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At Waterloo, Napoleon did surrender

After being so impressed with the Waterloo Visitor Centre on a short coach tour stop in 2023, we decided to make a return visit as part of our self-organised tour this year.


Bust of Napoleon at the Waterloo Visitor Centre
Bust of Napoleon at the Waterloo Visitor Centre

The four of us – myself, Pete, Jon and the Group's latest recruit Jason – took the direct train from Beverley to King’s Cross and then the Eurostar to Lille with no issues, and before too long we were back in good old Ypres for a four-night stay, this time at the Regina Hotel, right on the Grote Markt and opposite the In Flanders Fields Museum and the excellent Den Anker restaurant.

First visit of the weekend on the Saturday was to the aforementioned Waterloo, this time taking in not just the Lion Village itself, but also looking at the wider area surrounding the events of mid-June 1815, including the Ligny and Quatre Bras areas, the last HQ of Napoleon in de Ferme du Caillou, and of course the legendary Hougoumont Farm, a key site in the heart of the Battle of Waterloo itself.


Artillery piece at Hougoumont Farm
Artillery piece at Hougoumont Farm

Sunday brought a first for the group – a drive down to the French coast to look at the events of Operation Dynamo, the withdrawal and eventual evacuation of the BEF at Dunkirk as the German army’s famed Blitzkrieg tactics swept them rapidly through Belgium and France.


Information board at Wormhout
Information board at Wormhout

On the way to Dunkirk, we stopped off near the village of Esquelbecque to visit the site of the Wormhout Massacre, where 80 British and French POWs were murdered by Waffen-SS soldiers. The reconstructed barn where the massacre took place is surrounded by a memorial park on land donated by a local farmer, and includes the small pond where Captain Lynn-Allen and Private Bert Evans were shot while trying to escape. Lynn-Allen was killed, but Evans played dead and miraculously survived. The story of his return visit to the site and the trauma the events caused throughout his post-war life is recalled on a plaque in the rebuilt barn. Well worth a visit.


The Dunkirk Memorial
The Dunkirk Memorial

After this, we made our way to the Dunkirk Memorial and the War Museum in the former casemates of the Vauban fortification by the old port. The museum tells the incredible story of the Battle of Dunkirk and Operation Dynamo in May-June 1940, the largest evacuation effort in military history, and houses a rich collection of weapons, uniforms, models, photos and maps of military operations.

Both tours were guided by Battlefield Exploration’s Regi, formerly of the Belgian Army Military Police, who had plenty of tales of his own to keep us entertained alongside the historic facts of the two full-day tours.


Ypres Town Cemetery Extension signpost
Ypres Town Cemetery Extension

Monday was our ‘free’ day in Ypres, with a visit to the Ypres Town Cemetery Extension and a wander round the old town ramparts, plus a return to the Ramparts Cemetery overlooking the Lille Gate. The day was rounded off by taking in the nightly Last Post Ceremony just outside the Menin Gate, which is still under scaffolding as refurbishment work continues ahead of the memorial’s Centenary celebrations in July 2027.


In Flanders Fields Museum exhibit
In Flanders Fields Museum exhibit

We also managed to fit in a return visit to the In Flanders Fields Museum in the old Cloth Hall before heading back home on Tuesday afternoon.

You can’t visit Ypres, of course, without checking out the excellent Belgian beers and food, and the weekend kicked off with another world-class Flemish stew at Den Anker, which we returned to twice more during our stay, while the St Arnoldus bier café is a stylish new favourite, followed by the obligatory late-night beers at the lively Les Halles, which was equally as popular with the locals as the usual large contingent of British battlefield tourists.


War cemetery sign at Dunkirk
WWI Cemetery at Dunkirk

With 2025 marking the 20th anniversary of the group’s first-ever tour (when we visited the D-Day beaches in Normandy), we’re already making plans for our next trip – a return to Arras in the Pas de Calais, with likely destinations including the Somme/Cambrai areas and possibly a tour of the CWGC Visitor Centre, to take a behind the scenes look at the excellent work done to maintain British and Commonwealth cemeteries and memorials around the world.

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