This was such an incredible experience and well worth the trip to Ypres.
As I’ve mentioned before, my main criteria for any museum is how much they Inform, Educate and Entertain.
In Flanders Fields museum fulfilled all of these criteria with ease.
The museum is located in the second floor of the Cloth Hall building in Ypres.
The building was mostly destroyed during the First World War by artillery fire and this is well documented throughout the museum.
When you buy a ticket you are asked what language you speak and a wristband is programmed in your chosen language.
We also opted to take the audio tour which provided more information about certain exhibits.
There was also an option to climb the stairs to the belfry tower of the Cloth Hall, nearly 300 steps. I did not take this option as I get breathless enough on the smallest flight of stairs.
The entrance gate is opened by scanning your wristband and, once you climb the stairs to the museum itself you are asked to press your wristband on a screen and enter your name and where you are from, this then helps to personalise your trip through the museum.
Throughout the museum are signs that require you press your wristband on them, then the screens will give you more information or show you a story about one of the four soldiers it has assigned to you based on where you come from.
One of the first things you encounter when entering the museum is a screen which asks you to scan your wristband and give it some details about yourself like where you come from, your age etc.
Once this has been programmed into the wristband the whole museum is opened up to you with stories of four soldiers who also came from your local area.
I didn’t enter Sheffield for some reason but told the system I was from Dagenham in Essex (which I am originally).
Due to this the system chose to tell the story of firstly of a Private who was born in West Ham (same as me, also at same hospital too) in London (which was part of Essex until 1965) so it was kind of eerie knowing that the soldiers I was being told about came from the area I was born in.
Of the four soldiers stories that I was told by the museum not one of them survived the war.
The museum itself was very easy to follow and it was well laid out. I still feel like I may have missed something though so I’ve already made plans to return next year.
The museum was originally called the Ypres Salient Memorial Museum but changed it’s name to In Flanders Fields in reference to the famous poem by Canadian John McCrae in 1998.
The museum was closed for many years and was restructured, redesigned and then reopened in 2012.
One of things I really liked the layout of were these displays of uniforms.
They’re set out to look like model kits and show everything that the soldier would have been equipped with before going into battle.
In the middle of the museum is this humungous globe shaped screen. It’s showing on a loop a 20 minute film of what archaeologists have discovered in the fields surround Ypres and how they go about conserving the items.
The film is in Belgian French but there are handsets on the seats in front of you. If you sit down and scan your wristband the handsets can then translate to your own language.
I did sit and watch the whole film and I found it fascinating, it was interesting to see how fields throughout the area can still show where trenches were and how items from the war are still uncovered every year and how they are disposed of.
There are two large screens where a life size character will come and tell you their story.
The first was of a man who had lost his home is Ostend and was forced to travel throughout Belgium to survive.
On a different screen was a German officer who told the story of how his troops had perfected a gas that could wipe out his enemies.
Both stories were sad in different ways.
The museum does not set out to glorify war, far from it, it sets out to show the futility of war and honour the millions who lost their lives needlessly.
From the In Flanders Fields website:
In a country where war has raged, it lingers, even if that war is already a century behind us. For each of the more than 600,000 dead who fell in Belgium, for each of the more than 425,000 graves and names on memorials and for the hundreds of traces and relics in the front region, for each of the millions affected (physically or psychologically wounded, refugees and deportees) there is a story of grief, pain and ordeal somewhere in the world.
The In Flanders Fields Museum conserves the link with this war past. Because the nature of war does not change over time, the museum considers presenting this war story to be a universal and contemporary message of peace, and therefore an important social mission. The museum works closely with partners who share its mission and works within the framework of Ypres City of Peace.
Based on my main criteria I would rate In Flanders Fields as follows:-
Inform: There is a lot of information to take in here, sometimes it seems too much, not only from the exhibits themselves but also from the audio guide. 5/5
Educate: I learnt a great deal of thing that I hadn’t known before visiting the museum like the fact that there may have been as many horses as there was men killed during the war. 5/5
Entertain: There was a lot to keep me busy here, videos, interactive exhibits. the website suggests you set aside 1 hour 30 mins for your visit. I was in here for two hours so it depends on how much you want to get out of it. 5/5
Entrance to the museum costs €13 (around £11.38) with an additional €2 (around £1.75) for an audio guide and €2 to climb the belfry.
The shop was incredibly well stocked and I did manage to get a fridge magnet for €4 (around £3.50). I also bought a book about the First World War for €6 (around £5.25).
In Flanders Fields Museum is not only a wonderfully poignant exploration of the First World War it is also a beautifully arranged and curated exhibition.
It’s also one of the most technologically advanced museums I have been to in quite a while.
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