Ypres: Remembering the horrors of war

Ypres: Remembering the horrors of war

Submitted by alvin on Tue, 2016-08-30 10:40 Cloth HallOn a recent visit to Belgium, my friends in the Indian Embassy, who knew about my interest in war history, suggested that I should visit Ypres, where poison gas was first used in the World War I.  My curiosity sufficiently aroused, I made further enquiries and learnt that Ypres is also famous for memorials of soldiers who laid down their lives during the war.War MuseumCalled Ieper by locals, Ypres was a prosperous town in the 11th century. In the next 200 years, Ypres became the third largest Flemish town. Bordering France and Belgium, the Hundred Years War had its effect on the town and it went into a decline. When the French occupied the town for about two decades in the 17th century, they fortified the town, making it is one of the few non-French towns having a fortification designed by French military architect Bauben. However, during the First World War, the entire town of Ypres was wiped out, making the British label the town “Wiper”. It is to the credit of Belgians that the town has been rebuilt after the ravages of the war. What is noteworthy is that most of the major landmarks of the town, known for its cloth making, have been reconstructed to resemble the original ones which were lost to the war.Town Square Known for its war memorials and cemeteries of soldiers, thousands of people from all over the world come to Ypres every year to pay homage to their near and dear ones who lost their lives in World War I. During the war, the German army surrounded Ypres on three sides and constantly bombarded the town. The Allies succeeded in repulsing the Germans and re-captured the town. Undeterred, the Germans mounted another attack in April and May 1915 and released poison gas to make the Allies retreat. When the war ended, the entire town of Ypres had been wiped out.After the war, the British and Belgians desired that sacrifices made by soldiers from all over the world should not go unrecognised. While rebuilding the town, they retained the original design of the town and built memorials to war heroes. In and around Ypres, there are a number of memorials like American War Memorial, Canadian Memorial etc.Lille gateMenin GateView of Menin Gate from the road The most important place to see in Ypres is the Menin Gate. This gate, which is more or less similar to our own India Gate, was designed by Sir Bloomfield. The gate displays the names of about 55,000 soldiers who were missing in action. They included Canadians, British, French, Australians and New Zealanders, apart from Germans. The presence of a small replica of our national emblem near the mound by the side of Menin Gate makes one realise the sacrifice of our own countrymen.   As many as 9,000 Indian soldiers, out of the 1,30,000 Indians who are said to have fought the war, lost their lives. The Indian monument was erected in March 2011.Ypres Monument, unveiled in 1926 to honour the war victims, is another place to visit. A number of war graves are situated on the ramparts of the fort wall surrounding the Menin Gate. Every night at eight, in a poignant ceremony, the last post is sounded at the Menin Gate in memory of the victims of war.One of the Cemetaries Indian MonumentPlaque showing the Indian presence in the war The Cloth Hall and Belfry are the other famous landmarks of Ypres. The Cloth Hall was originally built in gothic style in the 13th century. After it was completely destroyed, it was rebuilt in 1967. A part of the building houses a museum that tells the story of World War 1. This is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Town Hall, originally built in 1619, is another interesting place. There are a number of cathedrals and churches in and around Ypres. Once every three years, in the month of May, a famous parade called Cat Parade is held in Ypres. This parade commemorates a tradition from the Middle Ages when cats were thrown from the Belfry Tower of the Cloth Hall to Town Square below. Nowadays, a jester throws stuffed toy cats from the Belfry and the cheering crowds below catch the toys.Being a town of war monuments, Ypres is a place that is steeped in history. It evokes horrors of war and makes us feel the futility of wars. Connected by road and rail to major towns in Belgium and North France, Ypres is a place worth visiting and remembering.Author:​Dr. DV Guruprasad  (Former DGP-Karnataka) is presently the Chief Executive of the Gokula Education Foundation (Medical) which works in the field of education and health care.