Ypres is an ancient town, known to have been raided by the Romans in the first century BC.
During the Middle Ages, Ypres was a prosperous Flemish city with a population of 40,000, renowned for its linen trade with England, which was mentioned in the Canterbury Tales.
Ypres occupied a strategic position during World War I because it stood in the path of Germany’s planned sweep across the rest of Belgium and into France from the north (the Schlieffen Plan). The neutrality of Belgium was guaranteed by Britain; Germany’s invasion of Belgium brought the British Empire into the war. The German army surrounded the city on three sides, bombarding it throughout much of the war. To counterattack, British, French, and allied forces made costly advances from the Ypres Salient into the German lines on the surrounding hills.
After the war the town was rebuilt using money paid by Germany in reparations, with the main square, including the Cloth Hall and town hall, being rebuilt as close to the original designs as possible (the rest of the rebuilt town is more modern in appearance). The Cloth Hall today is home to In Flanders Fields Museum, dedicated to Ypres’s role in the First World War.
The Menin Gate
The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing in Ypres commemorates those soldiers of the British Commonwealth – with the exception of Newfoundland – who fell in the Ypres Salient during the First World War before 16 August 1917, who have no known grave. Those who died from that date – and all from New Zealand and Newfoundland – are commemorated elsewhere. It commemorates those of all Commonwealth nations (except New Zealand) who died in the Salient, in the case of United Kingdom casualties before 16 August 1917. Those United Kingdom and New Zealand servicemen who died after that date are named on the memorial at Tyne Cot, a site which marks the furthest point reached by Commonwealth forces in Belgium until nearly the end of the war. Other New Zealand casualties are commemorated on memorials at Buttes New British Cemetery and Messines Ridge British Cemetery.
The memorial’s location is especially poignant as it lies on the eastward route from the town which allied soldiers would have taken towards the fighting – many never to return. Every evening since 1928 (except for a period during the Second World War when Ypres was occupied by Germany), at precisely eight o’clock, traffic around the imposing arches of the Menin Gate Memorial has been stopped while the Last Post is sounded beneath the Gate by the local fire brigade. This tribute is given in honour of the memory of British Empire soldiers who fought and died there.
See our link here: The Menin Gate