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Thrice Belgium October 19, 2006

Posted by Amanda in Travel Diary.
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Now Belgium is a much maligned part of Europe. Many will tell you that it is boring and bland. However, if you are a chocolate lover, a history lover, a beer lover, a chip (frite) lover or a waffle lover (and surely that must cover everyone), then Belgium has something for you. As Chris and I encompass at least three of the above, this is our third visit.

This time, it was fortuitous that Chris’ Uncle Ed was coming to Bruges on Monday for work and said that we could hitch a ride. Chris has been doing some research into his great-great Uncle (paternal grandfather’s uncle) who died in Belgium in 1918 and we decided that this would be the perfect opportunity to visit his grave. Chris’ grandfather is named after his uncle and Chris too has Leslie as one of his middle names.

We went to Ieper/Ypres/Wipers on Tuesday morning. We have been to Ieper on every trip so far as it is at the heart of the Salient battlefields and has a fantastic museum called In Flanders’ Fields. If you are ever in the area it is one of the best museums we have ever been to. Ieper also has a number of chocolate shops which have free tastings. I made my way down the main street making sure I got the free chocolate in every one. No wonder I felt a bit ill by the end but it really is the best chocolate I have tasted. 

From here we caught a bus to Ploegsteert or Plug Street as it was known by the British Troops. There we were able to visit the London Rifle Brigade cemetery and Leslie Harrison, Chris relative’s grave. As has happened with many of the war sites we have visitied, it was a surprisingly moving experience and probably more so than most. It is hard to comprehend that a blood relative has lain in this soil so far away from home for 90 years and that perhaps no other family have been able to visit the grave. It was quite a privilege to be there.

On Tuesday night we were able to do something else that we have wanted to do for a long time. Every night at 8pm, the fire brigade of Ieper play the Last Post at the Menin Gate. The Menin Gate is a monument dedicated to missing British and Commonwealth soldiers killed in the battles around the Ypres Salient area who have no known grave. Many Australians died in this area and the ceremony has been performed every night since the liberation of the town in 1918. At this time of year, I didn’t expect there would be so many people there but there were at least 1000 and a contingent of Dutch soldiers as well.

Today we went to Talbot House which I mentioned in the Relgious Architecture post. It was a retreat for soldiers in the Salient area and it again was a very well presented museum. A couple from Wales who are volunteering at the house for three weeks made us feel as welcome as I am sure the soldiers felt when they went into this amazing piece of peace in the middle of a war. They told us a lot about the history and the house. There is a huge garden and the house itself is very welcoming. During the war the house hosted about 500 soldiers a day. Next time we go to Belgium we will try to base ourselves here as there is also accomodation available in the house.

So we are loaded down now with chocolate, shell casings, rifle cleaning kits, spoons, postcards, artillery fuses, books, ceramics etc most of which were dug up from the fields around Ieper- I’ll let you guess which ones weren’t dug up.

Tomorrow we head back to Holland and to the Delta Works which keep the water out of the Netherlands.

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