Like many Canadian school children born in my era, a poem given students to memorize was “In Flanders Fields”. My immature child’s mind held a naive view of an ordinary cemetery with a few rows of white gravestones and bright red poppies loosely scattering the area.
Now fast forward to May 2016. My husband and I join a private enterprise which takes tourists through the countryside of West Flanders. In my wildest dreams I could not have imagined the thousands of acres of landscape dotted with hundreds of huge cemeteries, all with their distinctive white grave markers. Every cemetery we visited had some sort of huge monument to honour the fallen. If memory serves me correctly there are more than one million casualties of World War One laid to rest in the cemeteries of western Belgium. If any history buff reads this blog, please feel free to correct any inaccuracies.
Perhaps the most striking contrast for me to grip is the idea that these now peaceful rolling hills with sheep grazing in the meadows and farmers plowing their fields were raging, bloody battlefields only one hundred years ago. Even today an occasional farm tractor will sink as the ground gives way where an underground tunnel was excavated to give shelter for those fighting on the front lines.
A Flanders Fields tour is highly recommended to anyone planning a trip to Belgium.
Cemetery in West Flanders, Belgium
View larger image in Alamy