Our travels are all over, and, tired as we might be, we are now on the front lines of our In Flanders Fields research mission. What a place we are in! Right now we are in the basement of the beautiful reconstructed Medieval Cloth Hall in the gorgeous reconstructed West-Flanders city of Ypres (or ‘Ieper’ to the Flemish); the site of the first, second, and third Battles of Ypres during the First World War. After four gruelling years of trench warfare in the Ypres Salient nothing was left standing in Ypres. Everything that we now see was painstakingly rebuilt by the people of Ieper in the 1920s, and what an outstanding job they did. Annick and Piet did point out to us, however, that much of the residential reconstruction was façade rather than anything else, but even so it looks somewhat more than fine. The research room that we are working in is home to some of the most wonderful artefacts of 1914-18, with maps, prints, uniforms, and letters, and – of course – the massive database of all the fallen upon which we will be searching for our Irish war dead. During the morning Dries Chaerle and the museum’s curator Piet Chielens took the time to introduce us to the work ahead.
For the next few days we will be training at the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres. Then it will be time for work. http://t.co/vR1NmPKl3A—
Ùr-Fhàsaidh (@UrFhasaidh) August 25, 2015
How can one even begin to describe the task that lies ahead of us? At present there is something in the region of 12-13,000 names of young Irishmen on the Irish Memorial Record list, and from this the museum in Flanders has compiled a specifically Irish names list. As the name suggests this list is concerned only with names, and lacks any real texture as to who these men were. This is the first task of the In Flanders Fields Fellowship, to texturise – with our own knowledge of the Irish resources – the names list record. We want to search through the Irish Census records of 1901 and 1911, letters, pension records, and the likes, and build up a more human picture of these victims of war as a future resource for both Ireland and the Ieper museum. In its eagerness to really do something to address the various historical injustices suffered by Ireland’s war dead and their families at home the Irish government has committed four researchers for four weeks per year over four years to solve these tens of thousands of riddles (please take note of my sarcasm). No sooner than this is done, our task will open up to a search for the Irish born victims who enlisted and fought in Canadian, Australian, American, English, Scottish, Welch, New Zealand… regiments. We will be looking for a few lost boys.