One hundred years ago on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, hostilities in Europe came to a close. Today we know the anniversary of this day as Remembrance Day.
Throughout the world, people pause and remember all those brave soldiers who were involved in World War I, particularly those who died.
Today there will be many special Remembrance services to mark the centenary of this occasion.
However, there is a place where these soldiers are remembered not only once a year, but every day- The Menin Gate.
The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing is one of four British and Commonwealth memorials to the missing in the battlefields around Ieper in Belgium. Here the names of more than 50,000 soldiers from Britain and the Commonwealth countries who died in the area around Ieper, but who have no known grave, are inscribed in the massive Portland Stone wall panels.
For more than ninety years every night at 8 pm, the Last Post Ceremony is held in the Menin Gate, by the citizens and visitors in grateful acknowledgment of the sacrifice of so many. Traditionally this ceremony consists of a parade, (with traffic halted), a call to attention, the sounding of the Last Post, the Exhortation, one-minute silence, the Lament, then the laying of wreaths, flags, banners and Standards, and the Reveille. More information about the ceremony can be found here.
It is very special to witness this daily event and an even greater privilege to take part and lay a wreath.
When we were on our Western Front Tour, Vern and two women in our tour group were asked to lay a wreath in memory of all the Australians who had died in World War I. We all had family members who had lost their lives near Iepers. See my blogs on James Joseph Stapleton and William Sherwood
Most of the wreaths were of red paper poppies, but we had a huge green and gold floral wreath which seem to glow in the half-light of the Memorial on that Summer’s evening.
We arrived at the Menin Gate about six-thirty as the crowds began to pour into the memorial arch. We wanted to get into a good position to see the ceremony and to take photographs. By the time the ceremony began at 8 pm we estimated there would have been a crowd of about three thousand people in the memorial and along the streets and roadway outside.
I had positioned myself so I could see Vern and our Aussie companions as they marched forward to place the wreath at the appropriate time. I had read much about the ceremony and what was to take place, but nothing could have prepared me for the rush of emotion when that first bugle note echoed throughout the Memorial. Tears streamed down my face and my hands trembled so much there was no hope of taking any decent photographs. Vern said later he had shivers down his spine too.
For several minutes time seem to stand still. Not a sound could be heard from the huge crowd. Just the bugle and orders shouted by the officers at the appropriate time and then the footsteps of those who marched forward to lay wreaths and finally the stomping of the soldier’s feet as they marched out in formation towards the Town Square.
Several of our tour companions also admitted that the ceremony had had a big emotional impact on them too, as we all walked back to our hotel.
Next morning we rose early and set off in the bright sunshine to visit the Menin Gate again. This time there were no crowds and we were able to visit all the side steps and galleries where the names of the missing are displayed in row after row in hundreds of panels of Portland Stone imported from Britain. The stairways and galleries were covered in hundreds of wreaths of red poppies for the fallen.
Our tour guide also explained other features of this incredible memorial.
Lest we forget.