It could be the scene from a nuclear holocaust. A once-thriving city reduced to mere rubble, a 700-year-old cathedral barely left standing, trees that proudly lined an idyllic avenue torn to shreds. There’s barely anyone in sight. But the devastation wrought in these rare, haunting images was caused long before the atomic bomb came into existence.
It is the apocalyptic aftermath of dogged fighting along the Western Front during World War One when Allied and German forces tried to shell each other into submission with little success other than leaving a trail of utter carnage and killing millions.
The strategically important Belgian city of Ypres, which stood in the way of Germany’s planned sweep into France from the North, bore the brunt of the onslaught.
At its height, the city was a prosperous centre of trade in the cloth industry known throughout the world. After the war, it was unrecognizable. The Cloth Hall, which was one of the largest commercial buildings of the Middle Ages when it served as the city’s main market for the industry, was left looking like a medieval ruin.
Its stunning cathedral, St Martin’s, fared little better
Apocalypse: This was all that remained of the Belgian town of Ypres in March 1919 after fierce fighting during World War One reduced it to mere rubble
In rehab: An aerial view of Ypres under construction in 1930 which gives an idea of how the city looked before it was bombarded during the Great War
Felled: Trees along an avenue in Locre, Belgium, lie torn to shreds. These images are from a series documenting the devastation caused along the Western Front
Destroyed: The Hotel de Ville in Arras, Northern France, looks more like a medieval ruins after it was heavily shelled during World War One
Shaping nature: A huge bomb crater at Messines Ridge in Northern France, photographed circa March 1919, soon after the end of World War One
Reflected glory: A peaceful pond is what remains today of the craters made by massive mines on the Messines Ridge near Ypres. Their explosion was heard in London
Sorry sight: The Cloth Hall at Ypres, which was one of the largest commercial buildings of the Middle Ages when it served as the main market for the city’s cloth industry
Standing proud: How the Cloth Hall looked just before before the 1st bombardment by the Germans during the first battle of Ypres in October 1914
Doomsday: St Martin’s cathedral at Ypres, which was rebuilt using the original plans after the war. At 102 metres (335 ft), it is among the tallest buildings in Belgium
Devastation: St Martin’s Cathedral was the seat of the former diocese of Ypres from 1561 to 1801 and is still commonly referred to as such
How it looked before: The cathedral was rebuilt to the original Gothic design, with a spire added, as seen here in 1937
Clear-up effort: The East end of the Nave in the Basilique at Saint-Quentin in Northern France photographed soon after the end of World War One, circa March 1919
Shot to pieces: The wreckage of a tank. Some 7.5million men lost their lives on the Western Front during World War One
Forlorn: A little girl cuts a sorry figure surrounded by the ruined buildings in the French village of Neuve Eglise, which was heavily bombed
Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.