The town of Ypres is an ancient town that has been at the centre of conflict in Europe for many centuries. Raided by the Romans in the First Century BC, during he 1300’s it was fortified against invasion although this didnt stop it being besieged first by the British in 1383 and much later conquered by the French during the 1690s. Over time the medieval ramparts were replaced by sturdier masonry and earth structures, to complete the defences, and perhaps because of its location in the south east of Flanders, a moat was dug around the part of the town facing France. During the Great War, this was the only corner of Belgium that remained unconquered. It was located in a Strategic postion laying as it did on the main route pf the German advance to the sea. Fighting occurred in the area on every day of the war, with on average 5000 British soldiers dying every month. Apart from 3 days early in the war, the Salient and the town of Ypres remained in Allied hands throughout.
With this in mind I visited the city with my wife and a couple of friends in July 2009. At the age then of 41, I was much older than most of those who would have made the journey in the War. Or so I thought!
“Before the blackness of their burst had thinned or fallen the hand of time rested on the half-hour mark, and all along that old front line of the English there came a whistling and a crying. The men of the first wave climbed up the parapets, in tumult, darkness, and the presence of death, and having done with all pleasant things, advanced across No Man’s Land to begin the Battle of the Somme.”
(The Old Front Line by John Masefield)
At 7.30 on the morning of the 1st July 1916, 13 British and 11 French Divisions went over the top of their trenches to begin what became known as the Battle of The Somme, by that evening they had suffered 57,470 casualties of which 19,240 were killed.
Earlier this year (2010) along with 3 good friends I again made the short hop across the channel in mid July to pay my respects to some real Legends. This is the story of that visit.