This year is the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War. It also marks not only the 70th anniversary of D-Day and the second front in Europe but the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War.
It therefore seemed an appropriate time for Jim to take time out from his UK visit earlier this year and catch the ferry with our daughter Kate and granddaughter Tilly for a short trip to Belgium. The main purpose of their break was to visit Ypres, which will forever be associated with the Great War, its trail of destruction and its meaningless slaughter.
Yet one hundred years later, the local people proudly carry out a simple and moving tribute under the imposing arches of the Menin Gate. Irrespective of whether there is a large crowd or just a solitary passerby just before 8 o’clock in the evening, the traffic is stopped and the noise from the cobbled streets around the Menin Gate ceases. A stillness descends over the memorial as buglers from the local fire brigade arrive.
The Last Post is played in memory of the soldiers who fell at Ypres. This is followed by a minute’s silence. The buglers play Reveille then march off and the ceremony is ended.
The ‘Last Post’ marks the end of the soldier’s day – what more fitting way to commemorate those 54,896 dead soldiers who were never found, have no known grave and whose names are inscribed at the Menin Gate than with a symbol that they have finished their duty and can rest in peace.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
I was not with the family on this visit but I have been to the ceremony before and found it extremely moving. Although I hate war, I believe only by visiting and seeing for yourself where these battles took place can you recognise and possibly understand the depths of the sacrifices made and the heroism involved.