Introduction

Flanders’ WWI battlefields are famed for red poppies, both real and metaphorical. From 1914 the area suffered four years of senseless fighting during which hundreds of thousands of soldiers and whole towns disappeared into a muddy, bloody quagmire. The fighting was fiercest in the Ypres Salient, a bulge in the Western Front where the world first saw poison-gas attacks and where thousands of diggers valiantly tunnelled underground to dynamite enemy trenches.

These days many local museums have collections of WWI memorabilia, and dozens of painstakingly maintained war graveyards bear sad witness with regimented ranks of headstones. Concrete bunkers, bomb craters and trench sites can be visited; in 1917 these would have been infinitely muddier and unshaded as virtually every tree had been shredded into matchwood by artillery fire. A few non-war attractions lighten the mood.