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This article is taken from PN Review 198, Volume 37 Number 4, February - March 2011.

Snapshots of Ypres Martin Caseley
I Ieper

As we approach, the road-signs still point towards 'Ieper', giving 'Ypres' only in brackets. One of the mysteries of this small Flemish market-town is that it is never what it appears to be. It has been nearly a hundred years since it was simply a small cloth-trading centre in the Flanders countryside: now it is something different, illusory. After the First War, Churchill cloaked it in rhetoric, calling it a sacred place to the English, by virtue of it, and the surrounding, pulverised countryside, being the final resting-place of so many young English men. By the time he spoke, Ypres had been flattened: in late 1918, there was little left standing except some ruined walls and part of the tower of the medieval Cloth Hall. Military leaders spoke of keeping it that way, as a kind of permanent memorial: the local people, however, were having none of this. They moved back on to the ruined streetplan, took possession of the town and began rebuilding it. We buy a postcard of the ruins, still on sale and still popular today. It is a ghostly, desolate scene with a few shards of trees and orphaned walls: the horrific landscape of Graves's Goodbye to All That made visible.

The centre of Ypres is now restful, tree-lined and cobbled, but even the old buildings and the rebuilt Cloth Hall are ersatz or fake: all is relatively new. The postcard of the ruins preserves the reality with all the ...


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