WW1: Flanders and The Somme Battlefields

Day 1: On Friday the 26th of February 2016, Irish Travel Trade and Irish Travel Writers were hosted by GTI on a four day trip to the WW1 Flanders and the Somme battlefields. We departed Dublin Friday afternoon for the short flight to Brussels Zaventem airport (approx. 1 half hours). Upon arrival at the airport we met with Norman who would be our coach driver for the duration of the trip. We travelled to the Novotel Centrum Hotel in Ieper where we would be spending the few days. The hotel was in an excellent location close to shops, bars and cafes. Our first stop of the evening was a visit to the last post ceremony at the Menin Gate. This memorial commerates 54,896 soldiers who lost their lives during battles in the area. “He is not missing, he is here”. It is  one of the most visited memorials and at 8pm every night the crowd gathers, the traffic comes to a standstill and a silence descends over the memorial as the ‘Last Post’ is sounded in honour of these lost soldiers. This salute was started in 1928 and the tradition has continued to this day. A simple yet moving tribute to the courage and sacrifice of those who gave their lives. From here we went to the Klein Stadhuis restaurant where we sampled the Belgian house specialities of Fish pie and beef stew (nicest stew I’ve had by far!!!)

Day 2: After an early morning wakeup call and a delicious breakfast we departed Ieper with eager anticipation of the journey back in history. We travelled from Belgium across to the Somme battlefields in France. It is beyond belief the figures of the lives lost of the different nations, France, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Britain and Ireland at the battlefields of the Somme. Some of the memorials visited included:

  • Pozieres Memorial
  • 36th Ulster Divisions Ulster Tower & Orange Order Memorial
  • Newfoundland Park Memorial Beaumont Hamel
  • 16th Irish Division Memorial Guillemont
  • Tyneside Irish Memorial
  • Theipval Memorial: The largest and one of the most emotive memorials to the missing from any war with the names of over 72,000 soldiers carved into the stone of the massive memorial. From here we travelled to Albert, a city left devastated during the war. It was later rebuilt and is now a quiet city in the countryside.  After lunch and a wander around the city we travelled back across to Ieper in Belgium to watch the all-important Irish Rugby Game and have dinner at the Novotel Centrum Hotel.

Day 3: Today we travelled the short distance by coach to the Flanders Battlefields of Belgium. Our tour guide for today’s trip was Simon. Some of the battlefields and memorials visited today included:

  • Francis Ledwidge’s Grave (Renowned Irish Poet)
  • The Germany ceremony of Langemarck (the only German cemetery in the Salient)
  • Grave of Private John Condon of the Royal Irish Regiment who at 14 years old is thought to be the youngest battle casualty of WW1.
  • Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917: A museum devoted to the battle of Passchendaele where the number of lives lost is 450,000. The number of lives lost is hard to take in. As an experience museum visitors can imagine themselves in WW1. I found this to be a very moving and real experience.
  • Tyne cot Cemetery, The Pool of Peace, 16th Irish Division Memorial, Island of Ireland Peace Park, Visit to Willie Redmond’s Grave (Leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party) and a visit to the Messines Peace Village.

 

That evening we were hosted by Fernand Vanrovaey’s of Tourism Ieper at the Casement Restaurant

 

Dermot Curran (GTI) Fernand Vanrovaey (Tourism Ieper) Derek Keogh (GTI)

 

Day 4: Our Final day was a trip to Bruges the capital of West Flanders in the Flemish region of Belgium in the northwest of the country where Dermot Curran (Tour Manager GTI) took us on an orientation walk of the city. Bruges (also known as the Venice of the North) is one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. A medieval city distinguished by its canals and cobbled stone streets, a city that welcomes and delights. We had lunch in the Haalve Mann Brewery with Andrew Daines (Director of Visit Flanders UK & Ireland). After lunch we wandered through the cobbled stoned streets and the many chocolate shops where we stocked up on the all famous Belgian chocolate for the return journey home. We departed Bruges for Brussels Zaventem airport for our evening flight back to Ireland.

   

                                                          Derek Keogh (GTI) Andrew Daines (Visit Flanders) Catherine Bookle (GTI)

What I found most incredible about the tour was the fact that almost 100 years later farmers are still to this day finding artefacts and traces of WW1 in the fields. On our trip across the battlefields some found uniform buttons, shrapnel and old bullets embedded in the soil. It is just unbelievable to think that 100 years later traces of WW1 are still being discovered!!!!

 

While this tour was very moving and emotional it was a truly interesting educational trip. We have all read the history of the Great War but a tour of the Flanders and the Somme battlefields brings it very much to reality for the tourist. It is certainly an experience I will always carry with me. With anniversaries coming up in 2016, 2017, 2018 it would be the ideal opportunity to step back in time and history by taking a tour of the Flanders and the Somme Battlefields. You will be truly amazed. For more information on this tour please contact Donna on 0504 22200.