Battlefields of the First World War
The area all around Ypres was, in the four years 1914-1918, the scene of some of the bloodiest battles of the First World War. The dead are buried in 170 war cemeteries, their graves are still visited by relatives. The British cemeteries are scattered around close to Ypres, whereas the German soldiers' graves are concentrated in huge cemeteries (Langemark, Menen-Wald, Hooglede, Vladso-Praetbosch,).From Ypres "Route 14-18" is signposted to the most important battle zones.
A tour, unmarked, through the battlefields (63km/39miles) begins at the Menin Gate.Take road N345 and N332 heading northeast through one of the most hotly contested areas, past several British cemeteries, for 9km/5mi to the village of Zonnebeke.Once completely destroyed, it now has an attractive church with a freestanding belfry dating from 1921.
Tyne Cot Cemetery
In Broodseinde (2km/1mile) turn left towards Passchendaele and 1km/.5mile further at the hamlet of Nieuwe-Molden turn left to the largest British war cemetery, Tyne Cot. It was laid out by Sir Reginald Blomfield with almost 12,000 war graves and a memorial to 35,000 soldiers missing after August 16, 1917. From here there is one of the best views of the former battlefields.
Canadian Monument-The Brooding Soldier
From the Tyne Cot cemetery a narrow road leads to the N313. A short distance south of the junction, at the crossing with the road to Langemark, a memorial commemorates the 2,000 Canadians who died in the first German gas attack in 1915.
About 3km/2mi from the Canadian monument, Langemark, a pretty village that was much contested in the war, has a huge German war cemetery (almost 45,000 graves). At Langemark in 1914 thousands of young, inexperienced recruits, mostly students and schoolboys, lost their lives; a fact which was exploited by the propaganda machine of the Third Reich and even today can be seen as being symbolic of the spontaneous willingness of youth to make sacrifices.From Langemark return towards Ypres, past the British cemetery of Cementhouse, to Boezinge with a view of the silhouette of Ypres.
A continuation of the battlefield tour leads southwest of Ypres on the N375 past Lake Dikkibus, created in 1320 to provide Ypres with water. The Vauban tower was built in 1648 to regulate the water supply.
At De Klijte (10km/6mi from Dikkebus) turn left to the village of Kemmel, once completely destroyed; 2km/1mi southwest rises the much contested Kemmelberg (156m/511ft), the easternmost spur of an upland range in West Flanders. There is a panoramic view over Ypres and the plain of Flanders. A large French communal cemetery (about 5,300 graves) with a memorial crowned by the Gallic cockerel is situated on its western slope.
Lone Tree Crater, Mesen, Belgium
In Mesen, 5km/3miles beyond Kemmel, there are several war cemeteries. The elevated ground north, between Mesen and Wijtschate, was taken by the British in 1917 by massive mine blasting. One of the largest mine craters of that battle, Lone Tree Crater, today a small lake, is preserved as a memorial (Pool of Peace).
The battlefield tour continues on N365 back north towards Ypres. Some 5km/3miles beyond Wijtschate a small road turning off to the right leads to the village of Zillebeke and to Hill 60, 4km/2miles south east. It was an important artillery observation post and the center of heavy fighting, now crowned by two British memorials.
Battlefields of the First World War Pictures
Map of Ypres Attractions