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Craters and trenches

Zillebeke, Belgium

In to the tourist office in Bailleul to find out about the Carillon concert in the evening, book our tour of the Brasserie Beck and meal for Saturday evening and to find out about the train to Lille. We also asked about the Blue Zone Parking – apparently its a type of season ticket you can purchase. Worth it if you are local and nipping into town quickly to do some shopping. Best to use the free car park behind the town hall when we go to the concert, we were told. We quickly hopped back to the car (we'd parked in the blue zone!) to navigate to the free parking and take a look at the town's war memorial which was built attached to the ruins of St Amand church.

Back into Belgium to take a proper look at the memorial gardens and Canadian monument outside Sint Juliaan this time in bright blustery weather. On to Tyne Cot with its 11,953 graves (over 8,000) unidentified. As you approach the small museum outside the cemetery walls, the voice of a young British woman reads out the names and ages of those known to lie here. Inside as the names are read their photos are displayed on a screen. There are maps explaining the battles here and cases displaying personal artefacts – letters, photos, telegrams etc. On walking down to the cemetery entrance we were passed by a group of young teenagers each wheeling an OAP. The cemetery has over 200,000 visitors a year and this is the first one where we have seen gardeners busy mowing the lawns and plants in a holding area ready to put out. Some areas were cordoned off where new grass had been laid over matting to try and protect it from the heavy wear. The car park here was full and not just with British cars – teenagers, couples with young families , middle aged and old. These boys and men are not forgotten.

We had a drink and sandwich at the cafe attached to the Hooge Crater Museum where there are life size displays of soldiers of many nationalities, old photos and maps of what Hooge looked like before and after 1914. When you drive through the countryside now surrounded by trees, green fields, cows, sheep and people going about their everyday lives it is impossible to appreciate what it was like there from 1914. It's only when you see pictures of the landscape – mud, stumps of trees, piles of rubble and dead bodies that the true horror is brought into perspective. About 100 yards back from the museum you can visit the Hooge craters now forming a pretty lake and a small section of trenches now in the grounds of a hotel.

A little further west and Hill 60 where the Australians tunnelled under the German lines and detonated mines as part of the battle of Messines. Over 600 Germans were killed here when the mine exploded and the hill has been left as it was after the battle. Now sheep graze amongst the hillocks, old bunkers and craters..

Back slightly later to Bailleul than planned to listen in the comfort of the car to the final 10 minutes of the bell concert - a mix of modern and classic tunes (oh Champs Elysees and Strangers in the Night!).

permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on August 11, 2011 from Zillebeke, Belgium
from the travel blog: Paying our respects
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