by Mark Connelly & Stefan Goebel,
Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 2019. Pp. xxviii, 260.
Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $27.95. ISBN: 0198713371
Interpretations of an Iconic Battle
A new addition to Oxford’s “Great Battles” series, Ypres is not a detailed account of the several protracted battles for that famed Belgian city. Rather, it is an exploration of the evolution of “the ways in which Ypres has been understood and interpreted” by the participants, the French and Belgians, of course, but particularly the British and their Commonwealth comrades and the Germans, groups for whom the protracted struggle for the city it attained iconic stature.
The authors, respectively a Briton and a German, both at the University of Kent, open with a chapter outlining the events at Ypres during the war, when it was arguably the site of five major battles from 1914 through 1918.
The authors then look at the city as it was in the years before the war, when it had become a dowdy, rather neglected relic of medieval greatness well off the tourist path. A chapter on Ypres during the war years looks at perceptions and interpretations of the fighting by the Allied and German armies, governments, and peoples as the events unfolded.
The next two chapters cover the years from the end of WWI through the end of the Second World War. Initially the Allies, most notably Britain and the Commonwealth, began erecting monuments and holding ceremonies, to commemorate desperate sacrifice for victory. German memorialization centered around the struggle for Langemarck and the so-called “Kindermord –Slaughter of the Innocents”, during the protracted First Battle of Ypres (Oct. 19-Nov. 22, 1914), which attained mythic status in interpretations of the war by both the Germane left and right, in different ways; During the German occupation of Belgium in 1940-1945, despite a brutal regime, there were surprising nuances in the Nazi attitude toward Allied memorials.
The authors then bring the story of the memorialization of the battle down to the present, following with a conclusion that considers how Ypres has come to be a “transnational site of experience and memory, a global and local place.”
Ypres not only offers an insightful and interesting account of how the meaning and interpretation of the battle changed over time for all of the participants in their different ways, but is also a useful read for anyone with an interest in memory and memorialization.
Note: Ypres is also available in several e-editions.
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