When we planned this trip we wanted to include a visit to Trois Arbres Cemetery near the France/Belgium border where an uncle who was killed in World War One is buried. Today we made this visit, taking time first to go into the nearby village of Steenwerck and look about, as well as visit the Information Centre where we were given good advice on how to find this particular cemetery. We found the cemetery easily and there in a row of closely spaced white headstones was the familiar name, with the New Zealand fern emblem. It seemed a good thing that there are three New Zealanders together in this particular spot and of course many others throughout the cemetery. In this quiet rural setting it was hard to imagine the devastation, confusion and noise of battle. Commonwealth War Grave Cemeteries were apparent in many places as we drove about the area, surrounded by farm land and immaculately kept. We stopped to visit a German cemetery which seemed very stark and lonely looking with black steel crosses in the grass.
Knowing we were not far from the coast and Dunkirk, we decided to head that way and see the beach made famous
in World War Two, when the little boats came from England to take soldiers off the beach and out of danger. As our guidebook said, the town is fairly ordinary to look at, so we went to the beach. Here we found many holiday makers sunbathing on the sand, often sheltering behind wind breaks, or swimming and cavorting in the water. The long stretch of sandy beach was being used and enjoyed – a good sort of memorial really.
With the evening approaching we continued to the beautiful town of Ypres just over the border in Belgium. This town is the site of the Menin Gate, a huge memorial to all those servicemen killed in this area in World War One but who don’t have a grave. Their names are inscribed on the walls of the Gate. Over 54,000 names. Every evening at 8pm the Last Post is played at the Menin Gate and tonight we joined several hundred people for that ceremony. It’s amazing to think this happens day after day in the town, with groups coming from England and elsewhere to take part and to lay wreaths.
This day of quiet remembering has been very special. The history
of the two World Wars is everywhere and a part of life here.
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