Being from a country (The Netherlands) that was, just by chance, kept out of the First World War it is rather hard to comprehend the tremendous impact this war has had on those countries that were involved. Of course, the second World War has taught us about the senselessness and atrocities of war but I think WWI is not called ‘the Great War’ for nothing. The total number of military and civilian casualties in World War I, was around 40 million; 20 million deaths and 21 million wounded, ranking it among the deadliest conflicts in human history. The poem In Flanders Fields, written by Canadian physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae. He was inspired to write it after presiding over the funeral of a fellow soldier who died in the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915. It was first published that same year and has been widely cited ever since; the poem gives voice to the casualties of war. Its references to the red poppies that grow over the graves of fallen soldiers resulted in the remembrance poppy the most recognized memorial symbols for soldiers who have died in conflict.
I had never realized how much the land around Ypres was (and still is) marked by this war until I visited last July. The so-called Ypres Salient (Ieper Boog) was formed by British, French, Canadian and Belgian defensive efforts against German incursion in 1914 and led to trench warfare in the salient as both sides “dug in” around the line. The front line, although continuously contested resulting in death and despair, was set most of the war period. It was only by August 1918 that the German forces were pushed out of the salient entirely and they did not return. This all resulted in a landscape of death, with small and large soldier cemeteries scattered all over. A landscape that is soaked with human blood and physically wounded by tons of explosives, leaving a macabre wasteland. For the past 4 years the region has presented it’s ‘renewed’ memorial sites for the WWI centennial.
More posts on my trip to Ypres:
The Ypres Salient (B): 600.000 statues, The Ypres Salient (B): Tyne Cot Cemetery, The Ypres Salient (B): Soldatenfriedhof Vladslo, The Ypres Salient (B): Studentenfriedhof
All photographs are taken by