This story of De Weg Terug: The Way Back is told in the grounds of Passchendaele Memorial Museum. Standing here it is hard to imagine that in 1917 it looked like the surface of the moon. It is this remarkable transformation that has inspired De Weg Terug: The Way Back, an immersive encounter and performance spectacle that explores the history of this important place through the words, images and artefacts of those who fled, fought, fell and returned.

Through De Weg Terug: The Way Back you experience the drama of Zonnebeke’s story: a village so heavily marked by the footprint of the past, a place of heroism and tragedy, a place where the depths of misery were experienced and the triumph of hope as ruin gave way to reconstruction. All our performers are members of the community performance ensemble. Original music has been composed by Thom Robson.

Immersive Encounter (Friday 24-Sunday 26 May)

Click here to book your timed entry

Dugouts: Stepping into the dugouts, you encounter the ghosts of the battlefields, trapped forever within the landscape. Visitors need not fear. The ghosts will simply pass you by as they live out their daily existence. They will not interact with you or speak to you, please respect them by doing the same as you enter their world.

As you step out of the darkness, take a moment to reflect in the museum's new immersive experience room, then follow the candlelit 'way back' to life after the war. As you do so, remember you are walking in the footsteps of the people of Zonnebeke who returned home to rebuild their lives and community.

Trenches: Walking through the trenches, listen carefully for the voices of the people who inhabited this landscape immediately after the war. You may come across objects they have left in the shelters where they lived. Feel free to enter and explore.

The Chinese Labour Corps are busy clearing the battlefields to make them safe again. Meanwhile the first villagers have started to return and are rebuilding their lives, living temporarily in the shelter of the trenches. Listen for the children's voices. You may also encounter more ghosts of those who lived here as you journey through the trenches. You end your journey through the trenches with a powerful moment which brings together the memories of those who lived here as well as those returned to Zonnebeke as pilgrims in the 1920s.

Everything you hear and see is taken directly from historical sources. You can find out more about those sources at the end of this page.

Finale: Performance Spectacle (free, Friday 24 and Saturday 25 May c.9.45pm)

The Performance Spectacle starts as darkness takes hold and the ghosts of Zonnebeke begin to return. Please sit anywhere on the grass, help yourself to a chair from the marquee or use one of the blankets provided. You are welcome to move around throughout to get a better view.

Prologue (music: Jollies Filles by WÖR). The story begins in Zonnebeke before August 1914, a place blissfully unaware of the disaster to come, a world on the verge of being up-ended with the misery of displacement and the horror of destruction. As our ghosts return to the place where they lived, they remember these times and you see glimpses of their lives in the photos projected on the chateau.

Ravages of War (music: Departures by Thom Robson). The coming of war is marked powerfully with the destruction of the chateau (the chateau represents the village throughout the performance). As the ghosts turn away from the horror and the annihilating flames that engulfed the village, you see the real images of the destruction of Zonnebeke across the chateau.

Returning (music: Remembering by Thom Robson). As the war comes to an end, the sense of desolation, loss and pain is balanced with the first hopes of return. Now the way back to Zonnebeke can begin for its people. The ghosts begin to gather up their few belongings, taken when they fled, and return, coming together once more as a community. The images here show real refugees returning home after the end of war.

Rebuilding (music: Loss by Thom Robson). The pulse of life is strengthening and there is much hard work to be done. There is the lingering pain, but Zonnebeke is being restored, it is rising from the ashes thanks to the spirit of its people. Postcards written by British visitors provide the words, and photos show the temporary spaces and buildings in which the community first lived.

Revisiting (music: Folkestone by Thom Robson). At the same time as the village is being rebuilt, Zonnebeke is also a place of mourning and remembering lost loved ones. Widows and mothers come searching for the graves of their loved ones, and visitors from Britain and the empire come to see a land engraved in their hearts and minds.

Regeneration (music: Regeneration by Thom Robson). The sounds of building and digging mark the hard work involved in reconstruction and regeneration whilst the photos show the various stages of the reconstruction of Zonnebeke. The chateau, representing the village is then rebuilt, however the process of rebuilding is not without challenges. The tragic crash of the elevator carrying visitors to the top of the new church tower (April 1924) is marked with the collapse of the almost complete chateau.

Zonnebeke (music: Zonnebeke by Thom Robson). In this final section, Zonnebeke has been resurrected from the ashes. It has come back to life and the way back is complete. As the ghosts of the village return to look out over their home and their landscape, glimpses of the past are seen in the photos which cover village life from the 1930s through to the late twentieth century.

Community Ensemble

Blondeel Sven - Brouckaert Geert - Camerlynck Koen - Canniere Danny - Cavalier Brigitte - Cogghe Claudia - Coopman Iben - De Bruyn Walter - Debaenst Peter - Declercq Sabine - Denys Charlotte - Glorie Erwin - Godwin Clara - Godwin Helena - Keyngnaert Thierry - Lewyllie Christine - Seys Miel - Seys Sophie - Vandeputte Marit - Vanneste Krista - Verfaillie Filippe - Verhelle Annelies - Werbrouck Steven - Wylin Caroline.

Credits and Acknowledgements

The majority of images are from Passchendaele Memorial Museum with additional images from other collections.  

Images used

  • Australian War Memorial

  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission

  • Imperial War Museum

  • In Flanders Fields Museum collection (including © Antony d'Ypres)

  • Passchendaele Museum collection

  • Westflandrica Collection, Westflandrica Stad Kortrijk

  • Zonnebeke-Passendale archives

 Texts quoted

  • Beatrix Brice and Lieutenant-General Sir William Pulteney, The Immortal Salient (London: 1925)

  • Edwin Campion Vaughan, Some Desperate Glory. The diary of a young officer, 1917 (London, 1981)

  • Reverend J.O. Coop, A Short Guide to the Battlefields (Liverpool, 1920)

  • Andre Deseyne Zonnebeke between two wars (Edition of the Zonnebeekse Heemvrienden, 1994)

  • Jules Leroy, ‘The diary of a village hero’

  • Stephen Graham, The Challenge of the Dead (London, 1920)

  • Lyn Macdonald, 1914-1918 Voices and Images of the Great War (London, 1988); Ypres Times, October 1931

  • St. Barnabas Pilgrimages, Empire Pilgrimage, Scottish Pilgrimage (London, 1924)