fivemack (fivemack) wrote,


Ypres happened to a fortified Flemish market town right on the French border - a citadel set up by the Spanish against the French at the beginning of the 17th century, and whose fortifications were upgraded by the victor every time it changed sides. The place was clearly ludicrously rich in the thirteenth century, the Cloth Hall and attached cathedral (both rebuilt 1918-1965) are large by contemporary standards.

You get there in a train ride of an hour and a half through countryside all of which looks like the view from the train to Ely from Cambridge - prosperous farming land with a line of houses always visible - except for the occasional war graves.

The memorial to the dead soldiers of the First World War from Ypres would be slightly ostentatious except in a very posh English country churchyard - Belgium was neutral, and the civilians fled fairly early.

The memorial to the soldiers killed at Ypres is the Menin Gate (set into the medieval walls; I was rather expecting it to stand alone like Marble Arch or the Arc de Triomphe) at a completely different scale. Columns of names carved about an inch high cover the whole building - yes, including the outside, including the stairwells; fifty-four thousand names, about the same as the Vietnam memorial in DC, for just the unrecovered bodies from a single short front.

The First World War hasn't quite receded into history, but you can sense it heading there - the museum felt nearer to the museum at Culloden than it did to Auschwitz, 'war is hell' rather than 'the grandparents of some of those visiting were killed here' - though there were hundreds of people watching the Last Post on a random Tuesday evening in August.
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