In 2009 I was in Ypres, Belgium for a day. I made the In Flanders Fields Museum my first stop. In 2014 it was a priority once more; as I wanted Vivian too experience it too. The Museum is located in the medieval Cloth Hall in the centre of town, a building completely destroyed during the Frist World War, then rebuilt.
This year’s trip though was a bit of a letdown. The museum had done some upgrades since I was there last that were downgrades in my opinion.
I will say though that it was still a lot of fun, if it is fair to describe spending a couple of hours going through the record of a horrific war as fun. More than 600,000 soldiers died in the Ypres area during the First World War, with more than 60,000 of those having no known grave. The museum helps visitors understand not only the battles fought in the area, bit what it was like for the people caught in the maelstrom. In many ways it is a sombre experience. History frequently isn’t pretty.
The museum renovations (done around 2012) eliminated what I thought was the best part of the display: the audio effects. On that first visit in 2009, every so often you would hear the sound of soldiers marching, a ghost battalion or company, faintly at first then growing closer and closer before fading into the distance as the soldiers marched down the road to the front. It sounded so real. The same was true of a plane on a strafing run. You would hear the engine in the distance; the sound would build, peak and then fade away, just like it would have in real life. I would have to stop myself from ducking. I missed that effect on this visit.
I understand the need for museums to change their exhibits. They need repeat business, even in a tourist town like Ypres. And, if it was me and I was working in the museum, those ghostly sounds from a century ago would quickly have become very annoying. It is one thing to hear them a few times during a short visit, but to hear them over and over, eight hours a day, every day would I am sure be unsettling.
So the change took place, and it was good, and I was glad to see the new exhibits and displays at the In Flanders Fields Museum, even if I was mildly disappointed not to see Vivian duck at the sound of the approaching plane.