Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Y is for...


This is one of the many cemeteries surrounding Ypres in Belgium. One hundred and thirty seven British ones alone! With over 40,000 graves still holding unknown soldiers!

During the First World War (or the Great War, the War to end all Wars), heavy fighting took place in both Belgium and France. The German forces on one side and the Allied forces on the other. One day the Germans would conquer five meters at heavy losses on both sides, the next day the Allied forces would reconquer those same five meters at again heavy losses on both sides. Shell shock was unheard of: it was thought of as defection and you could get shot for it (as indeed many were). It was the first war where poisonous gas was used and many were afflicted by it.

The reason of WW I was quite simple: a Serbian nationalist shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria/Hungary. The Austrians wanted an apology and several other retributions. The Serbians refused and the Austrians declared war. The Russians sided with the Serbs, not wanting to loose their influence in the Balkan. The Germans then sided with the Austrians. The French sided with the Russians and before you knew it, most of Europe was at war with each other. The Netherlands and Belgium were neutral and although the Netherlands were able to stay neutral, Belgium wasn't so lucky, drawing Great Britain into the war (and later the USA).

The end result of the War to end all Wars was approximately 10 million military dead, 20 million military wounded, 8 million military missing. The civilian populations were also hit terribly. In the region surrounding Ypres (and many more towns and villages in the area and even further afield), not a house was left standing. The area was razed to the ground and looked nothing like it had before. It would take years of rebuilding homes and lives. Germany had been shut off from food supplies during the war and many people starved. Huge percentages of men were dead or permanently disabled in all participating countries. When the Spanish Flu hit a year later, the result was devastating. Other diseases followed with the same result.

Apart from the people, countries changed as well. The four huge empires were gone: Germany, Russia, The Ottoman Empire and Austria/Hungary. Most of the participating countries in Europe had borders changed. New frontiers were going up and again the ordinary people were the victim.

Ypres is now known the world over as the center of the war. A large museum stands in the market place showing the atrocities of that war. But the largest atrocity is still the huge amount of cemeteries, where young man from all over Europe found their last resting place, the known and the unknown side by side...

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  1. That is quite shocking. The number is astounding. Thank you for the interesting and sad information. Man's inhumanity to man is awful.

  2. A good history review, and I am glad to see this famous cemetery. 40,000 unknown soldiers is a lot...

  3. I have long been fascinated by the stories that cemeteries tell, so this one sans awful.

  4. What a sad site indeed. This sea of tombstones brings tears to my eyes..I hope to see the museum someday.

  5. It is such a tragedy. Everywhere we go in Europe we see war memorial for WWI, much longer name list and WWII. WWI did not end all the war, it planted the seed for WWII. Are we all finally learn the lesson.

  6. Wow! I did not know there were so many unknown graves.
    I so wish it had been the war to end all wars.

  7. That's a very moving sight, isn't it? I'm told it's quite awe-inspiring to stand among all those graves and think about the lives lost in the conflict.

    It's good to remember.

  8. Catching up. Crazy war. I guess they all are, but some are crazier than others, I think.

  9. Sad. Beautiful post and photo.


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