In my last blog, I wrote about our very emotional attendance at the Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate, Ieper.
After viewing the Last Post Ceremony, many of our tour group went to explore Ieper, but Vern and I returned to our hotel to have dinner in the restaurant there. We were ‘seated’ at a small table for two. An elderly couple sat at an equally small adjoining table. We were the only ones sitting in this section of the restaurant.
I had noticed this couple at the Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate earlier in the evening. They had been standing in the crowd opposite me. Just as the ceremony ended the woman collapsed. A number of bystanders rushed to her aid and the couple was assisted to a seating area and taken care of by paramedics.
While we were waiting for our meal to be served I plucked up the courage to speak to the couple. I admitted I had seen them at the ceremony and enquired if the woman was feeling better. The elderly woman couldn’t speak English well, but the gentleman did and spoke on her behalf. He thanked us for our concern and said she had recovered, but needed rest.
Hearing our accent they asked where we from and what had brought us to Ieper. We told him we had come to pay our respects to family members who had died on the battlefields of Europe many years before we were born. During the course of things, my passion for Family History was mentioned once or twice.
Over the next hour, we heard much about this couple. They had been born near Ieper between World Wars I and II and had grown up in the area, but now lived in the south of France.
Their ancestors were from Ieper through several generations, and they loved to return to the city whenever an occasion presented itself.
They told us the Menin Gate and the Last Post Ceremony had been an important part of their lives growing up. Friends and family members always attended the ceremony, whenever they visited the city, in grateful thanks for the great sacrifice made by so many.
We learned that this couple were special guests at an International Dinner at the Great Cloth Hall that evening and the gentleman was to receive an award. Neither were in good health and the lady had become quite frail, but both were determined to return to Ieper for this special dinner.
They both wanted to attend the Last Post Ceremony, as they had always done when returning to the city. When the lady’s health deteriorated at the ceremony, the attending doctor suggested she should return to the hotel to rest and not overly stress herself by attending the gala event with her husband. Of course, the gentleman would not leave his wife’s side and so they planned to dine quietly at the hotel restaurant.
We asked if there was anything we could do to assist them in any way. They thanked us for our offer but said the wonderful city officials had taken care of everything for them.
Then the gentleman reached into his evening jacket and retrieved the official guilt edged programme of the Cloth Hall Dinner and asked us to accept it as a special memento of our meeting and dining together that evening. What a beautiful and generous gift. Although I cannot read it, (I believe it is in Dutch), there is no doubt receiving this is one of my most treasured memories of our Western Front Tour.