Flanders Fields in Belgium stands out in the minds of many through the words of John McCrae, “In Flanders fields the poppies blow, Between the crosses, row on row,”.
Today it is a significant part of the WW1 remembrance trail for Australian travellers.
From 1914 to 1918 Flanders Fields formed part of the Western Front in the First World War. The region is particularly well known for the Battle of Passchendaele that was fought in a dreadful muddy quagmire. This year commemorates the Battle of Passchendaele’s centenary year as one of the bloodiest, whereby almost 450,000 men were lost.
Today the charming town of Ypres makes an ideal base to tour the Flanders Fields region. Ypres is home to the Menin Gate, the most famous Commonwealth War Memorial. Each and every evening at 8pm, the moving Last Post is sounded under the Menin Gate in a tribute to the fallen, a tradition that has been taking place for 90 years. The Menin Gate bears the names of more than 54,000 soldiers missing in the Ypres area in WW1.
Locally Ypres is known by its Flemish name; Ieper. The town was almost completely destroyed during WW1 but following the war was painstakingly restored to its original state. The town’s centrepiece, the 13th century medieval Cloth Hall houses the moving Flanders Fields Museum which talks to the futility of war, told through personal stories, interactive displays and objects, and explains why it is so important to ‘remember’.
A ten-minute drive from Ypres is Tyne Cot, the largest Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery in the world, as well as Polygon Wood, the poignant site of the annual Anzac Day dawn service held each year in Flanders. Throughout the various towns in Flanders Fields, innovative museums and moving memorials bring the area’s rich history to life.
Across Flanders Fields the former battlefields are now peaceful and picturesque farmland dotted with red poppies and are perfect for cycling or paying respects at the many intimate, immaculately kept, cemeteries in the area. Or you could explore the city’s ramparts, take a canal cruise or find a spot to enjoy the locally brewed beers or a large bowl of mussels overlooking the marketplace.
The beautiful, nearby medieval cities of Bruges and Ghent are each less than an hour’s drive or train trip away. Bruges and Ghent are both charming canal and pedestrian cities, each with its own personality, picture-perfect buildings, chocolate shops and arts scene.
For more information on visiting Flanders Fields
For more information on Bruges and Ghent