Century-old battle in Belgium sums up horrors of World War I

Dismembered soldiers sucked into cesspools of mud. Shattered tree trunks and the waft of poison gas hovering above the wounded waiting for their fates on the scarred soil of Flanders Fields.

The Third Battle of Ypres, fought in Belgium a century ago, was as bad as World War I would get. Ask anyone remotely linked to the half a million soldiers estimated to have been killed or wounded during the 100-day battle and one name keeps coming back: Passchendaele, now as grim a symbol as any field of war ever remembered.

Monday marks the centennial of the start of the Allied offensive campaign, which ended up barely moving the front line and thus became a metaphor for the folly of warfare as soldiers from Australia, Canada and New Zealand joined mostly British forces attempting to break Germany’s stranglehold on the Western Front.

“It is the largest massacre ever to have taken place on Belgian soil,” said curator Piet Chielens of the In Flanders Fields Museum, which has recorded over 150,000 dead — and still counting — in the months of fighting.

Belgium’s King Philippe and Queen Mathilde are expected to join Britain’s Prince Charles, Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge over two days of centenary ceremonies, starting with a Last Post at Ypres’ Menin Gate on Sunday.

When the Third Battle of Ypres started on July 31, 1917, World War I had entered its fourth year and bogged down in trench warfare. Both sides were…

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