I travelled to Belgium and France and spent three days and two nights visiting some of the Ypres (Ieper) and Somme battlefield sites. Travelling by road via the P&O Ferries Dover to Calais service, Ypres was reached in around 90 minutes from Calais.
My two nights were spent at the Best Western Flanders Lodge on the edge of the town and around 2km from the town centre of Ypres. The rooms were of a fairly standard layout with en-suite bath with shower above. Other hotels used for the group were the Albion, Novotel and Ariane, all located close to the centre of town and are popular with Battlefields group tours.
The In Flanders Fields museum displays many original artifacts from the various battles in and around the Ypres area. Much of the information is gained via interactive displays. It is located in the town centre Cloth Hall, close to the tourist information office and also has a café.
At 8pm every night the last post is played by members of the local fire service under the Menin Gate. The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing is dedicated to the British and Commonwealth soldiers who were killed in the Ypres Salient of World War I and whose graves are unknown. The ceremony is poignant and sobering.
My chosen tour for the following morning took me to the Passchendaele Museum. This tells the story of the Third Battle of Ypres fought between July and November 1917. Displays are arranged in a timeline for each battle and includes a dugout experience and a recreation of trenches. As with the Last Post ceremony, I found this to be a reflective experience. The tour then took in Polygon Wood, the site of a memorial to the 5th Australian Division. A clearing in the wood sees the memorial standing above a vast cemetery of white headstones.
The third part of the morning's tour was to the Hooge Crater. Although the crater has been filled in, the site has a cemetery dedicated to Commonwealth soldiers and a museum, whilst several country walks follow the Allied and Germans lines. We were shown a film about the Hooge battles and the destruction of local chateaux. In the film the emphasis was on showing the current landscape from above and overlaying old maps.
The final morning took us to France and the Somme. We went through the village of Pozieres with the twin Australian and Windmill memorials greeting you like sentries as you enter. On to the Thiepval Memorial which commemorates those soldiers to the 72,246 missing British and South African servicemen who died in the Battles of the Somme of the First World War. As time was short, we drove passed this memorial, so was unable to experience it first hand.
Our penultimate stop was at the Lochnagar Crater, south of the village of La Boisselle. A mine was secretly laid by the British by tunnelling under the German fortification Schwabenhöhe. This mine was detonated on 1st July 1916 and effectively started the Battle of the Somme. The crater is 98 ft deep and 330 ft wide. A service is held on 1st July each year. Our final stop was in the town hall of Albert for a reception with local dignitaries as well as those from Ypres and organisers of our Tour. Albert was almost totally destroyed in WW1 so the buildings you see now are just under 100 years old.
This tour was an ideal introduction into the history of WW1 in the Ypres and Somme areas. Many people will travel to Battlefields for family reasons, however for someone with no connection it is a thought provoking and poignant experience.
Fred.\ Holidays can arrange private or small group tours for the Ypres and Somme areas with local English speaking guides, in addition to other French and Belgian battlefield sites.