In the summer of 1915, the First World War in Flanders had reached an uneasy stalemate. The opposing troops sat in their trenches, sometimes a mere 50 metres away from each other. Now and then, night patrols were sent into No-Man’s Land, but generally it was a time of inaction.
It was a situation that was going to last for two years. But when it came to an end, it was with the appalling bloodbath of Passchendaele in autumn 1917, during which 245,000 Allied and 217,000 German soldiers lost their lives.
The Battle of Passchendaele is the main focus of Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 in Zonnebeke. Called MMP17 for short, the museum is housed in the attractive Zonnebeke Chateau.
If you want to understand the why and how of the Battle of Passchendaele, this is the place to visit. It takes you through the run-up to the battle, the goal (capturing the tiny village of Passchendaele, which was already in ruins), the various attacks, and the result (8 km of ground were captured; nearly half a million casualties).
A short animated movie explains the timeline of the battle with a series of maps and original movies. And of course there is a vast collection of all sorts of historical objects, authentic letters, posters and other documents, uniforms of the various armies and photographs which give a vivid insight into life and death in the thick mud of Passchendaele.
The Dugout Experience is interesting: it takes you underground into a mock-up of the British Army’s quarters, while outside in the museum’s grounds, you can walk through reconstructions of German and British trenches.
I spent a morning at the museum, and then walked firstly to Polygon Wood to visit the Buttes New Cemetery, the 5th Australian Division Memorial and Polygon Wood Cemetery.
Later I walked to Tyne Cot Cemetery.
I will cover both these places in subsequent blog posts.
In short, the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 is an excellent if sobering place to visit to get a glimpse into one of the worst nightmares of a nightmare war.