Today I visited several Canadian World War I memorials and cemeteries in Flanders, Belgium. This really puts into perspective the great sacrifice that our soldiers made for our country and for the freedom of our European allies.
This is particularly special for me, as my grandfather fought in World War I for the Canadian Army. He was stationed in France near Vimy Ridge. He was one of the lucky ones who survived and returned home to our great country. I dedicate this post to my grandfather’s memory.
My first stop was to Essex Farm Cemetery, where John McCrae wrote the famous poem In Flanders Fields. As my Canadian friends know, the poem is:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
– John McCrae
Below are 3 photos. The 1st shows a plaque where John McCrae wrote the poem. While standing in front of this plaque you can see the cemetery on your left (2nd photo). But remember that during the war there were no gravestones – instead there were crosses – hence “between the crosses, row on row”. If you turn to your right in front of the plaque, you look down a narrow street to where the Germans were shelling/shooting from their trench line (3rd photo). The poem really hits you when you are standing where John McCrae stood.
My next stop was Tyne Cot Cemetery, where nearly 12,000 Commonwealth soldiers are buried. You can see this in the photo with the white headstones and the cross in the distance. Many of the headstones are marked as unknown as there was no way to identify the remains. This includes soldiers from the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and other allies.
Finally I visited some sites in the town of Ypres. In the photos you can see a large gate, called the Menin Gate. This is dedicated to all the Commonwealth missing soldiers whose remains were not found/identified. Their names are engraved throughout the Menin Gate, and number over 54,000. Also in Ypres is the In Flanders Fields Museum. This museum provides a very thoughtful and informative history of World War I in Belgium.
This has been a great day for reflection and remembrance. We all have so much to be thankful for – most of all our freedom. We must remember to ensure that this kind of human devastation never happens again – Lest We Forget.