After my arrival in Lille Europe I took the train to Kortrijk where I had to change on a train to Ypres. Although spring is still a while away, the weather is quite nice. The sun battles the clouds constantly and tries to give us its first warmth. After a 10 minutes' walk I check in at the hotel. A cosy guesthouse in the historical city centre. It keeps giving me a special feeling to walk around here. The pretty facades, the typical cobbles, the many shops... knowing that 100 years ago there were only ruins here. Bombarded to smithereens, burnt, blown apart by the violence of war. And while I earlier walked around in this rebuilt city, I wondered how the city must have looked at the time. Did my great-grandfather and his comrades ever see the city? Or were they sent to the front immediately?
I'm going back into town later. I definitely don't want to miss the Last Post at 8 pm. I have read and heard so much about it already. I will definitely not be the only English person there... I have already heard different English accents earlier, during the short walk from the station to the hotel. Maybe I'll try to get to know a few compatriots. We'll see.
I started the exploration of the region my great-grandfather fought in at the In Flanders Fields Museum. A visit that deeply moved me. Both because of the tragic story in itself and the incredible care given to narrating the personal stories. I was given a Poppy bracelet around my wrist on my arrival. I could follow four stories during my visit. The story of Nellie Spindler, a nurse from Wakefield, really touched me. Nellie was seriously wounded by a grenade. She died thirty minutes later and is the only woman to be buried in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery in Poperinge amongst thousands of men.
The view from the top of the Belfry was impressive too. A bit as if you look out onto the 'ground zero' of the First World War. Slightly breathless I tried to recognise the different landmarks in the landscape. So those were the battlefields where men and boys, some even quite a bit younger than me, fought each other. It remains quite surreal. Even though I remain grateful to my great-grandfather and his peers for sacrificing their lives for... yes, for what actually? A freer world? But why did everything start all over again, 20 years later?
The longer I stay here, the more questions I have. Tomorrow I visit Bedford House, the cemetery where my great-grandfather is buried and the ultimate destination of my journey.
I'm back on the Eurostar to London now. And though I'm travelling through a tunnel a few miles under the sea, my thoughts wander to Flanders Fields. I saw Harry Fisher's grave today. It made me proud, but very humble too, to be standing at the grave of my great-grandfather as the first member of the Fisher family. And while I was standing there 1001 emotions surged through me. I was moved, although I never met my great-grandfather. I was revolted, because how can the death of so many young people ever be justified? I was also impressed by the strange aesthetics of those thousands upon thousands of white headstones in the Westhoek. How can war, or its traces at least, be so photogenic too?
It is also difficult to grasp that this place, where an eerie silence reigned this afternoon, was the theatre of a bloody battle 100 years ago. Hell on earth. And although I have read Harry Fisher's diaries many times over, I still can hardly fathom what he must have thought and felt. Did they understand what they were participating in? Young chaps who had never been away from home before suddenly were knee-high in mud fighting other young chaps... I still don't get it. But my visit to Bedford House Cemetery did bring me a certain feeling of peace. I felt I had to do this. As a mark of respect... to the dad of my dad's dad. Sleep peacefully, Harry Fisher.