Ypres trip part 3

Part 3 on Missy’s visit to Ypres. The first two:


 

The final part on my visit to Ypres at the beginning of August. This is just a quick one with a bit about the excellent In Flanders Field Museum in Ypres.

The museum is in the Cloth Hall in the market square. The Cloth Hall was a medieval building built as a commercial building for the cloth trade in Ypres, it dated from the 14th century (built around 1304). During WWI the building was left in ruins, but after the war (between 1933 and 1967) the building was completely rebuilt to its prewar condition. The building now houses the In Flanders Field Museum.

I have seen a lot of museums that look at wars, and battles, but this one was really emotional. This museum is dedicated completely to WWI and the battles around Flanders, it starts with a bit of pre-war history of Ypres, and talks about the lives of the people, and then moves chronologically through the war and how it impacted on the lives of the soldiers and the civilians in Ypres.

The museum includes some short films of actors telling the stories of soldiers, mostly British, French, and German, it tells the stories of some of the locals as well, including those that moved away from Ypres, and where they ended up and what became of them – those that returned, and those that did not.

For me on of the most emotional aspects of the museum was one of the simplest displays, from the start of the WWI centenary commemorations the museum has been listing the name of every person (military and civilian) who was killed in Flanders on a loop, on the day they died 100 years prior. I was in the museum for a couple of hours (incredible considering it is on one floor only), and I did not see the name of a casualty twice. Remembering they are only displaying the names of the people on the centenary of their death.

For me, having studied WWI a bit at University and knowing the numbers of the casualties, I don’t think it really hits you until you see the countless cemeteries, the thousands and thousands of gravestones, and the tens of thousands of names listed, for my part it truly does make it more real to see the names, and graves, rather than just reading numbers. I think seeing it represented as names, really connects with that human part of us, names make people real, numbers are just numbers and have no emotional connection to us as humans.

So, I fully recommend going to Flanders if you ever get the chance, visit the cemeteries, and the sites of the battles such as Messiness and Passchendaele, and above all try and spend more than just the half day (or less) most will spend in Ypres, visit the museum and walk the town.

It is sad to know that a beautiful medieval town was so completely destroyed that it is essentially only 100 years old now, but there are still some reminders of the ancient history of Ypres, and Flanders. I was told that Polygon wood is an ancient wood – despite all of the trees there being less than 100 years old. On the site of the wood, there has been a wood forever, and one of the roads down beside the wood was one originally built by the Romans, a small reminder that Ypres has gone through a long history and survived, and that it will continue to survive in the centuries to come.

3 Comments

  1. On the opposite side of the world to Ypres there is also an excellent museum that gives some insight into WWI – the Knights of the Sky Great War Exhibition at the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre in Blenheim.

    I visited Omaka in May and it was well worth it. It graphically shows some aspects of the war on the ground as well as in the air.

  2. Thanks for the series Missy. It’s been interesting and you’ve got me keen to check it out.

    • Missy

       /  August 24, 2016

      You are welcome, I am glad you found it interesting. I haven’t been, but Northern France is also a great place to visit for WWI history. Something I found really good on my trip was the Nga Tapuwae app on my phone, it is really good, and gives a lot of information – and it is specific to NZ.