Thursday, 9 July 2015

The Menin Gate

Writing my book on post-WW1 Ypres has led to some fascinating discoveries. Did you know that Winston Churchill, no less, wanted the entire city left as a ruin? He said, 'I can think of no more fitting monument to the dead...'

Needless to say, the people of Ypres disagreed. But they did leave a large swathe of the city untouched until the British decided what they wished to build by way of a memorial - and where.

Ultimately, what they built was the Menin Gate, designed by Reginald Blomfield (who was also responsible for the sword/cross of sacrifice that adorns almost all British war cemeteries). The monument was unveiled by General Plumer who had commanded V Corps and was later in charge of the Second Army responsible for the overwhelming victory at Messines. The ceremony was relayed live back to Britain by the BBC - the second outside broadcast ever - and concluded with the Last Post being sounded by buglers of the Somerset Light Infantry.

Since then - and with a brief hiatus during WW2 - the Last Post has sounded beneath the memorial arch every night at 8p.m. It is a tribute maintained by members of the Ypres Fire Brigade. And this evening, at 8p.m., they will sound the Last Post for the 30,000th time.

Anyone who has ever been to the ceremony knows how simple and how moving the whole thing can be. We took Charlie there a couple of years ago when I was researching Known unto God and despite his tender years he was keen to understand what was happening and why, as well as to show his respects.

At eight o'clock tonight local time (GMT+2) the Last Post Association is asking people all over the world to join this milestone ceremony online or at participating fire stations. The event will be televised live and you can follow it by logging on to

The huge arch contains the names of over 50,000 of those killed but whose remains were never found. Even that number wasn't enough to account for all those men recorded missing in the Salient. Tonight, as every night, traffic will stop and crowds will fall silent and the Last Post - that simple, soulful, musical lament - will sound for an astonishing 30,000th time.

Lest we forget...

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