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Ieper, Belgium

Wipers is the version of the town name used by many thousands of the Tommies who made their way through it to this sector of the front. We set Tom Tom for the centre of Ypres. When we got to the Grote Markt the square was largely taken up by a fun fair but being Sunday morning it was all shut up and a small parking area remained at the far end where other cars were parked and not a paying machine in sight. There were signs chalked up in Flemish with the word Markt and various times written alongside but surely a market wouldn’t start up after mid-day on a Sunday. So we decided to stop and headed for the ‘In Flanders Field Museum’ on the first floor of the Cloth Hall. An amazing and thought provoking experience – audio visual presentations, interactive screens, detailed explanations of the 3 battles for Ypres and descriptions of the day to day existence of the population and soldiers in and around Ypres between 1914-1918. Prior to 1914, Germany was one of the co-signatories of the guarantee of Belgian neutrality. Despite several wars with Germany, it does not appear to have occurred to the French that fortifying their border with Germany on the Maginot Line would lead the German high command to contemplate circumventing it by ignoring their promises of respecting Belgian neutrality. The Ludendorf Plan did just that. It wasn’t to be the last time that Germany conveniently ignored a promise made in good faith. The exhibition really brought home the horrors that had taken place and the utter devastation of the areas we had visited the day before. We had spent at least 2 hours there but could have spent at least double that – we both agreed that the subject had been sensitively and imaginatively presented without bias. Amazing too that the ‘Cloth Hall’ housing the museum and Ypres itself had been lovingly raised from literally a flattened landscape back to its pre 1914 state. The Cloth Hall only finished reconstruction in the late 60's.

Emerging into the daylight we decided to look for somewhere for a snack. I suggested we pop back to the car to drop off our guide books. What car, where was it? No cars now, just a market!! A rather panicky enquiry on my part to a stall holder revealed that the car had been towed away – probably by the police. She spoke to other people who all agreed that must be what had happened but no-one was quite sure where the police station was or how we would get in contact with them. Rick and the lady came to the same conclusion – go to the tourist information centre and ask them to look up the number. Bless her, she took us there with a friend and made sure we were seen by a sweet young lady who rang the police and established who had the car. So it had been stolen by the local authorities and held to ransom! The police would arrive soon and take us to it. About 45 mins later we were re-united with the car as the towing company were about 15 kms outside Ypres. The policemen were very kind and there was no charge to take us there but we had to pay 120 Euros to the towing man who looked really apologetic and said he was sorry. Our fault entirely for not understanding the sign. Stupidly we hadn’t fully realised that we would be spending a lot of time in Flemish Belgium where there are linguistic tensions and it is a mistake to speak French to a local; we hadn’t brought our European dictionary!

Once bitten – before we left the car in another area of Ypres we checked with Flemish speakers that there was no need for pay and display in this area on a Sunday and headed off in the direction of the Menin Gate via the Grote Markt. It was 4.30pm and we were a bit hungry by this time so we stopped at a bar just off the main square and had Croques Monsieur followed by Gauffres with chocolate sauce for me or Crepes with strawberry jam for Rick washed down with a Cherry Kreik for me and a Jupiter beer for Rick. A brief stop in St Martin's Cathedral to see the stained glass rose window given as a present from the British Army and RAF to King Albert when the church was rebuilt after WW1 and then through the main square. Turning a corner at the far end the monument suddenly becomes visible and is only about 50 yards away.
Rick and I were both struck by its size. Somehow it had never looked that large on the television. The white stone glows in the sunlight and the centre of the arched ceiling is pierced by three large circular openings to the sky. The walls outside and in, and on the stairways to the side wings, are covered with the names of those with no known grave missing in battle up to 15 August 1915 (over 54,000). Those who were lost and whose bodies were never found after this date are commemorated at Tyne Cot. Climbing the stairs on the south side of the gate to the ramparts we walked along in the direction of the Lille Gate and to the Ramparts Cemetery, one of the smallest on the whole of the western front. The walk that approaches it is named after Rose Coombs the author of the book which has given us much of the information on the sites, who was a great friend of Ieper and whose ashes were sprinkled in the Ramparts Cemetery. The headstones in the cemetery all face out to overlook the rivers that converge here at its base. From here we made our way back to the car (yes it was still where we parked it!) and a route back to Mont Noir via the Monts des Cats. Mental note made to re-visit the latter at a later stage!

permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on August 7, 2011 from Ieper, Belgium
from the travel blog: Paying our respects
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Great blog,thanks for sharing this..

permalink written by  promo products on August 9, 2011

reat blog,thanks for sharing this..

permalink written by  promo products on August 9, 2011

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