Man, Culture, War
York Membery visits the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres where a new exhibition demonstrates how many countries and cultures were bound up in the First World War.
Unlike the Second World War, the conflict – especially on the Western Front – is mainly seen as a war which pitched white man (be it a Briton, Frenchman, Australian or Canadian) against white man (be it a German or Austrian). However, that is by no means the whole story, as a fascinating new exhibition opening at the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres, Belgium, this month makes clear.
In fact, some fifty-odd cultures – among them Native Americans and Australian aboriginals, Algerians and Egyptians, West Africans and West Indians – took part.
The aim of the exhibition, which is being staged in Ypres’ famous Cloth Hall where the rest of the museum is also located, is primarily to raise public awareness of the ethnic diversity of the men on the Western Front, whether combatants or non-combatant, who in large part have been written out of history.
Historian Dominiek Dendooven of the museum, who carried out most of the research for the exhibition and has written an accompanying book, says: ‘As far as I can tell, it is the first time a museum devoted to warfare has focused on the ethnic diversity of soldiers on the front – which amazes me given the ethnic diversity of so many West European countries today.’