Having been back from Thailand for a few weeks, we started to get itchy feet again, a sure sign that we needed to be heading off somewhere. With Phil’s annual fishing trip in the Netherlands with his buddies due at the end of April, and with family commitments in June our options were fairly limited, so we decided to spend some time in Belgium, before heading up to the Netherlands, and then back to the UK.
Our plan for Belgium was to visit Flanders, and some of the first World War sites around Ypres and Passchendaele.
We based ourselves just outside Ypres. Ypres was reduced to ruins during the war, but was totally rebuilt after the war, with the centrepiece of the rebuilding being the Menin Gate, one of the biggest memorials to 54,332 missing British Commonwealth soldiers, who died in WW1 before August 1917, but have no known grave. The name of every one of those 54,332 soldiers is engraved onto the walls of the Menin Gate memorial.
Every evening at 8pm, there’s a formal ceremony where the traffic through the gate is stopped, wreaths are laid, and the Last Post is played by Buglers. We thought we’d be there with just a handful of other visitors, but there must have been more than 200 people there, as there are every night of the year. This is truly a sombre and unforgettable experience for any visitor, as the sounds of the bugles echo through the Menin Gate, with every thought on the men and women who died in this dreadful war.
(Click on images for larger size)
Driving north from Ypres, we followed a whole circular route around many of the famous battle sites of this area. The countryside is littered with war graves large and small, where battles were fought, and so many people lost their lives.
Our final stop after driving through Passchendaele, was the Tyne Cot Cemetery, the largest Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery in the world. This one cemetery holds the graves of 11,900 troops from the British Empire.
Tyne Cot also has a huge memorial to those missing but never found, who died after August 1917.
It was here, engraved on the great wall memorial, that Phil found the name of his Great Uncle, Sidney George Hieatt.
Even though this happened more than 100 years ago, seeing a familiar family name brought home the tragedy of this, and other wars, to a very personal level.
I show Sidney’s picture here as our own tribute and acknowledgement that neither he, nor any of those who have died protecting our freedom, will ever be forgotten.