At 8 o’clock every night in Ypres they pay homage to the dead.
At the Menin Gate there are 54,000 names of British and Allied soldiers who died near here but have no known grave. Almost a hundred years later hundreds still come every day to remember them.
Today the ancient town is smart and prosperous, but back then constant German shelling reduced it to rubble.
After a brief period of mobile fighting in 1914 the two opposing armies dug in and the daily carnage of trench warfare began. There were 5 separate battles outside the gates of Ypres. It was here that gas was first used and where men drowned in mud. Over the four bloody years just a few miles of blasted territory were exchanged.
It’s in the farmland outside Ypres that you first get the sense of the sheer scale of the sacrifice, in what was the world’s first truly industrialized war. In this British and Allied cemetery there are 12,000 individual grave and on that wall back there, 35,000 names of soldiers whose bodies were simply never found. And don’t forget this is only one sector in a much bigger battlefield.
In four years of fighting 550,000 soldiers died near Ypres. The main German cemetery at Langemark is the final resting place and memorial for over 44,000.
Today people come from all over the world to remember. Bryan and Gayle Frazer are from Australia. They have both German and British ancestry. So, like many, they remember the dead from both sides.
Today Ypres styles itself a “city of peace”. It’s twinned with Hiroshima in Japan. Inside the rebuilt Medieval Cloth Hall there is a museum, to the “war that was meant to end all wars,” – as you leave, there is a sobering list of all the wars fought since, and those still being fought today.