For many thousands of British soldiers the last part of their journey to the front was to march out of Ypres through the Menin Gate and along the Menin Road. After the Great War it was decided to rebuild the Menin Gate, and it is one of four memorials to the missing in the Ypres salient. The memorial bears the names of 54,389 officers and men from the United Kingdom and Commonwealth forces [except New Zealand and Newfoundland] who fell in the Ypres salient before 16 August 1917 and who have no known grave.
The structure is very impressive, straddling the Menin Road and linking via staircases to the town’s ramparts. The 54,389 names of the missing are carved in white Portland stone, and listed in blocks by regiment. If you wish to locate a specific name you can find the register in the brass box just inside the western entrance of the memorial.
Include in your Visit Ypres itinerary a stop at the Tyne Cot cemetery, where the casualties of the fighting around Passchendaele are buried. This imposing cemetery is the largest Commonwealth War Grave in the world, with 11,871 burials, of which 8,367 are unknown [about 70%]. Around the rear walls of the cemetery are engraved the names of a further 34,888 soldiers who have no known grave. Looking along the rows of perfectly maintained headstones you cannot fail to be moved.
The central feature of the cemetery, the Cross of Sacrifice, was built on a German blockhouse to commemorate the soldiers of the 3rd Australian Division who died trying to capture it. They are buried randomly around the blockhouse, representing where they fell on 4 October 1917. The ridge was bitterly contested and passed between German, British and Belgian hands several times during the Great War. Several other German blockhouses, or ‘pill boxes’, which were part of their defensive line, were incorporated into the cemetery.
Be prepared for a surprise as you walk along the path to the new Visitors’ Centre at the rear of the cemetery, where there are toilets and parking places. A softly spoken, female voice continuously reads out the endless list of names of the missing on a hidden speaker system.
When you visit Ypres take time to see the St Julien Memorial. This Canadian war memorial commemorates the Canadian First Division’s fighting in the Second battle of Ypres. This was especially noteworthy as it was the first defence against a poison gas attack by the Germans on the Western front.
The memorial is on the northern edge of St Julien at the intersection of the N313 road and Zonnebekestart, which during the Great War was known as Vancouver Corner.
You can see the memorial from miles around as it stands 11 metres high. The column rises from a low circular terrace, and it sculpted at the top to represent the bowed head and shoulders of a Canadian soldier, with his hands resting on the butt of his upturned rifle, in what is known to soldiers as ‘resting on arms reversed’ which is adopted for funerals.
The Canadian Division held the front line for a crucial 48 hour period, despite suffering from the awful effects of poison gas, and so prevented a German breakthrough. The memorial recognises that 6,035 Canadians, or one man in every three who went into battle, became casualties, and of that number approximately 2,000 were killed.
The terrible fighting in the Ypres Salient resulted in many thousands of casualties for both the British and Commonwealth and German armies, and you may be interested to visit the major German cemetery in the area.
This military cemetery began with a small number of German burials in 1915, and gradually grew after fighting in 1916 to 1918. In 1930 the cemetery was named German Military Cemetery Number 123 and officially opened on 10 July 1932. The oak trees planted in the cemetery have grown very tall and create a sombre atmosphere, quite unlike the sunny, country garden feel of the Commonwealth War Graves.
As you enter the cemetery your eye is drawn to the statue of four soldiers at the rear of the cemetery, standing guard over the thousands of German dead.
If you found Ypres memorials and cemeteries of interest link to:
Ypres where to stay
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