Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Ypres diary, day one

[We travelled to Belgium on Eurostar, followed by a rather slow and stopping connection from Brussels. The nearer we got to Ypres, the busier the train seemed to get with schoolchildren making the journey home. It's always strangely pleasing to be on holiday when others are at school. Our half-term was last week and we spent part of it in Ieper (as the Belgians spell it). The following is a short extract from day one of the holiday diary...

Arriving in Ieper among hordes of noisy Belgian schoolchildren was a pleasant surprise! The town is a lot bigger than I remembered but thankfully our hotel is only a short walk from the station, past the Cloth Hall and towards the Menin Gate. In fact, after checking in and before eating we paid a visit to the Gate, to the strains of a couple of pipers warming up for the evening sundown ceremony.

The weight of names on this enormous monument is oppressive - more so, at dusk, than when I'd last seen the massively inscribed walls in the midday sun well over a decade ago. But as darkness falls and the carved initials, surnames, ranks and regiments gradually fade from view the fact that these marks in stone are all that remain of several hundred thousand men seems as oppressive as the gathering gloom. It's impossible to comprehend, fully. Or rather, it is possible to comprehend - but not to cope, emotionally, with that comprehension.

Tomorrow is another day. We, at least, get one. They, poor buggers, don't or didn't or didn't get many or anywhere near enough. They didn't even get a grave. Just this mass memorial, a massive monument to madness.


1 comment:

  1. I went to that monument about 14 years ago - my blood still runs cold when I think of it. One more year, I think, and my boys should both be old enough to comprehend it. Then we'll go back...

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