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Polygon Wood of Peace

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1917 … the Third Battle of Ypres is raging: Zonnebeke, Passchendaele, Polygon Wood – all become names that will forever have a place in the collective memory.

2017 … in the place where the battle took place 100 years ago, on 24 April, the eve of ANZAC day, a true Wood of Peace is inaugurated.

Polygon Wood of Peace is more than a wood. It is a place that calls to mind the terrible events of the First World War. The 523 tall trees each commemorate a known fallen soldier who lies in one of the two cemeteries of Polygon Wood.

Today, the Flemish Minister for Nature, Joke Schauvliege, inaugurated the peace monument here in memory of the many unidentified dead in both Polygon Wood cemeteries. The monument was designed and created by artist Peter Coopman, based on an idea of Erik Malfait, the forest ranger of Polygon Wood who often confronts the memory of WWI in the flesh.

The Peace Monument carries within it the message that peace overtakes war… this is symbolised by the rose that soon will overgrow and soften the barbed wire – made from 1918 metres of steel banding.

The five commemorative trees around this monument refer to the countries involved: Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. These 5 commemorative trees were planted by representatives of those countries.

The planting of the peace wood forms part of the project ‘Taking care of Flanders Fields’ of the Agency for Nature and Forests. Under that title, from 2014 to 2018 the Agency will be commemorating the centenary of WWI and the role that nature played in the war, but also nature’s inherent powers of recovery. In this context, the new peace wood will also be sown with poppies, which will transform the wood into a fiery sea of flowers. It is sure to intensify the emotional charge of this setting.

 

Joke Schauvliege, Flemish Minister of Nature: “Today we are making the hope for peace tangible in Polygon Wood. Because where 100 years ago boys from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom came to Flanders Fields to fight and, alas, often to die … today  ministers, ambassadors and representatives from the same five nations are together planting trees and woods of peace.”

Sabine Vanderhaehen, Commemoration Alderwoman for the municipality of Zonnebeke: “The 523 trees, which stand as symbols of the lives of young soldiers which were destroyed here by the First World War, form the basis of this project. With the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 research centre and the research project ‘Passchendaele Archives’, we are aiming to keep their memory alive. We want to reveal their life stories for the coming generations so that they will be permanently commemorated.”

Joke Schauvliege, Flemish Minister for Nature: “Taking care of Flanders Fields is something we are doing not just from 2014 to 2018 … Taking care is our core business … everywhere and every day we will be taking action to maintain and develop nature here. The creation of new woodland, such as this Wood of Peace is part of that policy.

Polygon Wood of Peace came about through a close cooperation between the Agency for Nature and Forests and the Flanders Department of Foreign Affairs, the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 and the municipal authorities of Zonnebeke.  

Press contact:

Jan Pauwels: jan.pauwels@vlaanderen.be, 0495/89.15.67
Marie-Laure Vanwanseele, marielaure.vanwanseele@vlaanderen.be, 0499/86.51.58