Monday, November 14, 2011

Menin Gate and the Last Post

By Rob Atherton

The Menin Gate in an impressive memorial to the soldiers who died during World War I in the Belgium town of Ypres (Iepers). All through the conflict, the Ypres Salient was the arena of awful fighting and was nicknamed "Wipers" by the British infantry who fought there.

Upwards of a quarter of a million soldiers from UK and the Commonwealth died in the fighting in the vicinity of this historic town. Of those who died, around 100,000 have no known grave and approximately one half of those are commemorated on the Menin Gate. This memorial to the missing contains the names of 54,000 men from all over the earth.

All over the Western Front battlefields of Belgium and France, there are a large number of memorials but the Menin Gate is significant for more than just its stature. The gate is located at the Eastern exit of the town and the road leads straight to the old front line. The memorial was crafted by the British government and was unveiled in 1927. Its setting seems suitable and plenty of the soldiers whose names are commemorated on the Menin Gate, will have marched along this exact road to the front line, never to come back.

The locals of Ypres were all to mindful of the debt of thanks they owed the fallen that they came up with an plan to honour them. Ever since 1928, every evening at 8pm, cars are prevented from passing under the Menin Gate and a brief ceremony takes place. Buglers from the Last Post Association and district fire brigade assemble to play the "Last Post". The ceremony should not be deemed as recreational, it is a solemn event and although the public are free to be present at the ceremony, they should remember the reasons that it occurs.

The ceremony has taken place each evening from 2nd July 1928, only disrupted for the duration of World War II after the town was occupied by Germany. During the occupation of Ypres, the ceremony took place at Brookwood Military Cemetery in Surrey, Great Britain. The precise day that Ypres was liberated from the Germans in World War II, was again carried out at the Menin Gate.

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