Itinerary for DAY 5 – THU JULY 10, 2014 YPRES
Today we travel to the historic Belgian town of Ypres where we will have the opportunity to visit In Flanders Field Museum, tour the Tyne Cot Cemetery, St. Julien Canadian Memorial, the town of Passchendaele and the Canadian Memorial at Crest Farm. We also visit the Essex Farms bunker where Guelph, ON native John McCrae composed “In Flanders Fields.” Additionally, we will see preserved trenches in the Sanctuary Wood Museum. (If time permits we will stop at the German Cemetery in Langemarck). In the evening we will attend the famous Last Post Ceremony which takes place at the Menin Gate every night at 8 pm. Tonight we enjoy dinner at a local restaurant where they specialize in excellent Flemish food!
Today will be a full day. As the itinerary indicates, we are touring battlefields, memorials and cemeteries in the World War I Ypres Salient. It is here that so many fierce and desperate battles were fought between 1914 and 1918. The German Army first arrived at Ypres in October 1914, and it was not until October 1918 that the Allies were finally able to drive them from the area. They would successfully deny the Germans this corner of Belgium and a route to the canal ports of Calais and Dunkirk, but the struggle razed almost every building in Ypres to the ground and the cost in men and material was enormous .
The Germans held slightly higher ground here for four years, and so could see clearly across the Allied trenches and into the rear areas. This advantage was clearly evident to Sonya and I when we toured the area. The Allies determination to protect Ypres at all costs left them holding a saucer-shaped bulge, called a salient in military terms, into the German lines. It meant that they faced the Germans on three sides. Their positions in Belgian Flanders were also tenuous because they were generally low-lying, and consisted of heavy, waterlogged, clay fields prone to flooding in the damp climate. When German shelling destroyed the water table and natural drainage patterns, the landscape quickly became a sea of mud. We have all seen pictures of the battles at nearby Passchendaele with men and horses often up to their waists in mud and water. These are some of the most famous images of the war and today Sonya and I saw where they were taken. The Ypres Salient is also where Canadian troops suffered the first gas attack of the war.
There’s more on our day at Ypres coming, but in the meantime if you’d like to learn more about the battles of the Ypres Salient follow these links:
World War One: Battles of the Ypres Salient at The Great War 1914-1918 website.
The Ypres Salient on Wikiepdia