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Ieper (Municipality, Province of West Flanders, Belgium)


Last modified: 2012-10-13 by ivan sache
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[Flag of Ieper]

Municipal flag of Ieper - Image by Filip van Laenen, 5 November 2001

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Presentation of Ieper

The municipality of Ieper (in French, Ypres; 34,919 inhabitants on 1 January 2007; 13,061 ha) is located in the Westhoek, close to the border with France. The municipality of Ieper is made since 1976 of the former municipalities of Ieper (19,777 inh.; 1,868 ha; including since 1970 the former municipalities of Brielen [715 inh.; 573 ha] and Sint-Jan [977 inh.; 448 ha]), Boezinge (2,216 inh.; 1,824 ha; including since 1970 Zuidschote [308 inh.; 440 ha], Dikkebus (1,400 inh.; 1,006 ha), Elverdinge (2,096 inh.; 1,397 ha), Vlamertinge (3,778 inh.; 2,084 ha) and Zillebeke (2,182 inh.; 1,735 ha; including since 1970 Hollebeke [642 inh.; 573 ha]) and Voormezele [933 inh.; 1,192 ha]).

Ieper was in the Middle Ages a wealthy Flemish town, competing on the cloth market with Bruges and Ghent. However, most of the modern fame of the town is due to its unfortunate location on the western frontline during the First World War and the four battles that took place around the town. From October 1914 to October 1918, some 500,000 soldiers died in the area known as the Ypres Salient. The town was occupied by the Germans for only one day, but was completely ruined at the end of the war. The emblem of the medieval town, the Cloth Market, was rebuilt as it had been in the 13th century; it houses since 1998 the Flanders Fields Museum, a tribute to the history of the Great War, which welcomed its 2,000,000th visitor on 27 June 2007.

In the 10th century, the main region of clothing industry was the valley of Somme (today in Picardy, France). Moving northwards, the industry reached Flanders in the 12th century, making of Ieper a center of cloth production of international fame. Italian traders were noticed on the market of Ieper in 1127, while the first hall was built in 1170. Exportation of cloth was favoured by the foundation of the sea port of Nieuwpoort by Count of Flanders Philip of Alsace. In the 13th century, cloth from Ieper was highly prized from Norway to North Africa and from England to Syria. It was also very popular in the fairs ofChampagne, then the main market in western Europe. In the 14th century, the English traders took the total control of the cloth marketwhile the Champagne fairs started to decline, causing the decline of Ieper. In 1315-1316, some 2,800 burghers died during an epidemic. After the battle of Cassel (1328), 562 cloth workers were banned to France. The situation did not improve in the 15th century; too expensive compared with the English cloth, the Ieper cloth was no longer purchased, suffering also from the competition by the neighbouring towns. In the 16th century, the Spanish cloth contributed even more to the decline of Ieper.
By the Treaty of Nijmegen, Ieper was allocated in 1678 to France, that kept it until 1713. King Louis XIV commissioned Vauban to revamp the fortifications of the town. Vauban's system was so huge that the area covered by the fortifications was even bigger than the area of the town they were expected to protect. Ironically, they were used in 1744 against the French artillery, the town being then Dutch. Vauban increased the 14th-century walls and added high bastions, keeping in the south-west and north-west of the town parts of the Burgundian fortifications.

A few months after the German invasion of Belgium on 4 August 1914, the frontline stabilized near Ieper in a north-south semi-circle known as the Ypres Salient (in Dutch, Ieperboog; in French, saillant d'Ypres). Ieper was a strategic place on the road to the sea ports of Dunkirk (France) and Ostend (Belgium).
The first battle of Ieper (12 October - 22 November 1914) aka First Ypres, aka the battle of Flanders, was the last big battle of 1914. The British Expeditionary Force, commanded by Field Marshal John French, together with the French troops commanded by Foch, were able to repell the German troops commanded by Erich von Falkenheyn. The casualties were tremendous: 58,000 for the Brits, 50,000 for the French and 130,000 for the Germans, including young students killed in Langemark during the Kindermord (The Massacre of the Innocents). Ieper became the symbol of the Belgian resistance, being the main town in the only part of the country not occupied by the Germans.
The second battle of Ieper (22 April - 25 May 1915) aka Second Ypres, was mostly indecisive. The casualties were 70,000 for the Allied forces (Belgium, France, Britain and Canada) and 35,000 for the Germans. On 22 April 1915 in Gravenstafel, the Germans released chlorine gas, which was the first recorded use of poison gas in a war act. The same day, the 10th and 16th Canadian battalions assaulted the Germans in the Kitcheners' Wood, an act Marshal Foch would later recognize as "the greatest act of the war".
The third battle of Ieper (31 July 1917 - 10 November 1917), aka Third Ypres, is better known as the battle of Passchendaele (today Passendale, municipality of Zonnebeke). The battle ended when the Canadian Corps took Passchendaele, whose name has remained associated with industrialized warfare; the casualties were 448,000 for the Allied and 260,000 for the Germans. During the battle, the Germans used for the first time the famous mustard gas [bis (2-chloroethyle) sulfide - C4H8Cl2S], later called yperite after the town of Ieper.
The fourth battle of Ieper (9 - 29 April 1918), aka Fourth Ypres, is better known as the battle of the Lys. The 2nd Portuguese Division and the 55th British Division resisted the attack by the 6th German Army, whose aim was to reconquer Ieper and to crush the Allies before the arrival of the Americans.
There was a fifth battle of Ieper during the final breakout (28 September - 2 October 1918); the German troops were too weak to resist as they had done in 1917.
The Menin Gate, located at the eastern entrance of the town, commemorates the soldiers of the British Commonwealth who fell in Ieper before 16 August 1917 and have no grave. Every evening, the traffic stops and the Last Post is played by buglers from the local fire brigade. The ceremony has been taking place since 1928, and every day, in all weathers, since 11 November 1929 (except from 20 May 1940 to 6 September 1944 because of the German occupation).

Ieper gave its name not only to the yperite but also to the tree called ypréau, indeed two trees, either the white poplar or the broad-leaved elm. The word is everything but common and seems to be used only in crossworld puzzles and in scrabble. The Quebec poet Emile Nelligan (1879-1941) mentions the tree in Rêve fantasque:
Les beaux ifs langoureux, et l'ypréau qui s'attriste
Ombrageaient les verts nids d'amour
(The beautiful, langourous yews and the saddening ypréau
Shaded the green love nests.)


Ivan Sache, 31 July 2007

Municipal flag of Ieper

The municipal flag of Ieper is white with a red Cross of Lorraine. According to Gemeentewapens in België - Vlaanderen en Brussel [w2v02], the flag was adopted by the Municipal Council on 7 December 1987, confirmed by the Executive of Flanders on 1 March 1988 and published in the Belgian official gazette on 16 September 1988.
The flag is a banner of the chief of the municipal arms.

The arms of Ieper, as shown by Servais [svm55], are "Gules a cross vair a canton argent a Cross of Lorraine gules". They were granted by (Dutch) Royal Decree on 20 February 1816 and confirmed by (Belgian) Royal Decree on 26 February 1844. The greater arms are supported by a lion resting on a cannon and surmounted by a ducal coronet; the French and British military crosses, granted on 31 March 1925, are appended to the shield.
The origin of the cross is unknown, while the complete arms appeared for the first time on municipal seals in 1372.

"Gules a cross vair" are the arms of the neighbouring (French) town of Bailleul, already shown on a municipal seat dated 1237. There is indeed an historical link between Ieper and Bailleul. The Gelre Armorial shows "Gules a cross vair" for Bailleul, lord of Ieper (Borghgrave v. Yperen, #938, folio 80v), while "Gules a saltire vair" is shown for Pierre of Bailleul (H. Peter v. Belles, #961, folio 81r).

Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 31 July 2007

Liverpool Scottish pipe banner for the City of Ieper

The Liverpool Scottish [10th (Scottish) Battalion, The King's (Liverpool Regiment)] uses a lot of pipe banners. Among them is "a banner commissioned for presentation to the town of Ieper following the dedication of Liverpool Scottish memorial at Hooge near Ieper in July 2000". "The design shows simply the shield of arms of Ieper on the reverse with the regimental badge of the Liverpool Scottish [the version in use today by the Liverpool Scottish element of the King's Regiment and between 1908 and 1937 by the 10th (Scottish) Bn, The King's (Liverpool Regiment)TF]".

Ivan Sache, 31 July 2007

The Ieper flag survey

Back in 2007, Ieper offered a temporary post of flag investigator to survey the various flags and banners belonging to the town's clubs, associations, and comparable institutions.
On 11 April 2008, Het Nieuwsblad reported that some 250 items had been filed, among which 16 old banners have been exhibited.
A dedicated website has been set up, serving not only as a repository for local flag images but also giving an introduction in using flags, documenting and caring for them, etc.

Jan Mertens, 13 February 2010