First off, we went to the Museum aan de Ijzer, where we met our tour guide for the day Walter. In Izjer, there is a tower that was built during the First World War to honor the fallen, but was then damaged during World War II. The remnants of the first tower were then used to build the Pax Gateway, or the Peace Gateway. At the base of these two monuments, is a small cemetery to remember the fallen from World War I. Inside the tower, is the a Isjer museum.
Inside the museum, the focus is on the Belgian-German confrontation during the war. Our tour guide, like the entire museum however, focuses on the message of peace. The motto of the museum is "Peace, freedom, tolerance." In this day and age, that message still hold immense power. Inside the museum, the exhibits answer the questions "What is left of our lives?" and "What is left of the country?" In a sense, the museum attempts to answer how the war impacted the people of this region as well as how the war impacted the country as a whole. For me, it was moving to find a museum about war that focuses on peace. Seeing the horror of World War I, it makes sense that the curators of the museum would wan to focus on peace. Here I learned the poppy is an international symbol for peace, since poppies were the only flowers in the region to survive the attacks during the war, like the poppies mentioned in the poem by John McCrae "In Flanders Fields." It struck me to learn the importance of this flower. For me, the highlight of the museum was going to the top of the tower and seeing a 360-degree of the surrounding areas. The sun was out, a rare occurrence in Belgium, which added to the beauty of the Belgian countryside.
The Izjer Tower
The cemetery at Isjer
A view from the top of the museum: Here you can see the cemetery and the Pax Gateway.
After touring the Izjer museum and having lunch, we made our way to the 'Trench of Death," which is a remake of an actual trench from the war. At the "Trench of Death," we crawled into the trenches and walked through the mud to get to the other side. I could not even imagine what is must have been like to be a soldier here and actually live in one of these trenches. Our tour guide even made us go inside one of the shelters. If the trench was being raided, five men with 30 kg bags and rifles would pile into these shelters that were the size of a large cardboard box, at best. We crammed six girls into one and i cannot even begin to wonder what it would be like to go into this shelter during the height of battle. Visiting the trench gave me so much respect for all of the young men who braved these conditions to promote peace.
Finally, we ended our time in Flanders Field by visiting a few cemeteries that honored the fallen. there is nothing like paying your respects to those who have given their lives to protect their countries and to fight for peace. Planted at one of the cemeteries was a bed of poppies to continue to promote peace, This trip meant so much to me to be able to see sites of the first World War in person and to be given the opportunity to pay me respects to the fallen was absolutely incredible.
Inside the "Trench of Death"
Six girls, one shelter
Paying my respects to the fallen and poppies for peace