Bruges And Ieper Ypres

Jan Leeming

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Me looking brave before taking to the air (and the wing) of the plane. Wow, it was cold !! But the whole experience was totally exhilarating.

 

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Jan's Blog

Computers and the internet are amazing things. One of my concerns with putting together this site was that it could remain current, yet with all my travelling I've often much to say, but little time to say it. Years ago when reading the news it would take me days on end to reply to the kind letters people sent. Now, with the magic of the modern age, I can keep you up to date with what I'm doing and other events in my life.

BRUGES and IEPER (YPRES)

Date: 6th August 2008

BRUGES and YPRES

Went with friends for a few days to Bruges.  What a beautiful city it is - wonderful architecture at every turn, canals, lace and chocolates!!!  I think Belgium is regarded as being the home of the best Chocolate in Europe.  I'm not a great chocolate lover but cannot resist Leonidas.  Fortunately, down here in Kent we don't have any outlets so I'm saved from myself. 

Although we loved the city and the sights, we couldn't get over how expensive it was to eat out.  On our first evening we made the mistake of dining just off the Main Square.  Doreen and I fancied Beef Stroganoff - the beef was OK but it was not Stroganoff which should be made with strips of beef in a mushroom and sour cream sauce.  Ours was a lump of beef covered in the next best thing to a Provencale sauce.  We had four main courses, two desserts and one bottle of wine and the bill was best part of £160.  The music, which attracted us to the restaurant in the first place, was too loud and pretty awful. The next night our meal was slightly better and also less expensive.  But I have to say I had the best cake I've every tasted in a wonderful Tea Room called Detavernier and it was worth the cost.

We felt the boat ride on the canal was good value (especially compared with the food prices) and we had a good guide.  However the Carriage ride was a rip-off. 

On Sunday we went to Ypres (now called Ieper) to visit the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Dead of the First World War.  Tyne Cot is only one of many cemeteries in and around Ypres but it is the largest British War Cemetery in Mainland Europe. It was designed by Sir Herbert Baker and inaugurated in 1927.  There are more than 170 smaller cemeteries in the area.

At Tyne Cot there are buried 11,956 soldiers of the Commonwealth and on the Screen Wall at the back of the cemetery there are the names of a further 34,957 missing soldiers.

There is a new Visitor Centre and a very moving exposition of photographs of the dead - and a youngish voice reads out the name and age of the deceased.  This recording is broadcast in the background as one makes one's way to the Visitor centre.  It is all highly emotional.

My friend Doreen found out only a few months ago that her Grandfather died in The Great War and she had the reference number for his gravestone in the Reservoir Cemetery actually in the town of Ypres.  It was a relatively small cemetery but very well kept and we found her grandfather's engraved stone.  Doreen thought that probably no one in the family had ever visited the grave and it was an emotional moment as she laid a red rose against the stone.

We stayed in Ypres for the rest of a very rainy afternoon in order that we could have an early dinner and attend the Ceremony of the playing of The Last Post at the Menen Gate.  The Gate has inscribed on it  a further 55,000 names of the missing dead.

The Last Post had been played at the Menen Gate every evening at 8.00 pm since the end of the First World War and throughout the Second World War.  A crowd of about 400 gathered for this moving but simple ceremony.

I cannot tell you how drained we all felt on our return to Bruges.  You simply cannot begin to imagine the carnage of that war - men were simply slaughtered like animals and the conditions in which they lived were appalling.  We visited the Passendale Museum and experienced a 'Dug Out' - tunnelled under the ground - insanitary and primitive  conditions and the constant boom of guns.

At the Tyne Cot Visitors' Centre a New Zealander told me how a whole company of Kiwis were killed.  Apparently they were sent down a Trench but they couldn't get out and over because the end was barred with barbed wire and they were just mown down.

It was meant to be the War to end all Wars - What a sick joke - yet only two decades later there was another World War and there have been wars somewhere in the world right up to the present day.  Will men never learn!

At the Menen Gate, I was pleased to see several wreaths laid by School children - one from the Technical School just up the road from me in Sandwich.

I read that even today, 90 years after the war, remains of approximately 30 men are unearthed annually.

I'd always been aware of the dreadful loss of life in the 1914 -18 War but nothing brought it home to me like the endless white stones in the Cemetery at Tyne Cot - many bearing the inscription 'Known only to God' and the thousands and thousands of names of the missing posted on the Wall at Tyne Cot and the Menen Gate.

What do you think? Send your feedback to contact@jan-leeming.com.