Ypres, the Menin Gate and the Last Post
And the last post for the Battlefield Tour Blog 2008!
Ypres & Passchendaele
Three major battles of the First World War were fought around the medieval town of Ypres. The first battle was a three week attack on British positions on the 18 October 1914. Here the British and French forces halted the German advance a few kilometres before the town. The town became a salient and the Germans continued to shell the town. The cloth hall at Ypres, one of the largest civil buildings in the Gothic style in Europe went up in flames on the 22 November 1914. The 22 April 1915 marks the second battle of Ypres. This date is infamous for the German use of gas as a weapon for the first time. All civilians were evacuated from the town by May 1915 and the town was reduced to rubble from shelling.The town became known as the ‘city of fear' by soldiers moving through the ruins of the city up to the front line. Passchendaele or 3rd Ypres stands in many minds as the horror of the First World War mud and blood stalemate. The main attack was launched on the 31st July. Captain John Wedderburn Maxwell of the Royal Field Artillery wrote to his father the day before the battle "all together it should be great fun, so long as it doesn't rain". That day it began to rain, the field drainage systems were destroyed through the shelling and the downpour that followed turned the fields into mud.
The battle of 3rd Ypres ground to a halt in early December with the onset of winter and with neither side able to claim a decisive victory. The allies had captured the high ground after a hundred days of fighting with the Canadians on the 6th December taking the town of Passchendaele. The battle came at a horrific cost in terms of human life, over half a million casualties for a few kilometres of land.
Post war reconstruction
When you walk around Ypres today it is hard to imagine that this town is a copy of its pre war version. The town is a reconstruction of the old city that was reduced to rubble by shelling. At one time it was suggested by Winston Churchill that the town should be left as a permanent ruin, a monument to the destruction of war. The locals, however, wanted their town rebuilt and using extensive surviving town plans a miracle of post war reconstruction commenced. Ypres today stands as a better monument, a living breathing beautiful town.
The Menin Gate and the Last Post
The tour attended the Last Post at the Ypres Menin Gate Memorial which is played each evening at 8 o'clock. Since 11 November, 1929, with the exception of the German occupation during the Second World War, the Last Post is sounded at the Menin Gate. The traffic is stopped and for a few moments peacefulness descends over the Memorial. At 8 o'clock six buglers from the local fire brigade play the Last Post, followed by a short silence and then play Reveille.
Two members of our battlefield tour Ann Hopkins and John Bell laid a wreath on behalf of the group. We then gathered together for a group photograph. This photo was taken by a friendly passer by.