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Special ceremonies around Ypres in Belgium today commemorated the opening of one of the Western Front’s bloodiest and most controversial battles in the First World War.
The 3rd Battle of Ypres, better known from its culminating point as the battle of Passchendaele, was a three-and-a-half month slog, often through deep Flanders mud, that took the lives of half a million combatants on both sides.
It opened at dawn on July 31, 1917 on Pilckem Ridge, overlooking the market town of Ypres, a hinge in the Allied line.
It ended when Canadian troops made the last few hundred yards into the village of Passchendaele itself, now completely rebuilt, in the second week of November 1917.
The aim was to push the Germans back from threatening Ypres, secure the Belgian coast and the Dutch border. It proved a very partial success.
The biggest event today was at the Tyne Cot Cemetery, largest of all the Commonwealth War Graves sites across the world.
Some 11,964 men are buried here, 8,369 of the graves bearing no name. A further 33,783 names of those with no known grave are commemorated on the walls.
Some 4,000 will be attending whose direct relatives died in the Ypres Salient. They will be led by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and King Philippe of the Belgians and his wife, Queen Mathilde.
Politicians from the UK, Belgium, France, Ireland and the Commonwealth will be led by Theresa May and Belgian PM Charles Michel.
A series of ceremonies and commemorations have been taking place at cemeteries nearby.
Last night there was a special wreath- laying at the Menin Gate, where Last Post has been sounded every night by buglers of the fire brigade since 1928, interrupted only during the Second World War German occupation.
Today a new United Kingdom Poppy Garden, inaugurated by the Prince of Wales, opens in the Passchendaele Memorial Park. It has been designed by gardeners of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
Among the graves is that of the only woman, Staff Nurse Nellie Spindler, killed by a shell in a casualty clearing station at Bradloek in August 1917.
United in death are two poets killed within hours of the offensive opening. Irish nationalist Francis Ledwidge and Welsh nationalist Hedd Wyn (Ellis Humphreys Evans). Both are recognised by ceremonies today in Artillery Wood cemetery, where they now lie.
“Heavy weather, Heavy soul, Heavy heart,” Wyn wrote on moving to the front that summer.
Ledwidge was as laconic: “And now I’m drinking wine in France,/The helpless child of circumstance./Tomorrow will be loud with war./How will I be accounted for ?”
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