Situated 12km west of Ypres, Poperinge lies in the heart of the crop growing area and is home to the famous Talbot House. This old house was a place of rest and relaxation and was a haven for the fighting men of World War One. Rented from a local hop merchant, the house was named following the death of Gilbert Talbot, the Bishop of Winchester's son, killed in 1915 on the battlefield. This sanctuary was run by the chaplain Philip ‘Tubby’ Clayton and was a place for escapism and laughter irrespective of rank or class. Another rather shocking site to visit is the death cells. Located in the town hall, the cells were where ‘deserters’ were housed prior to their execution by their own troops. Usually men terrified and senseless from constant bombardment, the British eventually came to the conclusion that these men should be rehabilitated not executed.
The Ypres Salient
From Ypres it is possible to travel around the famous Ypres Salient, where the many battles took place and where today lie the numerous cemeteries and memorials for the thousands of men killed.
The Yorkshire Trench Dug-Out
Situated 5km out of town, the trenches were only recently discovered in 1997 when digging and building works began on wasteland beside the Ypres-Yser canal. The local town council have been amazingly dedicated to the preservation and restoration of the site. German and Allied soldiers' remains were discovered in this long forgotten and undisturbed spot and moved to the appropriate cemeteries for burial. Other finds included ammunition, gas masks, books and clothing.
Essex Farm cemetery
Heading North from Ypres, following the Ypres canal out of the town, on the road to Diksmuide you will find the Essex Farm cemetery. The dead from the battlefields from the adjacent Canal bank site were all brought here. You can visit up to 450 metres of the bank, where you can learn about the significance of this site. Rather interestingly the Cross of Sacrifice is constructed from the remains of several British bunkers which doubled as first aid posts. John McCrae's famous poem, In Flanders Fields, was written there in 1915.
Heading northeast of the Essex Farm cemetery is the town of St Juliaan and just beyond, Vancouver Corner and the Canadian memorial. A ten-metre granite statue was raised in remembrance of the Canadian soldiers who fell victim to the first chlorine gas attacks of the Germans.
Tyne Cot Cemetery
Following the road east from St Juliaan towards the town of Passendale is the British Commonwealth war cemetery of Tyne Cot. With nearly 12,000 graves it is the largest of all Commonwealth cemeteries. The struggle to capture Passendale in 1917 became one of the most horrific battles in the war; with the surrounding valley under torrential rain the ground was transformed into one great bog, swallowing guns, men and horses. This appalling struggle is apparent when your eyes fall on the row upon row of little white headstones and read over 35,000 names inscribed on the Memorial to the Missing.
Sanctuary Wood Cemetery
Located further south and past the town of Zonnebeke is the Sanctuary Wood Cemetery, where Gilbert Talbot’s body lies buried. Sanctuary Wood Museum lies a little bit further on and exists as an untouched area of battlefield unchanged since the end of the war. Here you will find shell-craters and trenches. The horrendous fighting spread through the woods and up Hill 62 where a Canadian Monument now stands overlooking the beautiful valley to Ypres.
Known locally as the The Butter Town, Diksmuide is a lovely town, and boasts superb specialities such as butter, cheese and butter cakes that are famous throughout the region. The fascinating World War sites include the Yzer Tower and the Trench of Death.