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War's Ghost in Flanders Fields

November 09, 2003|From Associated Press

IEPER, Belgium — Eighty-five years after the guns fell silent on the Western Front, memories of World War I linger in the fields of Flanders.

This area saw some of the most brutal trench warfare in the more than four years of war that ended with the armistice of Nov. 11, 1918 -- a slaughter memorialized in an anguished poem by Canadian army surgeon John McCrae: "In Flanders fields the poppies blow between the crosses, row on row...."

A special unit of the Belgian army still works full time defusing munitions dug out of the farmland that now blankets the battlefields.

In the medieval city of Ieper -- better known by its French name, Ypres -- streets rebuilt from the wartime devastation echo every night to the mournful sounds of "The Last Post." The dirge is played by fire service buglers beneath an arch commemorating 55,000 British and Commonwealth dead whose bodies were never found.

The British government still employs local gardeners and masons to tend the seemingly endless rows of white headstones that fill 137 cemeteries around the city, the final resting place for some 150,000 soldiers. Nearby German graveyards hold 127,000.

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