If you take the Menin Road from Ypres towards Hooge you pass the fields on the left hand side where my great uncle Leslie lived out the last days of his young life in 1915. I have travelled over much of the Ypres Salient and think I can get around quite well, but there is always much more to learn and plenty to see. This film points to how much there is.
The Battleground Europe series of guides have proved to be a useful source of information to help plan trips across the Western Front and, in essence, this video is a bit like one of them transferred to film.
Ed Skelling and historian Nigel Cave take a gentle meander around some of the significant sites linked to the First and Second Battles of Ypres, discussing some of the terrible events that took place and the importance of memorials and other landmarks. Gentle landscapes now mask the horrors of gas warfare, huge mine blasts and the introduction of flamethrowers – the dreaded liquid fire.
We visit the site of Hooge Chateau, Hill 60, Langemark along with many other places and learn something of the men who shaped events in those dark days. The effect is to emphasise the sheer scale of the warfare in the relatively small area of the Salient, which lasted four long years. It turned the countryside into a lunar landscape and, even now, it is sometimes difficult to imagine the breadth of the destruction. Pleasant fields and well kept roads belie the horrors of it all.
There are times in this film when it seems Nigel Cave seems almost to forget he is being recorded. I am not entirely convinced the effect of this has a positive impact on the end product, but be in no doubt that he knows his stuff. All the same, this is a gentle ramble with two people chatting as they go. Ed Skelding’s questions are hardly demanding and the effect is to make the film an easy introduction to the complexities of the war in the Salient. If you are looking for a taster and can see yourself heading on the pilgrimage everyone should make, then this film along with other essential resources, could set you in the right direction.
WALKING THE WESTERN FRONT
Slaughter of the Innocents 1914-15
Presented by Ed Skelding with Nigel Cave
Pen & Sword DVD. 70 mins. Buy here