Home Current 'Poppy parade' falls over Ypres as crowds mark 100 years since the...

'Poppy parade' falls over Ypres as crowds mark 100 years since the end of the First World War


'Poppy parade' falls over Ypres as crowds mark 100 years since the end of the First World WarIn Ypres on Armistice Day, the thousands who had come from every corner of Britain and the “very ends of the Earth”, from Australia, New Zealand, the US and Canada, fell as silent as the guns had done that same day 100 years ago. Gathered around the Menin Gate, the imposing 14.5 metre high memorial that bears the names of 54,395 British and Commonwealth soldiers of the 90,000 who died on Ypres Salient but were never found, the crowds, Belgian dignitaries and locals, soldiers and the many British travellers bowed their head at one at 11am local time on the 11 November.  Before the silence, the Ypres Surrey Pipes and Drums, veterans, cadets, scouts, schoolchildren the US Colour Guard, German and Canadian representatives as well as fire brigades from all over Britain, representative for the police and Sikh and Nepalese community, had filed through the gate and past the names of the missing engraved on Portland stone. At 11am, all the bells in Ypres rang out. November 11 is celebrated as a public holiday, liberation day, in Belgium. Regimental flags were dipped as the reveille was sounded under the Menin Gate. Earlier the bands had played Danny Boy, A Long Way To Tipperary, and World in Union, later a piper would sound a lament and a choir would sing Abide With Me as wreaths were laid.  The Lord's Prayer was read in Dutch and English before the exhortation preceding the minutes silence was read. “we will remember them,” answered the massed ranks at the Menin Gate before falling into silence. All that could be heard was the singing of the birds and the rustling of the autumnal trees lining the town's old fortifications around the gate.  The Last Post was sounded, Every day since 1927, except during the German occupation of the Second World War, volunteer Belgian firemen from the Last Post Association have played it under the gate at 8pm as a sign of their country’s gratitude for the British sacrifice. That sacrifice was immense with 300,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers killed over the four years of war, five major battles, including Passchendaele which cost half a million casualties for the gain of just a few miles. Ypres, which was of major strategic importance, was constantly shelled by the surrounding German troops and the city reduced to rubble. Only the damaged steeple of the Cloth Hall was to survive the war. Poppies are thrown from the Menin Gate to symbolise the fallen. #armistice100#Yprespic.twitter.com/P8NPCOjZKf— James Crisp (@JamesCrisp6) November 11, 2018 Winston Churchill suggested leaving Ypres, known locally as Ieper, as a it was as a warning to future generations. Instead, the city, at one point the only major Belgian city not on German hands, painstakingly rebuilt brick by brick, as close to how it was before the war as possible with the work paid for by war reparations. Churchill need not have worried. Today in 2018, the desire to remember the men was palp[able among the crowds of people of all ages. Everybody in Ypres, which has close links to Hiroshima, remembers the horrors of war and the town has long been a place of pilgrimage. In 1920, the city, was awarded the Military Cross by King George V, a singular honour only awarded to it and Verdun, and it was added to Ypres’ coat of arms. Today in 2018, the desire to remember the men was palpable among the crowds of people of all ages surrounding the Gate, where earlier at 6am a lone piper had played “Battle’s O’er”. Many were remembering their family members who had fought in the Great War. Max Dutton, 26, is assistant historian at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which manages memorials including the Gate.  “I have the best job in the world,” Max, who is from Harrogate, said, “and I am honoured to do it.” His maternal great grandfather, Private William Alvin of the East York Regiment, served and survived on the Sommes and Ypres. “He was gassed,” said Max,who studied the war at Kings College London, “my granny always used to say he coughed all his life.” Lest we forget: First World War centenary commemorations, in pictures Scott Watson, 33, is a fireman with six years service in the Royal Navy under his belt. His great great grandfather was killed in 1915 in France. His great grandad served in the Desert Rats and his Dad was in the navy for 32 years. He was among the packed crowds by the gate with his partner Catherine Shea, 34 and daughter Grace, 13. “This means everything to me and to my family. We’ve had the conversation with Grace. It is our responsibility to make sure future generations remember them and Grace must make sure her children remember as well. We will never forget.” Others came because they too had experienced the terrors of war. Gareth Richards is a former warrant officer with the Royal Engineers, who served in Kosovo, Bosnia and Northern Ireland. He travelled to Ypres with 25 veterans of the regiment from Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Royal Engineers fought on the salient, digging under German positions and planting explosives. Gareth, who lives in Paisley, was here to pay tribute to his great grandfather, a private in the Welsh Fusiliers. Robert Evans was taken prisoner in the First Battle of Ypres in August 1914. He later served in the Home Guard in World War Two. Francesca Shaw, from Leeds, England, prepares to lay a poppy wreath during an Armistice ceremony at the Menin Gate Credit: AP Photo/Virginia Mayo Wearing his great grandfather’s medals from the Boer war and First World War alongside his own, Gareth said, “This is so important to mark history. There are going to be a lot of tears today.” The men marched out towards the front from Ypres, some along the route on which Reginald Blomfield’s triumphal arch has stood since 1927.  Siegfried Sassoon hated it and wrote of the “Dead who struggled in the slime/ Rise and deride this sepulchre of crime” in his poem On Passing The  New Menin Gate. After it was completed, it was realised there was not enough room on the memorial for all the names of the missing. A further 34, 984 names were added to a memorial at the nearby Tyne Cot military cemetery. Even now along the Western Front, about 40 missing soldiers are found every year. In an echo of the journey, volunteers took part in the “poppy parade” on Sunday. A march down to the gate holding baskets of poppies. They were handed to members of the CWG commission who tossed them from the top of the gate so they floated down from the top of the arch, which contains two halls of memory. Each of the many, many poppies symbolised a live lost in the First World War. In a touching display of remembrance some firefighters in full dress uniform, and other onlookers, bended down to pick them up before gently stowing them away in pockets and wallets as souvenirs. The soldiers called Ypres “Wipers” and published a wartime newspaper called the Wipers Times. Other Dutch names were adapted for British tongues and would soon become legendary in the history of World Word One. Places such Ploegsteert, the scene of bitter fighting, were rechristened Plug Street. An HQ dugout near Ypres during the First World War, found in a scrapbook belonging to Captain Robert Harley Egerton Bennett Credit: A.C.H.Bennett / PA  Once in the fields of Flanders, the soldiers faced the hellish conditions of trench warfare. It was in Ypres that poison gas was first used. The German use of chlorine  on April 22  1915 against British, Canadian and French soldiers marked the beginning of the Second Battle of Ypres. Mustard gas, which was also called Yperite from the town’s name, was used for the first time near the city in 1917. Jacques Ryckebosch grew up in Ypres and used to be the curator of Talbot House in nearby Poperinge, where soldiers would go for a cup of tea and to relax on relief from the front. He now gives tours of the battlefields and was involved in today’s moving ceremony. Jacques, who is married to a British woman, remembers taking Harry Patch, the last fighting Tommy and last surviving veteran of the First World War, to the place in Ypres where he was wounded by a shell that killed three of his comrades. Harry died in 2009, aged 111. “All of the memories of Harry and the other veterans who visited Ypres have come back,” Jacques said, “Harry and all of them are always with me, their voices in the back of my brain.” Jacques, whose Belgian grandfather was shot and gassed during the war and is married to a British woman, said, “There is such a strong bond between Belgium and Britain. When you come here to the Gate, the language here is English,. And no one who lives here has forgotten.” Benoit Mottrie,chariman of the Last Post Association and the grandson of its founder Aime Gruwez’ said, “This is the busiest time I have ever witnessed. In the 1950s, 60s, 70s it was often just the two police stopping the traffic the buglers, and maybe a handful of people, sometimes no one when we played the Last Post.  I don't think we will ever be alone again.” The Ypres and Surrey Pipes Marching Band march during an Armistice ceremony at the Menin Gate Credit: AP Photo/Virginia Mayo Paul Burkitt, 66, from Stourbridge, travelled to Ypres with hius niece, Eleanor Foulkes, 28. Paul had three great uncles and only one returned from Europe. One was killed in France and the other on the first day of the battle of the Somme. Eleanor, an actor, grew up in Montreal, Canada. Ypres was one of the founding legends of ther Canadain military, who were fighting under their command for the first time. “The importance of remembering cannot be overstated, especially for my generation as the war gets further and further away and back into history,” she said. John MacCrae, the Lieutenant  Colonel of the Canadian Expeditionary Force was also from Montreal He wrote In Flanders Fields on May 3 1915, sitting on the back of a medical field ambulance near an advance dressing post at Essex Farm, North of Ypres. It was the day after he had presided over the funeral of his friend lieutenant Alexis Helmer, who was killed during the Second Battle of Ypres. The poem, published 100 years ago in 1918 after  Macrae’s death in France in January of the same year, reads. “If you break faith with us who die/ We shall not sleep, though poppies grow/ In Flanders Fields”. Today in Ypres, at the culmination of four years of centenary memorials and as the Belgian and British anthems were played at the end of the hour long ceremony under the cold, overcast Flanders' sky , faith, and the flame of remembrance, burned as brightly as ever.