From the Ashes

Reconstruction of Flanders Fields after the Great War

By various authors

Unicorn Publishing, 2020

One of the surprising outcomes from the First World War was how quickly civilians in Flanders returned to their former communities in areas desolated by the war and began to rebuild. These were towns and villages that had all but been obliterated and whose lands were blemished with the detritus of four years of fighting. But out of these wastelands communities were rebuilt, with the traditional architecture of the region giving, at least outwardly, the impression of buildings that had always stood where they were.

Part history, part guidebook, this slim volume has been released to accompany a series of exhibitions and events in Flanders, under the banner ‘Feniks 2020’, which chart the recovery of the region and the gradual return to normality for its inhabitants.

The book itself is broken into twelve short chapters on the areas that make up the Westhoek area of Flanders, such as Ieper, Poperinge, Niewpoort, Zonnebeke, and Heuvelland. Each chapter contains a series of vignettes about the region, how it was impacted by the war, and how it rebuilt. The overarching theme is one of resilience, but the book also explores the challenges and disagreements that were faced.

At the end of each chapter details of the exhibitions and events taking place in each area as part of Feniks 2020 are given, and a number of maps provide walking routes around sites of interest. These range from 2km to 8.5km and can be supplemented by fuller guides available from local tourist offices and museums.

Overall this is nice little volume, reasonably priced and featuring a number of interesting images and illustrations. Some pointers to some more comprehensive sources of information about post-war reconstruction would have been a welcome addition, but no doubt the exhibitions and events highlighted in the book will provide more detail to those interested and able to attend. The website also gives more information about the project.

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From the Ashes: Reconstruction of Flanders Fields after the Great War