Last weekend I was part of a MyFerryLink press trip visiting the Flemish town of Ypres and some of the important First World War sites in the surrounding communities and countryside.
It was the first time I had travelled to the continent to visit the battlefields of either of the world wars of the 20th century. Although obviously aware this would be an emotional journey, I was still shocked at the extent to which the experience – especially wandering among the gravestones of the huge Tyne Cot Cemetery – moved me. However much you are taught in school, or you learn in documentaries, very little can quite prepare you to take in the sheer scale of the sacrifice made in Belgium and France almost a century ago.
The town of Ypres was almost entirely destroyed by the fierce bombardment unleashed by the German army positioned on the ridges surrounding it. But is was rebuilt with an incredible accuracy, and today is a pretty town that still retains its medieval charm despite being – physically at least – essentially reborn in the years following the Great War.
Ahead of the centenary of the outbreak of war in 2014, I would urge anyone who has the chance to make the short hop across the Channel to the battlefields to do so. The people are friendly, the beer is great and you are guaranteed an educational and moving experience.