After 90 years, the shadow of the first world war still rests heavily upon the fields of Flanders in Belgium.
Last Friday night, we happened upon Essex Farm Cemetery, north of Ieper. (Ieper is the modern name for Ypres, the town wiped off the face of the earth by German artillery fire and better known to Great War tommies as 'Wipers'.)
We were on our way to Nieuwpoort, our overnight stop before catching the ferry home, when we came across the sad sight of row upon row of war graves. It's just one of countless war cemeteries in the flatlands bordering the English Channel. Yet I discovered today that Essex Farm is symbolic. For it was here, in a field hospital next to the cemetery, that the Canadian army doctor John McCrae wrote In Flanders Fields, one of the most famous Great War poems. McCrae died in 1918 after catching pneumonia and meningitis here - one of millions to die from disease during the year.
Nieuwpoort, like Ieper, was devastated during the Great War - the price it paid for being the last town on the Flanders coast held by the Allies. Today, its handsome Marktplein square gives little impression of being a 1920s reconstruction. The Brasserie Nieuwpoort on the square is a fine place to savour a superb steak frites while contemplating the tragedies of the recent past.