Students of Dutch visit Menin Gate
Between 20th and 24th March, Dr Roel Vismans from Germanic Studies took twenty students of Dutch to the Flemish town of Ieper, better known in English as Ypres (or better still: Wipers). Most of the students were first years working on a project on the Low Countries in the First World War as part of their beginners’ course in Dutch.
As part of their first-year course in Dutch, students learn about the history of the Low Countries. In their second semester they work towards group presentations on a common theme, this year is The Low Countries in the First World War. This theme was chosen with the intention to put the many commemorations of the start of the war 100 years ago into context. To complement this, there was also an excursion to Leper, the Flemish town in the far south-west of Belgium that was ravaged during the war and where nowadays the famous Menin Gate (Menenpoort) commemorates fallen British soldiers.
Ieper was completely devastated during WW1 and one of the many things students learned during the excursion concerned the effort by the local townspeople to rebuild it as the thriving medieval town it once was. In the Middle Ages Leper was an important centre of the cloth trade for which its Cloth Hall (Lakenhal) was built. These days the Lakenhal houses the ‘In Flanders Fields Museum’, where the students were given a tour by an expert tour guide. The museum focuses on the stories of ordinary people, either soldiers or locals, which helped to inform the students’ projects. We were also given an impromptu presentation by a member of the museum’s research centre which still receives people’s own mementoes of the war almost daily.
On the second day of the excursion the same expert tour guide accompanied us on a tour of the battlefields and war cemeteries. She was a local woman whose family history regularly surfaced in her explanations. By visiting the British cemeteries of Essex Farm and Tyne Cot as well as the German cemetery at Langemark, students appreciated the different ways of commemorating the war dead for different nationalities.
The excursion was subsidised by the Flemish Representation in London and The Dutch Language Union. For more information please contact Roel Vismans.