Tyne Cot Cemetery © Copper Tree

A century after the beginning of the Great War, the sacrifices of those who fought and died in Flanders Fields have not been forgotten. During the final year of the Centenary of the First World War, events throughout the Ypres Salient and beyond, aim to educate about and remember the memory of those who served.

Here are 10 reasons to visit Flanders Fields in 2018, to commemorate those who fell in 1918 and in the long years of war prior. 

1. Centenary of the Armistice

In 1918, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the Great War ended. Over the span of four years, the First World War had claimed the life of 20 million soldiers and civilians. In Ypres, the 100 year anniversary of Armistice Day will be marked with a special Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate alongside other commemorations throughout the region surrounding the Ypres Salient.

Armisitce (c) T.Capoen

2. WWI Land Art Installation: 600,000 sculptures for 600,000 Fallen

Since 2014, visitors to Flanders Fields (and at select workshops throughout the world) have had the chance to craft one of 600,000 unique sculptures, each representing one of the soldiers and civilians who died in Belgium during WW1. 

From 30 March until 11 November 2018, these 600,000 sculptures will be displayed in Palingbeek Park (near Ypres) between two large works of art by artist Koen Vanmechelen. The impressive Coming World Remember Me land art installation will spread out over the former no-man’s-land and The Bluff, site of one of the most intensive battles ever in Flanders. An absolute must do while visiting the region.

CWRM

3. American First World War Commemorations

Four American divisions fought in Flanders Fields during 1918’s final offensive. The Final Offensive in Flanders, a temporary exhibit in 3 different locations in Flanders Fields between April and November 2018, will examine their contribution to the end of the war and stories that shed light on their education, equipment, origins, and more. 

As soldiers from the United States had arrived in Flanders by 1918, this year also marks the 100th anniversary that many of them died in battle. Families connected to American soldiers who fought in Flanders in WWI, will find this year a poignant time to visit the various memorials in the region, and to pay respects at the American Flanders Field Cemetery in Waregem. There is also a new visitor center right around the corner, that is devoted to the US involvement in Belgium during WWI. 

Flanders Field American Cemetery and Memorial

4. Battlefield Archaeology Exhibit at the In Flanders Fields Museum

At the end of the Great War, Flanders Fields had completely been destroyed. After a long clean-up and rebuilding effort by Chinese labourers and German prisoners, trenches were closed up, craters filled in and military remnants dismantled. However, nearly 100 years later, archaeologists (and even farmers) are still discovering physical remains from the war throughout the entire region. From the Iron Harvest to identification of the missing, “Traces Of War: Archaeology of the First World War” showcases the findings of over ten years of archaeological investigations. It looks at day-to-day life in the trenches, the material relics of trench warfare, and the story of some of the fallen soldiers whose bodies were recovered. Thanks to a variety of scientific techniques, the traces of war can emerge into the light of day again.

The exhibit at the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres will take place from 17 February until 26 August 2018. 

Exhibition 'Traces of War' (c) In Flanders Fields Museum Ypres

5. Remembering the 1918 Offensives

Marking its 100 year anniversary in 2018, the Battle of the Lys (also known as the Fourth Battle of Ypres) lasted for nearly three weeks in April, 1918. During the battle, both Messines and Passchendaele would be retaken by the German army, at the cost of thousands of casualties from both sides. These areas would be recaptured by Allied forces during the Final Offensive.  

On 28 September, 2018, a major commemorative ceremony in the morning will honour those who fell in the Final Offensive where Belgian troops liberated the villages of Zonnebeke and Passchendaele. At 2 pm, commemoration services will be held to pay tribute to the fallen soldiers on both sides. After the service, the Belgian Passchendaele Memorial Garden will be inaugurated in the chateau grounds of the Memorial Museum Zonnebeke 1917 in Zonnebeke.

For those who have a personal connection to the battles of the Final Offensive, the centenary period offers a poignant time to remember those who have been buried or missing in Flanders Fields and keep their memories alive for another century to come.

Offensives ©IWM

6. Battle of the North Sea

Not all of the Great War Battles in Flanders took place in the trenches of Flanders Fields. From their bases in Ostend and Zeebrugge and with a network of ports, batteries, bunkers, and airfields, the German forces sank at least 2,550 allied ships over the course of the war. 

This year, the Provincial Court in Bruges (the former headquarters of the Marinekorps Flandern) hosts “WWI, the Battle for the North Sea.” With artifacts and illustrations, the exhibit tells the lesser known story of the war at sea between the Flemish coast and the Dutch border.

Battle of the North Sea

7. Cycling

Bikes, precursors to the jeep and the plane, were essential vehicles during The Great War as they provided reliable and fast transportation that could be deployed everywhere on the ground. Additionally, they were more efficient than horses that had to be fed and hidden. Even today, cycling is a popular option for visitors on their journey through Flanders Fields. 

From May 2018 through May 2019, an exhibition at Centrum Ronde Van Vlaanderen in Oudenaarde will explore how bikes were used during the war, cycling races during the occupation, and the cyclists who gave their lives on the front lines.

First winner of Ronde van Vlaanderen, Paul Deman (c) Archief CRVV

8. A Message of Hope and Consolation

From 1 July through 30 August, 2018, Poperinge will conclude its WWI commemorations with a message of hope and consolation, with healing as a central theme. The Healing exhibition tells the story of the women who offered comfort. A contemporary artist, Chantal Pollier, provides layers of solace. In collaboration with the Watou art festival, a route has been developed that offers a unique experience, taking in pavilions decorated with healing art and poetry. The installation by the Dutch artist Anno Dijkstra will be an impressive eye-catcher in the town park.

Exhibition 'Healing Poperinge'

9. Waterfront

Also focusing on hope, reconciliation, and forgiveness, a series of concerts will be held on and around the water on 29 June 2018. The performances will take place between the channel of Zeebrugge over to the harbour channel of Ostend- over a distance of 26.9 kilometres! Sign up to our newsletter for updates as soon as more information about this series becomes available. 

Zeebrugge (c)Westtoer

10. Pay Respects to a Fallen Relative

As websites like Ancestry.com and other research tools help families to document and explore their family history, the memories of relatives once lost to time are now being remembered for generations to come. While the centenary period in Flanders Fields provides an opportunity to explore their contributions more in depth through temporary exhibits and commemorative events, following in the footsteps of an ancestor ensures their sacrifices are remembered.

Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery - Poperinge (c) Kris Jabobs

Whether you have the chance to pay your respects in 2018 or beyond, personalised tours can help you to better understand the experience and hardship faced by those who fought in Flanders Fields during the Great War. These itineraries can also help you to start your planning. 

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