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Friday, 18 October 2013

days spent back in World War 1

You'll have to forgive me, I've been a little emotional since the beginning of October.

I'm spending most of my waking hours in the early twentieth century working on the biggest project that the BBC will broadcast to mark the centenary of the First World War next year.

It's a special  project across all local radio Stations called World War One at Home.
My job is to search out local stories which will surprise, show the huge impact World War I had on us here at home, and remember those who gave their lives between 1914 and 1918.

It's fascinating work , and I'm coming across interesting, heart warming, desperately sad, and riveting stories which will be broadcast next year. Those stories just won't appear on local radio though, they'll be across the BBC website too, and they will be archived for posterity at the Imperial War Museum.

For someone who's loves history as much as I do, this is a dream project to be working on, to make sure that what happened won't be forgotten by today's generations and those in the future.

Last week, I went to Belgium, to visit the area around Ypres, or Ieper as it's also called.  The name became synonymous with destruction, trench warfare, and the slaughter of half a million soldiers in the battlefields nearby during the four years of the war.

The Flanders Field Museum in Ypres...

Ypres was destroyed by German troops during the war,with a hardly a building left standing. But it was rebuilt, recreating the layout of streets and the buildings.

The sacrifice that so many British and Commonwealth soldiers made there is remembered every night at the Menin Gate Memorial at a very special ceremony which takes place at 8pm sharp. The ceremony, and the names of 58,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers commemorate those who died but whose bodies were never found.

Wreathes and crosses are left there every day by visitors, well wishers, and families of the dead

And as my eyes scanned the rows and rows of names, and where they came from, my heart grew heavier and heavier, my throat grew tight , at one stage I felt as if I couldn't breathe as I realised the scale of the slaughter around here.

 Of course it's difficult to see each name, but in each pillar, there's a niche
where there are books listing the names of everyone commemorated . 



Traffic is usually streaming under the Menin Gate, but at 7.45pm, it is halted, and the crowds stand ready

 The Last Post is played by men from the town's fire brigade, wreaths are laid, and then everyone moves quietly away at the end of the simple fifteen to twenty minute ceremony, all moved by the
The traffic begins to flow again under the Menin Gate, and Ypres come back to life once more.

There's no track today, but here's the link to a feature I made about the ceremony and the people I met there..... please listen....


  1. What a lovely post.

    I do hope the commemorations include Germany - I would hope we've moved beyond seeing them as 'enemy' and can use this occasion to remember the futility of war, and the price paid by everyone on both 'sides'.


    1. Hi Jo, Do you mean the commemorations each night at Ypres? It's a very simple commemoration with the Last Post played, wreaths laid and the words of Laurence Binyon..."They shall not grow old"

  2. This would be my dream job too. I must see what the CBC are doing. How wonderful they still commemorate on a daily basis. Very comforting. To rebuild shows the the tenanacity of the human spirit despite overwhelming tragedy. If only we could learn something instead of engaging in war after war.

    1. tenanacity is double strength tenacity. LOL

    2. Susan, it was so moving that simple nightly remembrance. But the wholesale slaughter of a whole generation in the Somme and elsewhere should have been the biggest history lesson ever to future generations.
      Re rebuilding Ypres, I think Winston Churchill suggested that leaving the town in ruins to serve as a reminder of what happened. Thank goodness they did rebuild....

  3. Fascinating. It makes you wonder about the rights and wrongs of failing to give Auschwitz back to its previous residents, but preserving (and even rebuilding, I gather) the horrific death camp. Not easy stuff to get right for those who died or for those who come after.

    1. You're's difficult...for Ypres,perhaps it was a chance to rebuild the past , to rekindle that sense of place and give comfort to those who survived.....