Dame Helen Mirren in Flanders Fields: the battle of Passchendaele centenary commemoration in Ypres

World War One has been remembered yesterday evening in Flanders, Belgium, when Ypres market square was lit up for the battle of Passchendaele centenary commemorations. British actress Dame Helen Mirren narrated part of the performance, which was broadcast in the UK by the BBC (you can watch their entire in-depth en historical coverage of the July 30 commemorations by clicking here), and it was also aired in Flanders by the Flemish TV channel één. In Belgium, this commemoration was part of the 2014-18 tribute, with Flanders remembering World War One.

Almost 500,000 men were killed, injured or went missing in the battle of Passchendaele – a.k.a. the third battle of Ypres – one of the most terrifying and gruesome battles of World War One. What Verdun is to France, Passchendaele is to Belgium.

The light display on the Cloth Hall in Ypres, with Helen Mirren introducing British soldiers who fought in the battle of Passchendaele

The battle of Passchendaele, which began on July 31, 1917, lasted until November 6, 1917. The entire history of what happened back then can also be found in this BBC article, and this British Timeline documentary.

Dame Helen Mirren as the lead narrator on the stage In Ypres, with the façade of the historic landmark building Cloth Hall in the background

Now, still a small and rural community, Passchendaele has about 3,000 inhabitants. During the commemoration, Dame Helen Mirren portrayed the history of the battle of Passchendaele in front of the Cloth Hall on the market square of Ypres, a nearby town of Passchendaele.

Canadian military doctor and artillery commander John McCrae’s poem ‘In Flanders Fields,’ brought by Dame Helen Mirren earlier that same evening in Ypres

The Ypres Cloth Hall was destroyed during World War One; from 1933 until 1967, it was meticulously reconstructed to its prewar condition. It now houses the renowned In Flanders Fields Museum.

Here are a few old stills to document the Hall’s history very briefly.

This is Ypres’ best-known building: the Cloth Hall on the market square in 1903. From 1933 until the late 1960s, it was reconstructed to its prewar condition and now looks exactly the same as it did over a century ago. Postcard: Nels, Brussels (from the archive of Leo Verswijver)
The interior of the Cloth Hall in all its glory, with the 16th century Pauwels Hall. Postcard: E. Desaix, Brussels (from the archive of Leo Verswijver)
November 22, 1914. The medieval Cloth Hall is on fire and most of the roof is gone after being hit by German incendiary shells. The pattern for the rest of the war has been set. Postcard: Photo Antony, Ypres (from the archive of Leo Verswijver)
Before the end of the War, all that was left of the Cloth Hall were these ruins. Postcard: Ern. Thill, Brussels (from the archive of Leo Verswijver)
The Cloth Hall entirely demolished, and before its reconstruction. Postcard: Ern. Thill, Brussels (from the archive of Leo Verswijver)
The ruins of the Cloth Hall in its early reconstruction phase. Postcard: Ern. Thill, Brussels (from the archive of Leo Verswijver)
A closer look at the reconstruction of the Cloth Hall. Postcard: J. Versaillles, Ypres (from the archive of Leo Verswijver)
With the eastern wing still to reconstruct (1952-1955), a.k.a. Nieuwerck, where In Flanders Fields Museum is located now. Postcard: Ern. thill, Brussels (from the archive of Leo Verswijver)
By the late 1950s, the façade of the entire Cloth Hall building had been completely restored, and all the traces of World War One had been erased. Postcard: Ets. Ern. Thill s.a., Brussels (from the archive of Leo Verswijver)