In the summer of 1915, the First World War in Flanders had reached an uneasy stalemate. The opposing troops sat in their trenches, sometimes a mere 50 metres away from each other. Now and then, night patrols were sent into No-Man’s Land, but generally it was a time of inaction.
It was a situation that was going to last for two years. But when it came to an end, it was with the appalling bloodbath of Passchendaele in autumn 1917, during which 245,000 Allied and 217,000 German soldiers lost their lives.
The Battle of Passchendaele is the main focus of Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 in Zonnebeke. Called MMP17 for short, the museum is housed in the attractive Zonnebeke Chateau.
If you want to understand the why and how of the Battle of Passchendaele, this is the place to visit. It takes you through the run-up to the battle, the goal (capturing the tiny village of Passchendaele, which was already in ruins), the various attacks, and the result (8 km of ground were captured; nearly half a million casualties).
A short animated movie explains the timeline of the battle with a series of maps and original movies. And of course there is a vast collection of all sorts of historical objects, authentic letters, posters and other documents, uniforms of the various armies and photographs which give a vivid insight into life and death in the thick mud of Passchendaele.
The Dugout Experience is interesting: it takes you underground into a mock-up of the British Army’s quarters, while outside in the museum’s grounds, you can walk through reconstructions of German and British trenches.
I spent a morning at the museum, and then walked firstly to Polygon Wood to visit the Buttes New Cemetery, the 5th Australian Division Memorial and Polygon Wood Cemetery.
Later I walked to Tyne Cot Cemetery.
I will cover both these places in a subsequent blog post.
In short, the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 is an excellent if sobering place to visit to get a glimpse into one of the worst nightmares of a nightmare war.
Visit MMP17 for all the details on opening hours and prices.
I can’t click “like” – it doesn’t seem appropriate for the subject matter. Interesting post, somewhere it would be good, if sad, to visit.
I find the cemeteries and the scenes of the battles incredibly sad. The museum more interesting than emotionally distressing.
We would love to come back to Flanders and visit this museum. I really enjoyed your newspaper article too. Great writing.
You say the kindest things Carol.
Sobering is the right word. The bunkers are amazing pieces of work. Thank you for sharing this experience. 🙂
Thanks for your comment Judy.
38,000 Australians fell there either killed, wounded or missing it was sadly not uncommon for families to lose more than one member during this battle. From a population of just 4,940,815 – 416,809 enlisted, 60,000 were killed, 156,000 wounded (216,000 killed or wounded). Every city or town no matter how big or small in Australia has a war memorial to the dead of WW1, no place was left untouched. It’s hard to imagine the gap that was left in society by the war to end all wars. What a waste.
I visited an Australian memorial Glen and will write more about that in a forthcoming blog. Some amazing numbers you shared: I reckon that’s about 20% of the male population enlisted.
Passchendaele has always symbolized in Canada the slaughter that was WW1 with over 15,000 Canadian souls being lost – 2500 in one day alone. Sounds like a wonderful museum although it would seem impossible to represent the tens of thousands who drowned in the mud and blood that was that battlefield. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks for your comment. My next assignment for the newspaper is focusing on Canadians in Flanders Carol.
I look forward to your postðŸ˜Š
Nice post. Good idea for a day trip this Summer!
Thanks – it sure is (a good place to visit)
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My father fought in WW2, having signed up as an under-age young lad eager to fight for his country (Finland). His years as a machine gunner left him deepy emotionally scarred for life. When I researched the war and conditions that the Finnish troops fought in for a post I wrote in his memory for father’s day last year, I found myself deeply affected with a whole new understanding and respect for what soldiers at war go through. Of course I knew some of this, but writing his story (Too young for war) immersed me at an unexpectedly visceral level. I hope and pray that we live to see the end of all war in our lifetime.
It is so difficult for those of us who have never fought in a war to understand the suffering, isn’t it? Amazing that your father was under age yet still accepted. I guess he can only have been 16 or 17. Horrific to think of what those young boys suffered, in both wars. Yes I hope and pray we see wars will cease. Unfortunately with Mr T increasing expenditure on arms by 10% …!
He was just 17. I live in hope …
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