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In the Flanders region of Belgium, Ypres (Ieper in Flemish) is a small unassuming town has endured many battles throughout the years. It is quite remarkable how it has survived from its origins as a wealthy medieval city to its complete destruction during the campaigns of the First World War. Even further devastation in WW11 has not dampened the resilience of the local people who continue to proudly defend the town that they have spent so long rebuilding.
Everyone who visits the area can not help but be touched by the atmosphere and many visitors come with the intention of seeing the battlefields and war memorials that can be found in abundance in the town itself and the surrounding region.
The history of Ypres
The ability to produce and export items for the cloth industry made Ypres one of the most important cities in Flanders in the 12th century, making it a centre for political and economic power. Linen was exported to North Africa, the Middle East and Russia with extra imports of wool coming in from England to keep up with demand.
By the end of the 14th century however the time of affluence had passed and Ypres was never again to experience such importance and it was not until the First World War that the town once again came to the forefront. In the meantime the town changed hands many times between the English (Norwich Crusade), the French (the treaty of Nijmwegen), the Spanish (Treaty of Ryswick), the Austrian Netherlands in 1713 and then finally back to the French in the first coalition war in 1794.
It was Germany’s invasion of Belgium that brought the British Empire into the conflict of WW1 and during the bitter years of the campaign, Ypres found itself caught in the middle of the German and Allied troops. It was here that the Germans first used poisoned gas (chlorine), and the infamous mustard gas. It is also one of the sites that hosted an unofficial Christmas Truce in 1914. With the level of bombardments it is no surprise that the city was virtually destroyed.
The most notable of the battles must be 100 day war that ended on the 10th November 1917, when British troops pushed forward to claim Passendale. Around 400,000 soldiers lost their lives with a further 100,000 wounded in this bloody battle.
Since the end of the war, Ypres has been carefully rebuilt as close as possible to the original format and construction using money that came from reparations from Germany. Today it has the title as the ‘city of peace’, campaigning for the abolition of nuclear weapons, and has close links with other towns that have been severely effected by the atrocities of war, such as Hiroshima.