The New Battles of Ypres, 1919-1944
At the end of the Great War all of the combatant nations involved in the battles for Ieper/Ypres re-engaged in a new struggle for commemorative ownership of the region. Whilst the British Empire made the greatest impact on the ground in terms of memorials and cemeteries, Germany, Belgium and France also constructed memorials and participated in the rhetorical debate over the meaning of Ieper/Ypres in the wider war memory. Although it is often believed that this phase of commemoration came to an end in 1939, Ieper/Ypres continued to be a contested site during the Second World War, and it maintained its status as a special place bearing messages relevant to the new conflict. Our talk will look at the ways Ieper/Ypres was a place imagined, as well as visited, by huge numbers of people; it will examine the various ways in which Ieper/Ypres was described and constructed for visitors, as well as for those who remained at home but wished to gain a deeper understanding of the region. We will examine a wide range of materials including guidebooks, maps, films, books and newspaper reports to show how a set of key ideas about Ieper/Ypres was developed and presented. However, this is not so much a media history as a ‘mediation’ history. By that, we mean a study of many different types of evidence from official documents through books and journals to photographs, films, and music with the intention of revealing that remembrance of the Great War stretched way beyond formal commemorative activity. As our talk will show, Ieper/Ypres may have been reified, but it also existed in a number of different registers in popular culture and was quotidian as well as ethereal. Ieper/Ypres was the home of the Menin Gate memorial and provided the name for a greyhound, ‘Ypres Mist’, as well as a West London garage, just as Langemarck was a ‘sacred site’ and the name of streets and bus stops across Germany.