10 Dec 2018 46 views
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photoblog image In Flanders Fields
In Flanders Fields|

In Flanders Fields


Visiting Ypres/Ieper (French/Dutch), I went on a salient tour offered by an independent operator. For those who don't know, Ypres was the centre of the largest killing ground during WW1. The military concept of a salient: A salient, also known as a bulge, is a battlefield feature that projects into enemy territory. The salient is surrounded by the enemy on multiple sides, making the troops occupying the salient vulnerable.


As to who saliented whom - well, there were a lot of bulges that changed for the two major opposing forces (British Expeditionary Force [BEF] and the Germans) during the 5 major battles that were staged from the end of 1914 until 1918. You can find many maps on internet, showing the battle lines and how they changed around Ypres during the war. There was a time that when any of the parties wanted to gas the enemy, they had to be careful not to gas their own troops on the other side of the bulge/salient - so the wind had to  be just right.


I will make comments about the origins of WW1 in later postings. The salient facts (another use of that word!) of Ypres is that the Germans had a Schlieffer Plan that required attacking France through neutral Belgium. In one sweep they should enter France from the north and conquer Paris at double speed. At the same time they should occupy the west coast of Belgium (okay, it is their only coast), which is uncomfortably close to Dover in the UK. The obstinacy and heroism of Belgium's King Albert 1 is what the Germans didn't reckon with. As soon as it was clear that a far superior force was invading, he sent to politicians (parliament) to France and took charge of Belgium's military forces. The Belgians was way undertrained and equipped, e.g. they only had 110 machine guns. The Belgians fought a number of battles that held the Germans up. That is from East to West across Belgium. At some places they were aided by the French, who already had to fight the invaders in France. At Antwerp the British also joined the melèe.


From Ypres there is a channel, the Yperlee, running from Ypres to the river Yser. Albert fought his big battle at the Yser and denied a small part of Belgium (basically from Ypres to the coast) from falling in German hands. The effect of all of this, was that the BEF and the French could move into this part of Belgium in retreat from Antwerp and draw a line to the German advance. This line ran mostly from Ypres along the Yperlee channel to the Yser river. The German army was now held on the flat Flanders side of the line (north and east). 


The Flanders landscape coming inwards from the coast, is quite flat. A series of channels keep most water at bay, although the water level is close to the land level. In autumn all little puddles side channels, etc. run over there sides, creating very soft land consistency. It was now autumn, so the German advance got bogged down by the enemy and the land. Effectively, this is what the Belgian defence bought for the Allied effort.


The picture: this is the site of John McCrae's field dressing station. Field dressing is the medical assistance nearest to the front. Looking down the short lane going behind the staring visitors, there is a dark patch, across the lane. That is the vegetation on the bank of the Yperlee channel. You can also see the flat countryside on the other side of the channel. We were told that the front, at some stage, was between 50 and 100 meteres into field. To the left in the foreground are the bunkers that made up the dressing station. Out of the picture and to the right is the Essex Farm Cemetery, where those who couldn't wait for the transport to higher level treatment, are buried. Some pictures in the next posting.


The visitors are looking at a plaque with John McCrae's poem 'In Flanders Fields', made in relief from his original writing.



comments (12)

Thank you for this information... you've done your homework!
Louis: I like to read up before visiting places like this. The independent operator is also well informed, making everything memorable. Thank you Elizabeth.
Sombre stuff Louis, a shame we never learned.
Louis: Especially since there were a number of learning events prior to WW1. But yes, you are right - sombre, indeed.
  • Philine
  • Germany
  • 10 Dec 2018, 06:24
Yes, I have been there - a very moving area ... we saw also the Schützengräben ...
Louis: Langemark will be coming up, Philine.
  • Lisl
  • England
  • 10 Dec 2018, 06:35
My great-uncle died in a field dressing station in WWI
Louis: Ever visited his grave? A lot of that has been going on this year.
  • Chris
  • England
  • 10 Dec 2018, 06:43
Ypres was carved on the very heart of the British public in 1915, such was the scale of the slaughter. One of my aunts was named Ypres, which gives a clue as to how deep the place was buried in the collective consciousness of the day
Louis: Oh, I can believe that most everyone was touched with one or more deaths in the family somewhere.
I am truly getting my history lesson today, Louis, thanks to you. (sigh)
Louis: More is coming up, Ginnie.
  • Chad
  • Somewhere in deep space
  • 10 Dec 2018, 08:08
I would not have wanted to go to fight in this war, even if I might come back a hero having killed lots of the evil enemy and the girls would all want to marry me.
Louis: I agree, Chad. This idea of many wives (Solomon) or a thousand virgins (Jihadists) is just a fairy tale.
I read the book sleepwalking into WW1 a while back. It was very interesting and had the air of a terrible inevitability about it.
Louis: I will touch on the starting of the war with a future post. In short, when someone shoots Ferdinand and his wife, you lock him up or hang him and that is the end of the story. Except if you have a number of war mongering nations itching to score.
One of the most awful actions of WW1, good to see another memorial.
Louis: Bodies are still being uncovered ...
With these textures the monotone was the perfect choice.

Sir Andre Macphail from PEI worked with John MacRae there. He helped set up the field hospital setting in WW! He later visited Macphail's home in PEI. I was manager there many years ago.
Louis: Thank you Mary. I read up on Andrew McPhail - entering the war at age 50 and running a Field Ambulance service for 20 months. And he remained sane.
  • Astrid
  • Netherlands
  • 10 Dec 2018, 15:20
Thank you for the history lesson and it is just amazing what cruelties happened there, Louis.
I found this on Wiki: https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slag_om_Ieper
Louis: They are missing one battle - see here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Ypres What remains amazing to me is that neither side was in a hurry to get Ypres completed. As if they liked to dig around the trenches and playing at soldiers.
My grandfather served all through WWI in the Royal Artillery, was at Ypres and just about every other major battle. He was a miner and in a reserved occupation but joined up nonetheless. Back in the mines he died at only 61 when I was only six, so I never got to talk with him about his experiences.

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