Lest We Forget: Remembering Flanders Fields in Belgium

Last updated on June 25th, 2021

Text and Photography by Evelyn Hannon

Originally published November 2014

When I was in grade school, all students were required to memorize the poem, ‘In Flanders Fields’ by John McCrae. At that time in the Fifties, to us youngsters they were simply words and we associated them only with the pretty ‘scarlet poppies’ that people wore on Remembrance Day.

Image of plaque at Flander's Field, Belgium
John McCrae was the Brigade Surgeon of the 1st Canadian Field Artillery.

In high school we were taught about The Great War (WW1) of 1914 – 1918. We learned the facts and memorized the dates for our exams but that was as far as the learning went. We were teenagers and not interested in knowing more.

Then in 2014, in commemoration of the Great War Centenary, I was invited to Flanders, Belgium to actually see Flanders Fields, the poppies, and thousands of soldiers graves as far as the eye could see. Now, with a heavy heart I understood the enormity of the senseless suffering and loss.

Image of grave stone 1
Image of gravestone at Flander's Field

600,000 died in the First World War in Belgium. 550,000 fell in West Flanders. At least 300,000 are buried there. At least 200,000 are missing there.
More than one and a half million were injured. 50 nationalities and cultures were involved in this war. Boys as young as 15 lied about their age, enlisted and became fodder for the cannons. The unidentified dead had only the words ‘Known Un To God’ etched on to their grave stones.

Tyne Cot Museum in Ieper

Tyne Cot Museum (located 9 km from the centre of Ieper) is the largest Commonwealth War Graves cemetery in the world. It is also the most important reminder of the Battle of Passchendaele, 1917. All soldiers who died of their injuries were buried on this spot. Later, other Commonwealth dead were brought here to be beside their fallen brethren. The rear wall of this enormous cemetery is a poignant memorial to the thousands of missing. Website: www.passchendaele.be/eng/TynecotEN.html

Everywhere we traveled, there were the scarlet poppies as reminders. Some actually alive and growing on their own.

a lone poppy
A grave stone surrounded by handmade crosses and poppies

Some poppies were created by European school children who came to Flanders to be involved in a living history lesson.

Crosses and poppies in front of a lake

Even the little ones were here on field trips and they listened patiently as their teachers explained about the battles and the many, many soldiers who died.

School children on field trip to Flanders Fields.

I visited the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres. Their permanent exhibition holds an immense amount of information. There are excellent films, computer programs, photos and hundreds of pieces of war memorabilia. Though I was there for close to two hours, it still wasn’t enough time to see everything. One leaves with a very heavy heart. Website: www.inflandersfields.be/en

Image from inside the Flanders Fields Museum
Image from inside the Flanders Fields Museum  2

At the Knowledge Centre of the In Flanders Fields Museum, I requested information about the women who served as nurses in The Great War. These are the books I was shown.

Women in the War Zone, Anne Powell
Elsie & Marie Go to War, Diane Atkinson
Fighting on the Home Front, Kate Adie

Every evening since 1928, the Last Post is played at 8 o’clock sharp under the Menin Gate Memorial in Ieper. This is the traditional final salute to the fallen performed by the buglers from the local fire brigade. By the time I arrived, hundreds of people were already assembled and waiting for the ceremony to begin. Website: www.lastpost.be

Menin Gate Memorial, Ieper
Mature soldier in uniform with a bugle
I was honoured to meet this man whose father originally played taps each night. Now it is he who follows in his father’s footsteps.
Evelyn Hannon stands to pay her last respects to the fallen
Before I leave I, along with all the other towns people and tourists, pay my respects to the fallen. Lest we forget…

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Evelyn started Journeywoman in 1994, and unknowingly became the world's first female travel blogger. She inspired a sisterhood of women, a grassroots movement, to inspire women to travel safely and well, and to connect women travellers around the world. She passed away in 2019, but her legacy lives on.

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