On Monday we left around 9:15am and took the 100 km drive to Yeper. Yeper is a city in western Belgium that was completely destroyed during World War I and was rebuilt. G. Uncle Tom and I went inside of a WWI museum which had a neat exhibit about the gas and the warfare. We also went to Bruges around 3:00pm. I saw the clock tower (the same one from the movie In Bruges), ate some frites, and also stopped by Basilique du Saint-Sang (Basilica of the Holy Blood). Inside there was a relic which supposedly contains Christ’s blood.
Yesterday, I took the train from Jerbise into Brussels. I was a little disappointed with Brussels – I thought it would have a little bit more culture. The city is pretty big and because it doesn’t have any main avenues or roads like in Paris; it’s pretty easy to get lost. I saw Manekin Pis, visited a chocolate museum, and ate some waffles.
The overcast weather could have affected my experience, but overall, I wasn’t too impressed.
Today we went to a couple more cemeteries and another World War I museum in Albert. In the afternoon, we stopped by a really neat Newfoundland Memorial which had some trenches from World War I. We got a private tour of the memorial by Amanda, a college student from Toronto. The Canadian government hires college students throughout the year which would make for a pretty good summer job.
Amanda led us throughout the memorial, starting at the Allied trenches, through No Man’s Land, and ending at the German trenches. At this particular site, the Germans had been there 18 months before the Allies so they had time to prepare their trenches just right. They secured their machine guns in concrete, made deeper trenches, and added better communications. The Allies however, did not have the same level of detail. There trenches were shorter and reinforced with sticks. In both cases, the trenches zigzagged so that any machine gun fire would not kill a whole line of soldiers.
Three main things stuck out from the tour:
1) Throughout the memorial, we saw three British cemeteries. When they were burying bodies after the war, there used a British tradition of placing the tombstone as close to the head of the body as possible, hence the irregular spacing in the graves.
2) There are three main parts to a trench: the lower hill, the trench, and the upper hill, with the lower hill closest to the enemy. The upper hill would be at a higher elevation than the lower hill, so that when a soldier stuck his head out, it blended in with the upper trench rather than the horizon.
3) The conditions in the trench were miserable. Often times, there was an ankle to knee deep level of mud. Because of this, the soldiers would develop trench-foot, a bacteria literally eating away at your foot. Some soldiers would intentionally not change their socks and clean their feet, just so that they would develop trench foot. They would have to be taken to a hospital and have their feet amputated. Imagine – the conditions were so bad that a soldier would rather have both feet amputated then stay in the trench.
The natural lawn mowers of the memorial. They say that even though there are still live explosives, the sheep are too light to set them off. Even though it would make for a crazy story, watching a really fat sheep step on a mine would have probably ruined my day.
Tomorrow, I think I’ll go back to Brussels since the weather is supposed to be a little nicer. There is a soccer match between the Italian and Mexico national teams that would be fun to go to, but I’m having trouble getting tickets. I’ll try to get some tomorrow but it doesn’t look too promising – the stadium has an online reservation form that requires a Belgian ID number.