Grey cenotaphs, lone stone soldiers with alphabetical lists of names of young men who left their homes never to return.
Every 11th of November wreaths are left at the foot of the commemorative blocks of granite. It is a symbolic gesture. Out of respect to all those who gave their lives, not albeit willingly in some cases. Most people who experienced The Great War at first hand have passed away. Its ghost though still lingers in town square villages and seems to be forgotten and reduced to being just some dates in textbooks. 1914-1918.
Great War venues, like the
Who cannot feel humbled by the remnants and stone witnesses to the human carnage, ultimate sacrifice and the things our ancestors had to endure, here in Flanders, where fighting was at its most fierce?
On Passing the New Menin Gate
Who will remember, passing through this Gate,
The unheroic Dead who fed the guns?
Who shall absolve the foulness of their fate, -
Those doomed, conscripted, unvictorious ones?
Crudely renewed, the Salient holds its own.
Paid are its dim defenders by this pomp;
Paid, with a pile of peace-complacent stone,
The armies who endured that sullen swamp.
Here was the world's worst wound. And here with pride
'Their name liveth for evermore' the Gateway claims.
Was ever an immolation so belied
As these intolerably nameless names?
Well might the Dead who struggled in the slime
Rise and deride this sepulchre of crime.
-- Siegfried Sassoon
So how does Ostend treat its war memorials? It has a very impressive track record of destroying much of its heritage (but that will be discussed in another lengthy rant of mine).
Today I'll talk about the Vindictive War Monument. In another post I will explain the significance of the monument and why it is not to be forgotten.
A couple of weeks ago I wanted to visit again, but thanks to the town's Urban Planning Plan (if there is really such a thing) it was nearly Mission Impossible to get there. The road that used to run by it has been closed down. There is no parking space for disabled visitors. There was a big warning sign saying that access was limited to authorised personnel. Next to the sign there was a big padlock on the little hinged door that gives access to the stairs that lead you to the monument. Nothing, not even a padlock or some feeble warning sign can stop Mrs B, so before anyone could say disestablishmentarianism I was nearing the objective of my venture. Again, the site is inaccessible for people in wheelchairs.
I was absolutely gutted by what I found there. The state the monument is in is appalling. No preservation whatsoever. Not even a lick of Hammerite could save them now. Everything is riddled with rust. Only the grass around it had been recently mown.
A solitary small wooden cross adorned with a poppy had been planted there by someone who still commemorates the men who gave their lives in order to save millions more.
There is a plaque fixed to the bow. It reads:
To the citizens of Belgium
In appreciation of the great kindness and hospitality shown to the survivors
of the raids on Zeebrugge and Ostend 22/23 April 1918 during their reunion
visits to Belgium over the past fifty years.
Something must be done. The neglect is an outrage! There will of course be a renewed spark of interest in our WWI heritage in November and I hope it does cease there not fade away.
Would you like it if ninety years from now people had forgotten the conflict in Korea or left the graveyards in Normandy unattended and those monuments were left to fend for themselves, moss growing on letters, bits of marble chipped off, garbage littering the site?
It is even more saddening when you look at postcards from times gone by and compare them to the picture I took of the site and how it looks today.
It is disrespectful. Ostend should be ashamed! Instead of trying to confirm their newly fangled status as theatre, film or fireworks festival city, they should instead turn their attention to less fleeting matters. And yes, war is not something to keep people visiting your town entertained, and it may attract only a handful of WWI history buffs, but it provides people like me with a moment to ponder about why we still have a need for education, practice politics and have an army.
I shake my head in dismay, rant and rave on the internet and hope someone picks up my wails and screams bloody murder.