Ypres in Belgium is a lovely medieval looking town which in actual fact is less than 100 years old. The massive cloth hall, towering gothic cathedral and similarly impressive town hall were in all destroyed in WW1 along with the surrounding villages. During the war, hundreds of shells rained down on Ypres as battles were fought in an arc around the town. After the war, it was suggested that the site of Ypres become a memorial to those lost in the war, but the people of Ypres who had fled the war wished to return and rebuild. As a result, the town is built almost exactly as it had been, in memory of its former self.
To make the most of the small amount of time we had in Ypres we joined a small tour run by Flanders Battlefield Tours. During the tour we visited a number of trenches still remaining from the war, a scary reminder of the terrifying battles fought throughout the countryside. We learned that much of the countryside is also riddled with tunnels, mined by both armies in an effort to reach each other without being shot at every step they took. We also visited Hill 60, one of such locations tunneled under, where over 70,000 pounds of explosives were laid by Australian miners under the hill occupied by the Germans, and then set off. Even after all this time has passed, the crater is massive.
As we drove through the countryside, we never went far before yet another cemetery appeared. There are 150 cemeteries located in the area - and the area is not very big at all. We visited Tyne Cot, the biggest Commonwealth war cemetery in the world. Over 13,000 soldiers are buried there, along with a wall engraved with the names of almost 30,000 whose remains were never found. The rows and rows of white tombstones, many of which have no name, are an incredibly sad and lonely sight.
Most humbling of all was the Menin Gate, a memorial to those missing in action. Close to 55,000 names of men never found are engraved on its arches. We visited the gate on a freezing cold night with hoards of others to witness the playing of the Last Post and the laying of wreaths. This ceremony has taken place every evening since 1928 except for a period during WW2 when the town was occupied by Germans. It was an emotional moment, and it must really bring home to many how truly lucky we are. So many people sacrificed their lives during that war, and others, and it is great to see that the memory of all those people lost will endure on through the memorials and ceremonies that live on in Ypres.