In Ypres in Flanders, wonderful memorials honour fallen soldiers.
I am chatting at the information centre of the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres, Belgium, when the question comes.
“Are you Australian?”
Obviously there’s no hiding my accent, which has caught the ear of Suzie Hoffman.
And guess what. She, too, is from Perth.
Suzie has come to Ypres to pay tribute to her great- grandfather, Andrew Hobson, who fought with the British and died nearby in September 1917.
She says he had always been spoken of by her family and she decided it was important she made the pilgrimage to see where he had fought during World War I.
It is a common sentiment.
Australians are travelling in increasing numbers to this part of Belgium, the scene of so much sorrow and sacrifice by their forefathers.
And Ypres is a natural base from which to visit the many battlefields, cemeteries and memorials.
The In Flanders Fields Museum is a good place to start. It combines multimedia experiences with authentic objects and images to provide an informative overview and tell personal stories of the conflict.
Another centre well worth a visit is the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917, a little way up the road in Zonnebeke.
This combines displays of WWI history, soldiers’ uniforms and weapons, audiovisual presentations, an amazing replica of a dugout and impressive reconstructed trenches.
From there it is not far to some of the always sombre and moving cemeteries.
Tyne Cot is the largest British and Commonwealth war cemetery in the world, with 11,953 headstones of men who were killed or died of their wounds in defence of Ypres.
Standing above them all, the great cross rests on the remains of a German concrete bunker captured by the Australians on October 4, 1917.
At the Buttes New British Cemetery, the Fifth Australian Division Memorial rises above a tall bank, known as the butte.
It is an emotional experience to wander among the headstones at any of the immaculately kept cemeteries in the area, as is standing silently at the ceremony held each evening at the Menin Gate, back in Ypres itself.
The memorial records the names of 55,000 soldiers killed in Belgium who have
no known grave, including 6000 Australians. Every evening the Last Post is
sounded under the memorial’s
On the evening we attend, a marching band from Britain adds a stirring note to the sombre proceedings before wreaths are laid, including by a school group from Queensland, who are clearly moved by the experience.
In and around Ypres, it is easy to understand exactly why.