Ypres Salient (Flanders - Belgium)

YPRES BATTLE OF FIRST WORLD WAR
As I mentioned in the earlier post on the involvement of Indian in First World War, in 1914, neutral Belgium began to be occupied by Germany to protect itself from France. Soon 95% of Belgium was under Germany. France understood the gravity of the situation and joined hands with Britain and brought their troops to Ypres - the city in Belgium up to which Germany had occupied, to help the Belgian army, effectively beginning an international war, called the Great War, which is now being called First World War. This is how First World War started! In Ypres alone, 5 battles were fought.

Essex Farm Cemetery Ypres Salient

Essex Farm Cemetery Ypres Salient

Essex Farm Cemetery First World War Ypres Salient

WHAT IS YPRES SALIENT?
Quite amusingly Ypres was never occupied by Germany. Ypres is surrounded by ridges and hills all around, in the shape of an arch/semi-circle. A Salient in military terms is a portion of the battlefield that protrudes into enemy territory. Ypres was projecting into German-occupied Belgium and was protected by British (incl. Canadian & Indian), and French troops.

SALIENT TOURS, YPRES
Today a tour of the Salient line and visiting some memorials & cemeteries in Ypres is a typical way to explore Ypres. There are several tour operators who organize the trips esp for one group with specific requests or multiple people together. I took the trip with Salient Tours and was guided by Mr.Lucas, a local, who began unofficially guiding at 11 yrs of age!

Where is Salient Tours in Ypres (On Google Maps): Salient Tours
Tour rates begins from €40 per person inclusive of car and the tour is about 3.5hrs long. There have to be 3-4 persons for the tour to happen. If not, the price for a private tour is €120. 

ESSEX FARM CEMETERY & IN FLANDERS FIELDS POEM
Our first stop was Essex Farm Cemetery. Before entering the cemetery, we first headed to the Advanced Dressing Station just beside it called Site John McCrae. This has a series of several rooms. Each room has 6 slots which were meant for 6 beds. This was originally a basic medical station. But during the 2nd Ypres War, the Germans' modus operandi was gas attack which resulted in making this a full-fledged medical care station. 
It was here that John McCrae, a surgeon, wrote the famous poem 'In Flanders Fields', in which he writes about his observance of poppies blooming in the war shocked land! It is because of this poem that to date poppies are a symbol of war remembrance. 
The Essex Farm Cemetery has 1204 burials of which 104 are unidentified. Originally the tombstones were made of limestone however the ones that get damaged are nowadays being replaced with marble which is stronger. Some of the burials are closely packed next to each other called 'shoulder to shoulder burials' which means they died together and their individual bodies are inseparable. Unidentified soldiers were mentioned as 'A Soldier of the Great War'. One of the most important burials here is of Valentine Strudwick who was just 15 yrs old when he died here!
All the cemeteries have a cemetery register near the central memorial or near the gate. This has a list of the soldiers who have been buried here and the exact location of each burial. This is to facilitate people who are here in search of certain graves, like their own forefather's! Every cemetery also has a central memorial for the unknown soldiers for the kith & kin to pay their respect. This was designed by Rudyard Kipling (yes, the same man who wrote Jungle Book), after his son John Kipling died in the war and his body not retrieved (though now it is identified).

Where is Essex Farm Cemetery (On Google Maps): Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres
How to reach Essex Farm Cemetery: 3km from Ypres Railway station. DeLijn Bus Route 40 runs in this route.

Yorkshire Trench & Dugout First World War Ypres Salient

Yorkshire Trench & Dugout First World War Ypres Salient

Yorkshire Trench & Dugout First World War Ypres Salient

No Man's Land Ypres Map
Pic Courtesy: British Library, Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

YORKSHIRE TRENCH & DUGOUT 
Our next stop was Yorkshire Trench & Dugout. This has 3 patterns on the ground. One of the dugout, one trench of 1915 and another of 1917. One of the trenches is accessible today for visitors to walk through. The dugouts can be seen but cannot be accessed. Since the place had a high water level, the dugouts were constantly being filled up and had to be pumped out. Since being very close to the enemy line the pumping couldn't be motorized to avoid noise. Also, the dugouts have an inverted A-shaped platform called A-Frames to keep the feet out of the mud and are 10m below ground level. These trenches were made zigzag to reduce the impact of shockwaves. 

Where is Yorkshire Trench & Dugout (On Google Maps)Yorkshire Trench & Dugout
How to reach Yorkshire Trench & Dugout5.5km from Ypres Railway station. The nearest bus stop Boezinge Bretoens Gedenkteken is about 1km (14 mins walk) away and is connected by DeLijn Bus Route 40 from Ypres.

NO MAN'S LAND
The small strip of land between the trenches of the Allied (UK etc) & Axis (Germany etc) is called the No Man's Land. Literally, the heavily fortified land that belongs neither to Axis nor Allies. Secret maps of the No Man's Land have been discovered later on that depict the barbed wires, trip wires, streams, grass, ditches & more that protect the enemy's trenches. There's nothing to see of it today; it is all residential buildings in front of Yorkshire Trench & Dugout.

LANGEMARK GERMAN CEMETERY
Our next stop was Langemark German cemetery. This has granite planks on the floor that mentions multiple names in each. This was the site of 10,143 soldiers. Later on, in 1956-58, all the German graves from every other cemetery were transferred here and right at the centre is a communal grave of about 30000+ soldiers. Today this whole place has 44000+ German soldiers buried here. 

Where is Langemark German Cemetery (On Google Maps)German War Cemetery of Langemark
How to reach Langemark German Cemetery10km from Ypres Railway station. The nearest bus stop Langemark Markt is 800m (9 mins walk) away and it is connected by DeLijn Bus Route 40 from Ypres.

VANCOUVER CORNER - BROODING SOLDIER MEMORIAL
The next quick stop was The Brooding Soldier memorial for Canadian soldiers. There is a huge sculpture of a column with a Canadian soldier depicted atop that. This is not a cemetery. The Brooding Soldier marks the battlefield where 2000 Canadian soldiers died during the first-ever gas attack during the war! The graves of those soldiers are in various cemeteries nearby.

Where is Vancouver Corner - Brooding Soldier Memorial (On Google Maps)St Julien Canadian War Memorial
How to reach Vancouver Corner - Brooding Soldier Memorial: 8km from Ypres Railway station. The nearest bus stop Langemark Canadees Monument is 150m (2 mins walk) away and it is connected by DeLijn Bus Route 95 from Ypres. It is located about 3km from the Langemark German War Cemetery and that's also connected by DeLijn Bus Route 95.

Langemark German cemetery First World War Ypres Salient

Langemark German cemetery First World War Ypres Salient

Langemark German cemetery First World War Ypres Salient

Brooding Soldier Canadian Memorial First World War Ypres Salient

TYNE COT WAR GRAVES CEMETERY
The final stop was Tyne Cot War Graves Cemetery. This is the largest Commonwealth memorial of WWI. The central memorial is on top of 3 German pillboxes. It was designed by Sir Herbert Baker. Since it was pre-designed the bodies had to placed in pre-determined burials and the names were written in the headstones. Now, remember 'shoulder to shoulder burials'? In such cases, they were buried together and the headstone read '2 or 3 Soldiers of the Great War'. This has 11,965 burials of which 8,369 are unidentified.

Where is Tyne Cot War Graves Cemetery (On Google Maps)Tyne Cot Cemetery & Visitors Centre
How to reach Tyne Cot War Graves Cemetery8km from Ypres Railway station. The nearest bus stop Passendale Tyne Cot is 500m (6 mins walk) away and it is connected by DeLijn Bus Route 94 from Ypres. 

Tyne Cot War Graves Cemetery First World War Ypres Salient

Tyne Cot War Graves Cemetery First World War Ypres Salient

Tyne Cot War Graves Cemetery First World War Ypres Salient

IRON HARVEST
Enroute we also stopped at a gentleman's farm to understand what is Iron Harvest. The aftermath of the war has been the way of life for the people living there to date. The tractors of the farmers bring up bombs, grenades, rifles and even bodies!!! The people here know to spot what is dangerous and what isn't! They have codes to inform the authorities regarding what was found. Depending upon urgency its either cleared immediately or over the next collection.
What sunk my heart was, in the midst of grenades and bullets was a shoe of a soldier with the soldier's toe intact, completely petrified, which was beyond shocking for me, but the locals were expression-less and its a part of their everyday life!!!

Iron Harvest Excavation of First World War Bombes Ypres Salient

Iron Harvest Excavation of First World War Bombes Ypres Salient

Iron Harvest Excavation of First World War Bombes Ypres Salient

YPRES HOTELS
Hotels & B&Bs at all price points are available in Ypres City Centre. 

HOW TO REACH IEPER (YPRES) FROM BRUSSELS
To Ypres (Ieper) from Brussels: 130km 
There are no direct trains from Brussels to Ypres / Ieper. Take a train till Gent and then change to another train from Gent to Ypres/Ieper. The whole journey takes 2-2:30hrs including transit time.

SELF-GUIDED WALKING TOUR MAPS OF YPRES SALIENT
Northern Region - via Visit Ieper (downloads/opens as PDF) - This goes via Yorkshire Trench & Dugout & No Man's Land.
Eastern Region -  via Visit Ieper (downloads/opens as PDF)
Southern Region -  via Visit Ieper (downloads/opens as PDF)

THINGS TO DO IN YPRES - DARK TOURISM IN IEPER/YPRES
  • Visit Ypres Salient - Essex Farm Cemetery, Yorkshire Trench & Dugout, Tyne Cot Cemetery, Memorial Museum Passchendaele, Menin Gate etc
  • Visit Ypres Belfry & In Flanders Fields Museum
  • A few cemeteries where your countrymen have been buried (here's how to search for the graves of First World War)

MY YPRES (IEPER) TRAVELOGUE: 

Ypres Salient First World War Pinterest Ypres Salient First World War Pinterest

P.S: I was invited by Ieper Tourism to experience the city and Salient Tours to experience their service for review purposes, however, the opinions are my own and this post does not advertise the product/service.

Bhushavali

An ardent traveler by passion. Being an ex - Art History Teacher, my area of interest especially lies in Nature and Heritage. Visited 78 UNESCO World Heritage sites as of Sept 2020. I've been listed among the Top 7 Women Travel Bloggers of India, Top 50 in UK. I have been interviewed in a couple of TV Shows, Radio Channels and Events as well. Read more about me and read the testimonials of different brands

14 comments:

  1. This was such an interesting yet sad post at the same time. I find the history very interesting and the fact you can even walk through the trench that is still there is amazing. However, the statistics of the number of dead is just shocking and reminds us all of how terrible war is. So sad also to think of that 15 year old boy killed amongst all the other good and brave men, fighting a terrible war. A very moving post indeed and I'm sure you were moved as well by visiting this area.

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  2. I really enjoyed reading your post. I am a big lover of learning history, and I focused in on the first half of 20th century at school and college. Visiting the key sites of Flanders has been an intention of mine for many many years, and your post reminds me that this is something I very much still want to do. Thank you.

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  3. I’m familiar with the poem In Flanders Field but didn’t realize it referred to the poppies at Ypres Salient. So hard to believe that locals are still digging up remnants from the war so long ago. What an interesting connection to Rudyard Kipling, though a sad one.

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  4. Gosh, I bet this was incredibly sobering to see. Especially when you saw the toe in the shoe! That would stop me in my tracks. But at the same time, it's so important we visit these places and remember what happened, and those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Not easy, but lest we forget. That would be have been powerful to be at the site where In Flanders Fields was written too.

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  5. It is a beautiful phenomenon that people find such lovely places to rest in afterlife. Ypres itself looks like a quaint little place where one can stroll down in pages of history. War Graves Cemeteries always have this hunting feeling attached to it. You cannot help but ponder about the fate of the families these soldiers left behind.

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  6. I like it that the country takes care of the cemeteries to keep the history alive, so today's generation can learn about war and its outcome. I found the Iron Harvest interesting and how people/farmers who live there know what to do when they found remnants of the war. I wonder if people who live in the same condition in the other part of the worlds do the same.

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  7. Though the place is quite eerie, this is something that keeps a good reminder about the past. Thanks for virtually touring us! So they don't accept new tenants here?

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  8. A very heart felt post one which is full of history and sorrows. It’s s great post remembering some of the brave. It looks so peaceful and calming The one which touches me the most are the Tyne Cot wat graves with its uniformity and past. Thanks for sharing a less know part of Belgium.

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  9. I have never of Ypres but I’m so glad I came across your post. There is so much to learn for all of us when we visit the places you mentioned above. It is so heart wrenching to read about the hardships of those times. Thanks for the share!

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  10. I have a weird interest in cemeteries. Somehow, they are different in all the countries and tell a lot about the cultures. You should take a look at ones in Russia, they hold a lot military things.

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  11. It really refreshing and interesting to read a travel blog that looks at our past and our history. I'd never have thought about travellng to a place like this but after reading your blog I have changed my mind

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  12. I am glad you are sharing this kind of places, often forgoten. History and heritage which is important and we tend to go to places with stunning beach and views instead. Thank you for sharing this.

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  13. It looks like a good place to explore for history buffs. Nice article, a lot of interesting information about which I did not know before.

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