in 1917 – one hundred years ago – the Third Battle of Ypres began. It is also known as the Battle of Passchendaele. The battle lasted for 105 days, gaining the Allied forces just 5 miles, at the cost of at least a quarter of a million casualties (not including around 220,000 lost on the German side). 90,000 Allied bodies were never identified, with a further 42,000 never even recovered. Having recently been to see the graves of two of my Great Great Uncles who fought in the First World War, it is incredibly painful to imagine not being able to visit them, or to see them resting peacefully after enduring such horrors.
When you asked veterans of the First World War what it was like to fight at the Battle of Passchendaele, one word came out above all others: mud. Days after the offensive began, Ypres suffered some of the heaviest rain in 30 years, turning the land into a horrific boggy swamp. “I died in hell – they called it Passchendaele,” wrote Siegfried Sassoon.