April 2017: A Centennial Great War Pilgrimage, Part III by Roy Toomey

Our centennial Great War pilgrimage to Belgium and France continued…

Day 2 took us to Ghent. Belgium is a wonderful country, and driving in the Belgian and French countryside and small towns is enjoyable, but driving in the larger cities is ridiculous, especially when roads are blocked off by construction. Most towns are so old that they were never designed with car traffic in mind. Ghent is one such place. In the centre of Ghent is a fantastic medieval castle: Gravensteen. The “Castle of the Counts” is one of the best remaining examples of a medieval castle in all of Belgium. The castle is largely complete, and visitors are able to wander the site unattended. There are interpretive panels throughout, there is a torture chamber, and the castle houses an impressive collection of weapons and armour.

Castle Gravensteen, built in 1180, in Ghent, Belgium. Looking across the moat at the backside of the castle.

Grave of Leutnant Max Seller, Bayer Regiment, at the Berks Extension Commonwealth Cemetery, Belgium. The Star of David indicates that Seller was Jewish, as do the stones atop his grave marker. Many Jews died fighting for Germany in the First World War. Their sacrifice, heroism, and patriotism were tragically forgotten about after the Nazis came to power.

On day 3 we explored the area around Ypres. In this area there are so many things to see! Memorials, cemeteries, and museums are nearly a stone’s throw apart from each other. The Passchendaele museum was one of the biggest highlights of the trip. It houses a fantastic collection of uniforms, weapons, and other militaria, as well as the best bunker and trench re-creations I have ever seen. Another interesting stop was the site of the field hospital where John McCrae wrote In Flanders Fields. The Menin Gate ceremony was moving as always, and it was extra special to watch a contingent of RCMP officers in full dress uniform form up inside the archway. It was packed inside the Menin Gate with so many Canadians in the area for centennial observances.

Left: Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry memorial, Battle of Frezenberg, outside of Ypres, Belgium. The PPCLI were the first Canadians overseas in the Great War.

Right: Close up of the inscription on the PPCLI memorial. At that location, the gallant men of the PPCLI “held firm and counted not the cost.”