This gallery features photos taken by Robert (Bob) Brennan who travelled with three friends in April-May 2012 to Flanders Fields in Belgium and Northern France where most of the Canadian losses occurred during the Great War, August 4th, 1914 to Nov. 11th, 1918, later to be known as World War I. The friends had spoken about taking this trip for several years, but when one of them became ill, they made it a priority. They toured the following memorials. Please view the gallery of their photos and notes below.
Tyne Cot Cemetery
This is the largest British Commonwealth cemetery in the world with 12,000 graves. Most of the soldiers could not be identified. On their stones is the inscription “Known unto God”. Many fought and died in the late Fall of 1917 at Passchendaele, 12 miles outside of Ypres. There was an intense battle for several days between British, Australian/New Zealand (ANZAC) and Canadian forces on one side and German forces on the other. It was the highest loss of life that Canada ever suffered in a single battle; however, despite incurring 16,000 casualties out of a total of 20,000 men, Canadians advanced the furthest and captured Passchendaele. As you enter the front gate, you can see the Cross of Sacrifice which is found in all British Commonwealth cemeteries.
The Brooding Soldier
One of the most impressive monuments commemorating a battle of the First World War is in Saint Julien. The Brooding Soldier recognizes 18,000 Canadians who withstood the German gas attacks on April 22-24, 1915. There are two thousand Canadians buried nearby.
This memorial is the location of the battle where the Royal Newfoundland Regiment suffered devastating losses against German machine gunners on July 1st, 1916. There were over 900 soldiers that began the attack. Only 65 answered roll call the next day. The monument consists of a caribou on a rock, and all plants and trees in the surrounding gardens are native to Newfoundland.
The two rising columns of the Vimy Ridge memorial represent France and Canada. At the top of one column are three images signifying victory, sacrifice and courage. Visitors approach the back of the memorial. Ascending the stairs, on the left side is an image of a young woman, symbolizing Canadian women mourning the men they loved. On the right is an image of a young man, embodying the men who mourn their comrades and brothers. At the top of the stairs, along the promenade to the right, an image represents the courage and sacrifice of First Nation Canadians. Moving to the front and at the centre facing Flanders is an image recognizing the sacrifice of Canadian mothers and is honoured as “Canada Bereft”.
The largest of all memorial cemeteries in Flanders is Langemarck that is the final resting place of 45,000 German soldiers who lost their lives in the battles near Ypres. At the back of the cemetery is an image that was designed by Emil Krieger from a photograph of four mourning soldiers. When you enter the front gate, there is a tribute with a biblical inscription, “Ich habe dich bei deinen namen gerufen du bist mein” which means “I have called your name, you are mine”.
Every evening since 1928 at 8:00 p.m., members of the Ypres fire brigade sound the Last Post in a short and moving ceremony. The only break in that time was when the Germans occupied Ypres in 1940-44. The fire brigade buried the bugles during the occupation and retrieved them on the day the Germans were leaving yet still had hold of part of the town. That evening the bugles once again played and they have not missed one night since.
August 4, 2014, will mark the centennial of the First World War.
Click on any photo to view enlarged versions and advance through gallery.
If you have any questions about Bob’s tour, please email him at email@example.com. Bob attended the Clyde River historical lectures earlier this year and is a regular reader of our site.