and quite engaging.

As one might expect, the displays include medical equipment, gas masks, uniforms, and a mule and munitions wagon exhibit. Yet the journey through the museum and thus through history of the war, also focused on the consequences of war.

It was generally agreed that the layout of the museum was superb and very well thought out -- you moved ever forward to the finish but without feeling steered in any specific direction; it just seem to happen. Even though there were many visitors in the museum when we were there -- including a very large group of teenagers -- one never felt crowded. Oh, and speaking of children, I must say that the respect, interest and engagement on the faces of those kids was impressive.

Before exiting there was a large room, a secondary exhibition as it were, covering writing about the great war. One could sit and read samples from works in several languages. This was truly the capstone to the museum.

After leaving the museum we went in search of lunch -- just around the corner as it turned out. Near the Ieper monument to it's local dead we sat outside at the Allegria Cafe where we were waited on by the most unhappy 12-year-old boy. The food matched his temperament, I'm afraid: not very good.

After lunch we paid a second visit to the Menin Gate Memorial to see it in daylight this time.

From Ieper we made our way to the Commonwealth Memorial and cemetery of Tyne Cot. Like so many Commonwealth cemeteries (there are som 410 of them along the Somme) this one was opened on the battlefield itself (remains of a bunker lie at the very center of the cemetery beneath the flagpole). It is also one of four Commonwealth memorials to the missing in Belgium and is oday the largest Commonwealth cemetery in the world: 11,961 known burials and another 8,373 graves are listed as unknowns; another 35,000 names of soldiers whose graves are unknown are inscribed on the sweeping wall of the memorial.

From Tyne Cot we then drove to the German cemetery at Langemarck. The contrast to Tyne Cot was striking. Where the first was full of light and openness, the German space was dark and somber, almost claustrophobic. The cemetery contains more than 44,000 graves, of which 24,917 men are buried in en masse in the Comrades' Grave.  The village of Langemark also holds the dubious distinction of being the scene for the first gas attack by the Germans in April of 1915.

That evening we ate dinner at Markt 38 in Poperinge, Belgium.

Ypres monument to its dead
poppies growing in a cornfield across from the entrance to Tyne Cot

entrance to Langemarck

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