Ieper – or Ypres back in 1918 – was immediately christened as ‘Wipers‘ by Allied soldiers, with even a ‘Wipers Times’ newspaper being written by the British!
During the Middle Ages, Ypres was a prosperous Flemish city renown for its textile industry – they were trading linen with England way back in the 14th century. It is located in Belgium north of the Somme River. Sadly this was right in the pathway of Germany’s planned sweep across the rest of Belgium and into France during WW1 so it became the scene of some savage battles. Shelled into ruins, the town ramparts were solid enough to endure the pounding of artillery and in fact were used by troops to shelter from the onslaught.
The people of Ieper were devastated at the destruction of their ancient town, but they have rebuilt it magnificently. Check out these before and after pictures of the amazing ‘Cloth Hall‘ below. This building featured in many photographs taken of allied troops moving through the town and the Menin Gate to the battlefields beyond. It is now home to the modern In Flanders Field Museum which commemorates the futility of war and includes a new World War I research centre.
The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing is also the centre of a painting made by Will Longstaff (Menin Gate at Midnight) showing ghostly troops moving by the gate – a very moving depiction that is in many RSL halls around Australia.
The town’s fire brigade has a group of buglers who play ‘The Last Post’ at 8pm each evening as part of a ceremony to honour the Allied soldiers who lie in unmarked locations throughout the surrounding battlefields. Traffic is halted while the large numbers of visitors attend this very moving experience. 54,000 names grace the walls of the Gate and we defy anyone not to shed a tear about the overwhelming horror and barbarity of war.
This ceremony started at the end of WWI and has been a feature of the town ever since, except for a brief break during WWII when the town was occupied by German troops. A similar ceremony has been adopted for the close of our Australian War Memorial in Canberra each day.
We stayed at the very nice Ariane Hotel in Ieper while we toured the battlefields. A lovely blend of old architecture with modern interior and facilities.
Ieper is a delightful place as you can see from the photographs and has many beautiful buildings – and wonderful window displays of cakes and sweets!
The town has cobblestone streets and we found them a little hard on our legs after a day walking round taking in the sights. The ramparts almost circle the town and are a lovely place to walk and take in the buildings.
We really had a good time and were intrigued by Belgium and in particular beautiful Ieper with such interesting and relevant history. We intend returning for a longer stay next time… and we would love to hear from anyone else who has also enjoyed visiting this region!