21 Nov 2008 - Ypres, Belgium
The aim of my first visit to Belgium was to see the scene of the opening battle of World War II on the Western Front, the Battle of Fort Eben Emael. This small but significant battle entered the annals of military history for its exemplary planning, execution, daring and innovation.
Ypres is a place I've always wanted to come to on a battlefield tour because in this relatively small area some of the major engagements and most intense battles of World War I took place. However, Eben Emael was the subject of this tour so all the grim attractions of Ypres had to be put on hold for another time.
Ypres - The Cloth Hall at night I
The Cloth Hall was built in the 13th century and was one of the largest commercial buildings of the Middle Ages. The structure which stands today is the exact copy of the original medieval building, rebuilt after the war. The whole complex was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999.
Ypres - The Cloth Hall at night II
The main square in Ypres has been impressively reconstructed to resemble how it was before war destroyed the town. Outside of the centre the buildings are more modern in appearance.
Ypres - The Menin Gate memorial
This memorial commemorates those soldiers of the British Empire - with the exception of New Zealand and Newfoundland - who fell at Ypres before 16 August 1917, who have no known grave. The name of each soldier is inscribed on the walls. The location is seen as poignant as it lies on the eastward route from the town which allied soldiers would have taken towards the fighting - many never to return. In reality, most troops used the other gates of Ypres as the Menin Gate was too dangerous due to shellfire.