For me, on my first visit to the battlefield sites of the Ypres salient, it wasn’t the battleground with its labyrinth of trenches and the layer upon layer of memorial head stones to the fallen but the beautiful town of Ypres itself that drew my attention.
Perhaps today the First World War battle that is most sharp in the collective British consciousness is the Somme, but at the time it was this battle (of Ypres) and this place that was synonymous with the hopelessness and the horror of war.
Winston Churchill said of Ypres in 1919 “A more sacred place for the British does not exist in the World”.
Ypres is a very pretty medieval Town and today looks very much as it did during the Flanders golden age 700 years ago.
But by 1918 Ypres was mercilessly flattened by German bombardment so much so that you could have stood at one end of the town, looked across to the other and seen nothing standing higher than knee height!
The place was so irredeemably shattered that Winston Churchill also went on to say “I should like to acquire the whole of the ruins of Ypres” as a testament to the folly of man’s destructive desire.
However, the citizens of Ypres were to have none of that and incredibly after the War was completely restored exactly as it was before 1914 from its original medieval plans that were miraculously recovered from the ruins.