On 31 July 2017, events in Belgium will commemorate 100 years since the start of the Battle of Passchendaele – a series of attacks on Ypres in the country’s Flanders region. With 450,000 casualties by its end on 10 November 1917, this particular campaign is known not only as one of the bloodiest of World War I, but also one characterised by bravery – fourteen Victoria Cross medals were given out on the first day alone.
To honour its centenary year, each nation involved will be holding special tributes, and Belgium itself is holding a series of events too. With the Flanders region less than an hour away from our Zeebrugge port, travelling with your car will give you the best access to see it all. Our guide to the schedule follows below.
24 July: Visit the Menin Gate for its 90th anniversary
The Menin Gate, along Ypres’ Kasteel Gracht river isn’t just a beautiful example architecturally, it also serves as an important memorial, bearing the names of the 54,896 soldiers reported missing in Ypres from the outbreak of war – including those lost at Passchendaele.
On 24 July, the gate will be 90 years old, and the city of Ypres, along with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and The Last Post Association, will be holding a commemorative event, so be sure not to miss it if you’re in the area.
The gate’s original structure featured two stone lion statues, placed on either side of its archway. As an act of friendship, the mayor of Ypres donated these to the Australian Government where they have stood guard at the entrance to the Australian War Memorial, Canberra. This year, the lions have returned to mark the anniversary. They’ll remain there until 11 November – more reason than ever to visit.
30 – 31 July: Official commemorations at Market Square and Tyne Cot
Ypres’ Market Square kicks off the commemorative proceedings of Passchendaele with a public event on the evening of 30 July. Projected videos and performances across the square will tell the story of the battle, and just as it has since 1928, the Menin Gate will hold its nightly Last Post ceremony, which you can view from the designated screens in the area.
One of four memorials to the missing in Flanders, the Tyne Cot Memorial will be holding a ticketed remembrance service the following day, 31 July (tickets are not available). This is the largest cemetery for Commonwealth armed forces worldwide, and much like Menin Gate, also serves as a memorial to the missing for those from 16th August 1917. Many of these are from the Battle of Passchendaele. Nearby, you can see one of the former German pillboxes, a concrete structure which was repurposed as a treatment station for wounded soldiers after the land was recaptured.
1 August – 10 November: Dugout Experience at Memorial Museum Passchendaele
From August until Armistice day, the Memorial Museum Passchendaele will temporarily open up the Zonnebeke Church Dugout to the public. Built beneath the foundations of a pre-war church, this complex route of trenches is one of the region’s best preserved, and consists of two access stairs, a 95-foot gallery, side corridors and five rooms – and all 16.5 feet underground. If you can’t make it in time for the exhibition, the museum houses a reconstructed dugout, as well as regular interactive events and lifelike experiences telling the story of Passchendaele.