Dodging Bullets in Belgium

I am lucky enough to have a job that takes me around the country and at times, around the globe. I meet people from all walks of life and experience places I couldn’t otherwise. My trip to Belgium was the perfect example of this and part of the reason I love my job!

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We headed to the quaint town of Ypres (Ieper) which is overwhelmed with stunning architecture. The rooftops alternate between greys, reds and oranges, creating a rainbow overhead. The streets are cobbled in many areas giving a rustic, homely feel to the place. Luckily the weather was well behaved which allowed us to experience it in it’s best light!

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If you know your history than you’ll know that this part of Belgium was once a place of great sadness to most. The many fields surrounding the town were once a place of battle, where roughly one billion missiles, grenades and bullets were fired between enemies. Alas, the war is over and the town has found it’s peace, but that doesn’t avoid the constant reminders of pain and heartbreak scattered throughout the area. You only have to drive a few miles before you stumble upon a cemetery which has kept the souls of hundreds of men buried for years.

The cemeteries are beautifully distracting. Breathtaking views are there to mask the horror that lies beneath. Though perhaps we should look on the fallen soldiers in an admiral sense now one hundred years have passed. I will leave that open to personal interpretation.

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If you find yourself in the war stricken town of Ypres, I urge you to take the time to visit The Last Post ceremony at The Menin Gate. The gate is engraved with thousands of names of men lost but never found. Each day the people of Ypres gather to remember these men in a ceremony of bugles and thoughtful silence.

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Cemeteries and ceremonies are not the only reminder of war that the town must face. Farmers that take their tractor to the annual plough stumble across shells, weaponry, helmets and grenades on a regular basis. They assume that 20% of this ordnance is unexploded, thus can potentially carry explosives or toxic gases. Sometimes people are injured in freak explosions. The risk is always there, though locals seem to turn a blind eye and just get on with their day to day chores. Farmers take the debris and move it aside for the officials to deal with.

This is an example of the ordnance that could be found.

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The Belgian farmland itself is undeniable. It’s different to English countryside. There aren’t any rolling hills in the horizon, instead you can see for miles in the distance. We met a farmer that could point to each town’s individual church towers! When the sun beats down on the fields it’s difficult to remember that below the greenery is a tomb encapsulated with vast tragedy.

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It was a real experience visiting the town and it’s somewhere I wouldn’t have gone had I chosen myself. I learnt more than I can imagine about the history of our war and feel better in myself for that education.

It took just three hours to drive to Belgium from London and the Eurotunnel isn’t expensive. I recommend it to everyone. Go, just for the weekend, and discover what might one day be forgotten history.

 

 

 

…And this is an adorable Belgian farm cat (to gauge just how adorable, I should tell you that I hate cats. This was an exception)

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