Tourism Zonnebeke ready for 2015
25/02/2015 - Zonnebeke - Source: MMP 1917
2014 was a successful year for the tourism of Zonnebeke and the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917. The combination of the opening of the new Passchendaele Memorial Park, the introduction of a new cycling trail: ’The Legacy’, and the increased attention for the commemorative events together with the temporary exhibition ‘The Old Contemptibles, 100 years after’, made sure that the museum could look back to a satisfying result.

Because of the opening of the new section of the museum in 2013 and the start of the centenary commemorative events of the First World War, the museum attracted a lot more visitors. Last season the Memorial Museum Passchendaele crushed the numbers of 2013 with an increase of 124%. (From 87.489 visitors in 2013 to 195.685 visitors in 2014.)

This enormous increase in visitors created some inconveniences for the Museum. The spacious hall of the new museum section can easily accommodate the higher number of visitors, but this isn’t the case for the original part of the museum. We can’t structurally change the original part because of the regulations concerning cultural heritage so the museum had to look for another solution. There was one point in the passageway where the pressure became too high. The museum broadened this passageway and created an extra corridor, this made sure the pressure decreased. This new space that was created is being used to tell a new story, that of the position of women during the First World War.

The museum wanted to have a great start of the new touristic season. Therefore the museum looked further than structural renewing; together with local, national and international partners an extensive and diverse program of events was established. The emphasis of last year’s program was on the role of the British army in the first months of the war. This year, the MMP1917 wants to tell the story of the other nations that were part of the Commonwealth, such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa. All this is placed under an overall theme called: ‘Children of the empire’ which includes an exhibition, several commemorative ceremonies, concerts within the context of GoneWest and even a rugby tournament in association with New Zealand.

The absolute highlight is the centenary of ANZAC Day during the last weekend of April (25-26 /04), here we have the hundredth remembrance of Anzac Day (25/04); the opening of the new temporary exhibition "Decoding the front" and the annual museum weekend (24-25-26 /04).

Anzac Day, the day on which the commitment of the soldiers from Australia and New Zealand is commemorated, can count on global attention this year. Zonnebeke will play a key part in this story. At six o’clock in the morning the traditional Dawn Service will take place at the Buttes New Britsh Cemetery in Polygon Wood. Each year, the Dawn Service is attended by a lot of people including a lot of prominent figures. After the dawn service, breakfast is offered at the public center of Zonnebeke, which is followed by a brief ceremony at Tyne Cot Cemetery.

This year Anzac Day ends with two concerts within the context of GoneWest carried out by The Veils and Daniel Lanois. On Sunday evening the museum weekend is closed by Gurrumul. All these artists have Australian, New Zealand or Canadian roots and created new compositions on this theme in association with GoneWest. These concerts take place on the chateau grounds in Zonnebeke.

This year, the temporary exhibition tells the story of communication during the First World War. The exhibition will provide an overview of how communication went throughout the First World War. It will not only cover the communication at the front but it will also include the correspondence between soldiers and civilians, war propaganda and the news during the First World War.

Numerous other events including the opening of four new walking loops, the Flanders Scottish Memorial Day and the Living History event will complete the museum weekend.

On Friday, the 8th of May, we commemorate the regiment named "Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry", this regiment had a key role in the Battle of Frezenberg. This battle was decisive for the allied troops and the early course of the First World War. 100 years after this battle, the PPCLI will bring tribute to their soldiers who fought at the Battle of Frezenberg. This will take place at the monument that was constructed to remember this event.

The Children of the Empire theme will be concluded by the traditional Carabiniers-Grenadiers (27/09) and 10-11 November ceremonies. However, unique this year is the organization of the first Gallaher Rugby Cup in the castle of Zonnebeke. During the first weekend of October (3/10 & 4/10) local sports clubs get to know the sport. On Saturday, several matches will be played, including one between the national rugby team of Belgium and the team of the New Zealand Defence Force. The weekend finally ends with a memorial ceremony on Sunday, where we follow the trail of New Zealand rugby superstar Dave Gallaher, who died in Passendale.

In the years that follow, Zonnebeke and the MMP1917 will continually commit themselves for an extensive commemoration program which will exceed in quality. They will do this in cooperation with local, national and international governments. In 2016, the focus will be placed on the German presence in this region, in 2017, however the battle of Passchendaele will be commemorated, and in 2018 the museum will bring the story of the American participation in the war.