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Your guide from now on!,
This review is from: Major and Mrs.Holt's Battlefield Guide to Ypres Salient (Major & Mrs Holt's Battlefield Guide) (Paperback)
Entering the busy, teeming Ypres (Ieper, as we have it) through the Menin Gate (de Menenpoort), any visitor will involuntarily believe the cosy old city has retained its erstwhile elegance unimpaired.
By 1917 the Ypres as Edmund Blunden saw it, had been reduced to smithereens. What remained was an eerie, godforsaken 'catacombed sepulchre', a spectre of a place the rare remnants of which appeared to him 'so evidently, but impossibly' medieval.
If anything, the place conjures up all the obvious reminiscences of Flanders' glorious Middle Ages, and first-time visitors will stare their eyes out here as they do in, say, Bruges or Ghent or Lille.
But there's one large but. As much as the surrounding region the present-day Ypres is a reconstruction. All through the Great War, Ypres was the bleeding heart of a Salient (a half-moon area protruding into enemy-occupied territory), and the 150,odd military cemeteries, most of them Commonwealth ones, serve to remind that only dying must have been easy here at the time.
Nearly a century has elapsed since those harrowing days and the tell-tale signs of the war slipping out of memory are stealing both upon the landscape and into people's minds. Is it any wonder that the earliest post-war guide books to the region spoke of pilgrims rather than visitors. And who are we, to blame the old 'War' museums, like the magnificent one inside the Cloth Hall, for having restyled themselves (quite logically) as Peace museums today?
The respectable Times once stated that 'The world has no other such battlefield'. Like us, try to remain aware of this as you tour the region. And like us, continue to approach our Salient with that amount of reticence and respect which we owe to the hundreds of thousands, whatever their origin, who perished here.
As you attend the wistful sonnerie of the Last Post at 8 p.m., camera at the ready and the Holts' invaluable guidebook tucked away in the rucksack for the night, we dare you to remain unmoved. Whether at the In Flanders Fields Museum, the Passchendaele 1917 Memorial Museum, Talbot House (Poperinge), the small cemeteries - don't forget to include the German ones at Langemark or Vladslo - and the new venues in Peace Park Westhoek, listen how the 'millions of the mouthless dead' reclaim their right to speak and warn against the pointlessness of war anywhere at any time.
Then, and while we extend to you our proverbial Flemish hospitality, you will understand why we continue to take it so much to heart.