The fourth day included a highlight of the tour, attendance at the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate and participation in a wreath laying ceremony.
It also included a return visit (for me) to Tyne Cot cemetery, where I had taken part in the Paschendaele 100 service on 31st July 2017. These two important locations will be featured separately.
The day began with a visit to Hill 62 Zillebeke Museum, a few kilometres from Ieper. This is a privately owned collection. It is located in the vicinity of the Canadian Hill 62 Memorial and Sanctuary Wood Cemetery.
The museum was developed by Jacques Schier, the grandson of the farmer who founded the museum and owned the site of the museum since before World War I. It has a unique collection of World War I items, including a rare collection of three-dimensional photographs, weapons, uniforms, decommissioned bombs and shells.
In the ground beside the museum there is a preserved section of the British trench lines, featuring a muddy maze of trenches. The attraction also has a small bar, café and gift shop.
The site is now one of the few places on the Ypres Salient battlefields where an original trench layout can be seen in some semblance of what it might have looked like. Elsewhere the trenches were filled in and ploughed over by returning farmers leaving only the occasional chalky outline of what had once been there.
In the last decade there has been a large increase in visitors to the Ypres Salient, and many have, of course, included a visit to the trenches at Sanctuary Wood. In the 1990s the trenches were covered in grass and the whole site was overgrown with undergrowth. Interestingly, nowadays the ground around the trench line has been visited by so many pairs of feet that it is mostly bald with no grass or undergrowth.
The need for the preservation of battlefield areas makes for an interesting discussion. The natural desire to be allowed to walk freely amongst historical remains such as these trenches is one side of the argument, the possibility that they will be damaged in so doing is another. It’s been a topic of discussion for some years already by battlefield historians, local authorities and the people who live with the scarred landscape all around them.
Sanctuary Wood is a fascinating example of how such war remains bring together the local people who own the ground and live with them daily, the people who come in their thousands each year to see them, historians who debate whether these trench remains are original or not, and the people who want to find ways to preserve endangered WW1 battlefield remains.