Last week Johan and I were in Ypres, Belgium. In December I connected with a local World War I tour guide, Roger Steward, on Instagram who owns Ypres Battlefield Tours. I asked him if it was possible to book something in early March when we were in the area, explained our limitations with my husband’s health, and asked what was possible. Turns out – almost anything, except a flooded German Aid Station, was possible.
We started out viewing a reconstructed crater and trench area and learned a little about the Hooge Crater. The German bunkers and artifacts retrieved from the local area were incredible. It rained, ok poured, most of the time we were out on our tour but that did not deter us, much. Though we were not able to walk in the trench. Johan tried but after a few feet had to turn back. We walked in a reconstructed trench at Passchendaele the day before so we didn’t really miss much.
From there we moved on to Polygon Woods and the cemetery there. Polygon Woods holds the remains of hundreds of Germans and British forces. The area is heavy and made this empath a bit nauseous. I had to ground really well to stay in my body and not be in total overwhelm from what I was picking up – voices, moaning, vibrations, feelings……. It is an intense place. While we were there we saw a few German bunkers, one which the farmers put ordnance into and tried to blow up – which didn’t work well. We saw some small bunkers and the CWGC cemetery.
At Polygon Woods there are still a lot of souls wandering around. I kept seeing them near me. You can’t tell in this photo but through the zoom camera lens, I could see a group of them walking away from me down the road. It was sobering.
After Polygon Woods we went to Hill 60 and Caterpillar Hill Crater. My photos do not do it justice – the depth of the craters in the landscape. You really have to stand there to see and experience it. Even Caterpillar Crater does not look deep in my photos but standing over it was somewhat overwhelming. I wouldn’t have wanted to fallen into that during the war when it was nothing but mud and remains.
At Hill 60 we saw where the front lines were for Allies and German in 1914 and 1915. By 1915 they were only a few feet apart. We have all heard and read about the movement of the trenches and front lines. To stand there and see it and walk a few paces to the other front line trench and try to wrap your head around the fact they fought over a few feet of ground………all I kept hearing was “It was such a waste.”
Since Johan was getting very cold from the rain and Hill 60 restaurant was across the street, Roger was flexible and we were able to go in and have a warm drink before moving on. Our tour was only scheduled for 3-4 hours total. We went just over that with our short warm-up stop but it was ok. Roger told us stories, filled us with history, and we were able to share some spiritual experiences and stories.
One thing I really appreciated about the way Roger runs his tours is that he not only provides photos and history, but he read us World War I poetry. He has poems within is binder but we spoke about the poetry I had read over the years and the book I just bought with more poems. You don’t see much poetry written in World War II, but it was vitally important in World War I.
Our final stop was Essex Farm where John McCrae worked in the dressing station. The bunkers where they treated the men were interesting. In the final one Johan felt a sharp temperature drop and I could hear and sense a woman jingling coins behind the concrete pillar in the back. Roger told us after we walked out that local civilians used these bunker dressing stations for shelter/housing after the war ended as the area was rebuilt. Makes sense then I would sense a woman there.
If you are looking for a great battlefield guide, Roger Steward of Ypres Battlefield Tours is who we recommend. We are already making plans to tour with him again this summer when we head back to France and stop in Belgium.
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