They still occasionally turn up bodies in Flanders. This is the town of Ypres after the war. The English called it “Wipers” and hundreds of thousands of men died here on the Western Front. You could spend a week visiting the cemeteries. I lost most of my pictures from this part of the trip but there was a sameness to them: row after row of graves, cemeteries indistinguishable except in their size. In the larger ones, you might find a busload of English school children.
I am not sure sometimes what I am really looking at in Europe. In Ypres, one of the most beautiful and intense museums I have ever been to is located in the 15th Century cloth tower. Before Ypres became a martyred city, its history was as a once prosperous Flemish cloth town, like Ghent or Brugge. As you can see in this picture, they obviously rebuilt it after the war. There are plenty of buildings in America that are older, and more “real”. How do you rebuild a 15th Century town in 1930? 1950? Now? Churchill tried to have the whole town preserved in ruins as a memorial. How do you preserve a ruin?
My knowledge of the intricacies of the First World War battles is little. I knew some of the place names, but until I got to Brugge, I had forgotten that I could easily get to Ypres. I was heading to the beach and only saw the Ypres brochures by chance when I stopped in a tourist office to find a bathroom. I wish I could say that I planned to be here: that I remembered.
They still sound Last Post at the Menin Gate, where the names of 57,000 soldiers who simply vanished in the mud are inscribed. All across Flanders’ cemeteries, you will find little wooden crosses with poppies and moving letters to what would be old, old men now if they were still alive. I saw a photo, water seeping through the laminate and molding that simply said “I died here but was never found: Remember me.” It poured with rain.
This picture is from this site, Photos of the Great War.
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