Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Menin Gate

Today is the anniversary of the unveiling, in 1927, of the Menin Gate, in Ypres, Belgium, a war memorial to the almost 90,000 soldiers of the British Empire and Commonwealth, listed as missing in action, during the five battles for Ypres in World War I and the daily smaller skirmishes between encounters big enough to be “battles,” so called. Ypres, in Flanders, was about the only significant town in Belgium that never fell into German hands. The monument is situated at the eastern edge of town, on the road British troops would take to be fed into the front lines.

The people of Ypres wanted to show their gratitude for the sacrifices of so many British and Commonwealth soldiers. Since 2 July 1928, on every day except during German occupation in the Second World War, the local fire department has sent a file of buglers at 8 p.m. to sound “Last Post” (the British equivalent of Taps). On 6 September 1944, when troops of the Polish 1st Armoured Division liberated the place from the Germans, the Last Post ceremony resumed that very evening, despite the fighting still going on in town.

Meanwhile, the armies of missing (British as well as 90,000 or so Germans) are still on guard, buried in collapsed trenches, or in what’s left of a shell crater; their poor remains sometimes rediscovered during local building or road construction. R.I.P.

Went the day well ?
We died and never knew.
But, well or ill, Freedom, we died for you.

John Maxwell Edmonds, Times [London], 6 February 1918.

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