Thursday, June 18, 2009

Evening Feast On Flanders Fields ...

Yesterday was one of those remarkable 15 hour days spent wandering out on Flanders Fields. Some of my favourite Belgians live there and it was lovely to see them again.

The official ceremonies were over by lunch-time and we adjourned to my favourite restaurants in the area - The Cheese Museum .

The New Zealand government Minister and various Zonnebeke councillors led by Freddy, one of the best guides on Flanders Fields, then left on a bus for a tour of the fields where 1000s of New Zealanders were killed fighting for the Commonwealth, in this instance for Belgium, during the first world war. Almost 50,000 dead were lost and buried in horrendous mud in a very small are of land next to the restaurant. Freddy described it as a silent city of 50,000.

The series of battles that make up the Battle of Passendaele went like this: More than any other battle, Passchendaele has come to symbolise the horrific nature of the great battles of the First World War. In terms of the dead, the Germans lost approximately 260,000 men, while the British Empire forces lost about 300,000, including approximately 36,500 Australians, 3,596 New Zealanders and some 16,000 Canadians from 1915 to 1917. 90,000 British and Dominion bodies were never identified, and 42,000 never recovered. Aerial photography showed 1,000,000 shell holes in 1 square mile (2.56 km2).

It's rare that tears don't rise as you follow Freddy's directions and look out over the small area where so many dead soldiers still lie in unknown unmarked graves.

We moved on over the battlefields and through cemeteries, pulled back to a past that governments today persist in returning our 21st soldiers to ... no lessons learned that I see, beyond targeted assassinations of those some countries deem to be risks and the pinpoint targeting of sites to be bombed boasted of by some armies although almost 100,000 Iraqis have been killed in Iraq, with the death toll of American soldiers there since 2003 now standing at 4311.

This site seems to tally with sites I found elsewhere.

Tour of the battlefields over, Martin and I ended up in the grounds of the Chateau, otherwise known as The Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 , dining out on the loveliest bbq food with the most interesting people.

It was a good day out.

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