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The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE -

Cot, a woman vis­it­ing from Bris­bane pulls out her ukulele and, while stand­ing by a Queens­land digger’s grave, plain­tively sings And the Band Played Waltz­ing Matilda, a poignant mu­si­cal tribute from the other side of the world.

Back in Ypres, on a walk­ing tour with ex­pert Mar­tial Mass­chelein, we learn of the an­ni­hi­la­tion dur­ing World War I; only an arch­way of a cathe­dral and the ram­parts re­mained. A ma­jor player in the cloth trade dur­ing the Mid­dle Ages, the city was painstak­ingly re­con­structed brick by brick af­ter the war, in­clud­ing the giant gothic Cloth Hall that now houses the In Flan­ders Fields Mu­seum, which com­mem­o­rates or­di­nary peo­ple.

Here, tes­ti­monies from in­di­vid­u­als tell sto­ries of the Great War through in­ter­ac­tive dis­plays, in­clud­ing giant pic­tures by Aus­tralian pho­tog­ra­pher and ad­ven­turer Frank Hur­ley. It gives us an in­sight into the peo­ple who lived and died in these places, and that in Ypres, his­tory, and its con­nec­tion to the liv­ing cul­ture, is a per­va­sive part of the land­scape.

Back un­der the ram­parts, we’re ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a hand­son way to pay tribute to those who lost their lives here by mak­ing one of 600,000 clay sculp­tures for a giant art in­stal­la­tion. The Com­ing World Re­mem­ber Me Project plans to make a sculp­ture for each of the fallen and runs un­til next year. The com­pleted in­stal­la­tion will be placed in no man’s land on the front­line around Ypres.

Come early evening and the city re­ally stirs. Bri­tish school­child­ren on overnight ex­cur­sions fill sou­venir shops, Bel­gian choco­late shops and ice-cream par­lours. Ev­ery ta­ble at beer gar­dens and al fresco cafes is oc­cu­pied. The Ari­ane Ho­tel in Ypres is within walk­ing dis­tance of the Menin Gate and Cloth Hall; there is also a small war mu­seum on site, which in­cludes a giant Lego ver­sion of the Gate. From about €124 ($184) a dou­ble. More: ari­ane.be/en. Emi­rates flies to Brus­sels from its Aus­tralian ports via Dubai. Ypres is a 90minute drive from Brus­sels. More: emi­rates.com. • vis­it­flan­ders.com • kaze­mat­ten.be • flan­der­s­fields1418.com • pass­chen­daele2017.org • in­flan­der­s­fields.be • cwrm.be • to­eris­meieper.be/en All are wait­ing for the nightly Last Post tribute that has taken place in Ypres since 1928 at the Menin Gate where the names of 54,900 sol­diers from Bri­tain and Com­mon­wealth coun­tries who were never iden­ti­fied are etched into the wall.

Walk­ing through the gate to get a van­tage point, we see a fa­mil­iar sight. Tak­ing pride of place are the giant stone guardian li­ons that were given by Bel­gium to the Aus­tralian War Memo­rial in Can­berra in 1936, “In as­sur­ance of a friend­ship that will not be for­got­ten even when the last digger has gone west and the last grave is crum­ble.” They are back in Ypres, on loan for the cen­te­nary.

Come 8pm and the crowd of about 500 bow their heads to re­mem­ber the dead. The as­sem­bled mil­i­tary salute and rel­a­tives and school­child­ren lay wreaths. The bu­glers clear their throats and sound the Last Post, the echoes bounce off the Menin Gate arch and into the Ypres night. And then there’s ut­ter si­lence.

An­drea Black was a guest of Visit Flan­ders.

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