It was during a moment of contemplation in war-ravaged Ypres in 1915 that Canadian physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae noticed how quickly poppies grew from the graves of the recently buried. He reportedly penned the famous ‘In Flanders Fields’ the very next day, while sitting in the back of an ambulance:
“In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly”
If you’re thinking of visiting the battlefields of Belgium to pay your respects this November, take a look at our guide to Remembrance Day travel.
Ypres & Menin Gate
Arriving at Calais, head north-east up the coast for some stunning ocean vistas. Today it’s hard to believe this blissfully peaceful shoreline saw some of the worst battles of the Great War a century ago. It takes a bit over an hour to drive directly to Ypres, but it’s worth adding 15 minutes to your journey to pass through the battlegrounds of Dunkirk en route, breaking up your journey with a stop at the Dunkirk Town Cemetery.
Once in Ypres, head to Menin Gate for the 11am parade, where many former members of the British and Belgian armed forces gather for hymns and speeches before a minute’s silence, during which poppies are released from the top of the memorial. The space under the Menin Gate arch is reserved for special guests, so for a better view head to the nearby Market Square where the ceremony is projected onto a large screen and hot tea is provided by volunteers. In the evening The Great War Remembered Concert takes place at St Martin’s Cathedral, and is an immersive and moving event featuring a concert band, choir and evocative imagery from the First World War.
Passchendaele & Tyne Cot
The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing commemorates United Kingdom and Commonwealth soldiers who died before 16 August 1917 (with the exception of New Zealanders, who are honoured elsewhere). Soldiers from throughout the Commonwealth who died after that date are remembered at the Tyne Cot Cemetery, a 15-minute drive from Menin Gate.
After visiting Tyne Cot, head to the Memorial Museum in Passchendaele, where the trenches of World War I have been reconstructed for a stark insight into the battles. If you can time your journey to the museum for the evening of the 10th, it’s worth joining the torchlight procession to the Passchendaele church for a poignant outdoor reception and themed concert.
As with most major places, many shops and roads in the city centre will be closed on Remembrance Day. If you’re travelling by car, try to park outside the city centre and walk in to avoid delays. It’s always worth booking hotels in advance and going further out to avoid higher fees over the holiday. For more help planning your Belgian trip take a look at our travel guide.