We are getting close to the final days of our European tour and this is a region we have been looking forward to.  This is a part of Europe where many Australians fought for our freedoms. Where so many young Australian soldiers (and soldiers of other nations) died in battle.  We will visit many famous battlefields around the Western Front and gather photos to share with you. I have opened this gallery with a photo of Shane driving just to prove how confident she was to drive a left hand drive car, changing manual gears with her left hand as we drove through the lovely French countryside.  It was a pretty drive right up to our first stopover.

Operation Dynamo – Calling All Boats.

The first location is Dunkirk from whose beaches thousands of allied servicemen were evacuated. In June of 1940 the German forces were closing in on the allies who were trapped against the sea.  In a desperate plea for help hundreds of boats of all kinds from skiffs to freighters evacuated almost 100,000 soldiers at the last minute.  This has never been seen as a defeat but as a miraculous strategic retreat to save the lives of our Allies.

At low tide the beach stretches out hundreds of metres and on that beachfront stands the Dunkirk Museum highlighting the evacuation code named “Operation Dynamo” (This link takes you to a You Tube video). In this section of photos I have preceded several mannequins with a descriptive sign of what each model is about.  The museum is a fascinating place with much to see.  It is a ‘must see’ venue if you are ever in this region.

A Very Different Cemetery

On our way further north to our accomodation at Bray-Dunes we noticed a war cemetery which had a different look to others we had seen.  In the town of Zuydcoote sits the resting place of multinational troops gathered in like groups. Most groups were religious such as Muslim, Christian, Hindu etcetera while others were grouped by country.  Originally a WW1 cemetery it was later expanded to include WW2 forces as well.  We learned a lot from that memorial cemetery.

Ypres – A Fairy Tale City

We had 4 nights at Bray-Dunes and on one day we drove across the border to Belgium and the stunning town of Ypres (Ieper).  Driving in towards the town centre there is little to distinguish it from any other regional cities. But after one final corner we thought we were in a car park only to find ourselves in the city centre where the surrounding buildings are fairy tale like.  Note the archway the 5th photo.  More on that later.  At one end of the carpark was the museum we’d come to see, the “In Flanders Field Museum”.

The Cloth Hall

There are in fact two museums in this fantasticly beautiful medieval building with it’s huge Belfry Tower looking out over the city. The entrance to the IFFM is on the western side of the Cloth Hall. The exhibits within the building tell a foreboding tale that should warn us of the horrors that war creates.  For the fit visitors there is a 231 step circular stairway to the belfry tower.  Almost at the top is a 36 bell carillon and a drum displaying the workings of the tower clock.  Once atop the tower you exit to a walkway where the views overlook the surrounding town for many kilometres. Long, long ago black cats were thrown from the belfry in a ceremony because of the superstitious association with black magic. The city of Ypres now holds a “Cats Festival” every three years when toy cats are thrown from the belfry to the relief of the crowd.

The Gate to War

After a few hours in the IFF Museum we left the building for lunch after which I wanted to investigate that arch I mentioned earlier in this post.  A short walk from the city centre we discovered this was the Menin Gate.  In 1917 thousands of Aussie soldiers marched through this gate to the battle against the German Forces in the Third Battle of Ypres .    Some 17,000 never returned.  The Hall of Memories has 54,395 names of Commonwealth soldiers engraved on it’s carved walls.  With insufficient space for more names another 35,000 names were inscribed in the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing several miles away. (New Zealand and Newfoundland soldiers have their names honoured on their own memorials so are not counted in this tally.) 

I’m Not Lion

In a strange twist to history if you have been to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra you may have noticed the lions at the entrance (last pix in this gallery).  These are the original lions from the Menin Gates donated to Australia by the Mayor of Ypres in 1936.  The lions in our photo gallery that now sit at the entrance to the Menin Gate are replicas given to Ypres as a 100th anniversary gift from Australia to commemorate Australians serving in Flanders during WW1. 

I had hoped to have the blog on this trip wrapped up by now but there is so much to tell.  I guess probably 2 more posts should do it (OK maybe 3) but I can’t promise anything except to watch for the next post.  There’s more stories from the Western Front to come.

Bye for now

Garry & Shane

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