I have visited the In Flanders Fields Museum. I was extremely curious about how it would look after the renovations and I have to admit, I was not disappointed. No matter how ghastly the theme and how extremely tragic most stories are, I really like the way the story of the Great War is told - the whole story!
And with the four personal stories you always get a new perspective. This time I followed the story of the deaf girl Marie Desaegher of Boezinge, among others. On 22 April 1915, the day of the first gas attack, Marie and her younger sister went to Ypres for a typhoid vaccination. On their return their whole neighbourhood was up in arms. Marie did not understand and found herself surrounded by German troops. She was seriousily wounded. She spent the rest of the war on the German side without contact with her family.
Climbing the Belfry tower is also an absolute must, although it was quite difficult. In the nice weather I had a fabulous view of the front region. And I intend to visit that region tomorrow. I had visited the In Flanders Fields Museum in the past. Several times even. But now I want to explore the region of Ypres too, the cemeteries, the monuments... How did it ever get this far in this peaceful corner of Europe?
I usually don't really like the pomp and splendour of monuments and memorials. But I have to admit that the way this region deals with the remembrance of all those victims really touches me. Those beautiful, green lawns and white tombstones in the landscape, the pool of peace, the many testimonials of relatives in the books you find in every cemetery...
I got talking to a British couple today. They told me about their journey through Flanders Fields. Very touching, although none of their relatives are buried here, they pay their respects to the graves of the people of their village who are buried here. Such stories boost my trust in mankind.
Maybe I should do the same and find out which boys and men of my native village died here. Maybe the people of the In Flanders Fields Museum and the Knowledge Centre can help me. But it remains a surreal image… suddenly recognising an Indian name among all those British and European-sounding names. While I walk amongst the graves, my mind wanders and I try to imagine how they must have felt. At the other side of the world, far away from their family, not knowing whether they would ever see their loved ones again… The idea seems unbearable.
I went to the Last Post again last night. Time and time again, the daily ceremony under the Menin Gate touches me to the core. The simple ceremony, the mix of young and old, Belgians, British and other nationalities, old soldiers and young men who will never have to do their national service, passers-by and people on a mission… The traffic that stops for a moment, the solemn silence, the tribute and then... life that starts again.
I always hang around the Menin Gate for a while after the ceremony. I read the names and pray silently for their souls to rest. I hope we never have to experience this again and sometimes I think that such a great, global conflict is no longer possible today. But when I read the papers, I also wonder whether we can really afford to be so 'carefree'.