Remembrance at the Menin Gate

Menin_Hero

Mike Peters was a career soldier in the British Army for over 30 years and is now a full-time Military Historian and Battlefield Guide. He gives his recommendations to any of those who are thinking of travelling to Ypres during Remembrance.

I have been travelling to the battlefields of Europe almost all of my adult life and for much of that time I have made the most of the convenience and speed offered by the Eurotunnel link between England and France.

The history of North-West Europe sometimes makes for grim reading; the area is so peppered with historic battlefields and evidence of conflict that it is often described as the ‘Cockpit of Europe’. You literally only have to emerge from the tunnel at either end to find yourself on a battlefield. That said, battlefield touring is a fascinating and generally, outdoors activity, usually undertaken in the warmer months of the year. Perhaps though, like so many people in November, you are thinking of Remembrance?

The CWHC is currently offering assistance with Battlefield Guides.
The CWGC is currently offering assistance with Battlefield Guides.

2018 marks the centenary of the 1918 Armistice and the eventual end of the Great War; the war that it was hoped would end all wars. The recent centenary commemorations have stimulated much new interest in the First World War. If you have family links and few do not, or you just want to pay your respects, why not take the opportunity to visit Flanders yourself this month and perhaps also attend an act of remembrance?

Ypres

Where in Belgium: West Flanders
Drive from Calais: 92.1km / 1h 11m

One of the most emotive battlefields of the FWW was the Ypres Salient at the heart of Belgian Flanders. A battlefield so close to the channel coast and the fighting so ferocious that the sound of the heavy guns were often heard in Kent.

A salient is a bulge in an otherwise straight line of military positions; in this case British and Commonwealth forces around Ypres frustrated the advancing German Army by forming an inconvenient salient measuring roughly 25 x 15 kilometres. The Wipers Salient as it became known, was held stubbornly by the British and their Allies for the duration of the war.

Menin Gate

54,896 names are listed inside Menin Gate.
54,896 names are listed inside Menin Gate.

The main artery that fed men and material into the salient was the Menin Road. Troops marched into the line over its muddy cobbles, many sadly never to return. It was the symbolism of this route that later saw the construction of a Memorial to the Missing on the site of the original Menin Gate, a memorial at the entrance to the salient.

Today’s Menin Gate is possibly the most famous memorial to missing war dead in the world, it is located in the reconstructed centre of the picturesque Belgian town of Ypres; just over an hour’s drive from Calais. The iconic gate was built after the Armistice in the style of a Roman Triumphal Arch, its purpose to record the names of missing soldiers of Britain, her Empire and its Commonwealth who marched into the maelstrom of combat in the muddy Salient.

The gate was designed by Sydney Blomfeld in 1921, then completed and inaugurated in 1924. The stone panels of the gate list the names of 54,896 men who the fortunes of war denied a marked grave; they are all, as Rudyard Kipling stated ‘known unto god’.

This staggering number is however not the full total; those listed were lost in what Churchill described as the ‘immortal salient’ from the outbreak of war in 1914 until 16 August 1917. A further 34,984 missing in the salient are listed on a huge memorial wall at the rear of the Tyne Cot Cemetery close to the infamous Passchendaele Ridge.

The Ethos of the CWGC, equality in death and every casualty should were practicable have a marked grave or their name listed on a memorial to the missing.
The Ethos of the CWGC, equality in death and every casualty should were practicable have a marked grave or their name listed on a memorial to the missing. Credit: CWGC

Last Post Ceremony

It was during the opening ceremony at the Gate that Field Marshal Plumer epitomised in words the function of the memorial when he said to an assembled throng of bereaved mothers and widows, ‘He is not missing, he is here.’

The missing are not forgotten, since 1928 a simple daily ceremony has taken place at the gate, a solemn act of Remembrance carried out by the townspeople of Ypres. Since its inception the Last Post Ceremony has taken place under the Menin Gate every night at 8PM, only interrupted by German occupation during WW2.

Buglers found from the Town Fire Brigade salute the missing by playing the last post bugle call every evening without fail. This simple evocative ceremony for which local traffic is stopped attracts thousands of visitors from around the world. Once experienced it is never forgotten.

Should you be present at the ceremony you are considered to be taking part, not attending. You can in fact, should you wish, lay a wreath or a simple poppy cross during the ceremony. Further information is available on the website of the Last Post Association.

Looking out onto the town of Ypres from inside Menin Gate.
Looking out onto the town of Ypres from inside Menin Gate.

If you are going to take part in the Last Post Ceremony I advise you to get to the Gate at least 50 minutes before the ceremony at 2000 hours local time.

Discover the sites of the Great War and the rebuilt town of Ypres. Plan your trip ahead and find the best fares, book your tickets early for the best price.

Top image credit: CWGC