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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Remembrance Day is Everyday in Ieper

"In Flanders Fields the poppies blow.."  In the Flemish town of Ypres, (Ieper in Flemish) the sacrifice paid so many years ago is honoured every day. Every shop in Ieper displays the poem by the fallen Canadian soldier Dr. John McRae.

Shortly before 8pm, police close the road. Chimes of the city clock fade away. The first notes of the plaintive "Last Post" rise into the air. Followed by silence.. Then comes Reveille, the traditional wake-up call and a celebration of the living, which signals the end. Not once has the Last Post sounded at a deserted Menin Gate - nor will it.

The Last Post  was played at the Inauguration of the Menin Gate Memorial 10 years after the terrible Third Battle of Ypres in 1917, which ultimately led to the capture of Passchendaele. Deeply moved, the chief of police had a vision of a place of living remembrance, where those who had given their lives would be saluted every day. 'If we were to play for every life lost, we would have to continue until 2610,' said Benoit Mottrie, 43, chair of  The Last Post Association. Benoit's grandfather was on the committee set up in 1928 to bring this about. The fire chief pledged that volunteers from the local fire brigade would, as they still do, provide the buglers. Some, like 84 year-old Verschoot, a former tailor who was made an MBE for his dedication to the task, are long retired from active service. The latest recruit, however, is aged 27.

The Last Post Association, a small band of businessmen and local dignitaries have kept this tribute alive for 91 years. During the German occupation of Ypres in the Second World War, the ceremony was relocated to Brookwood Military Cemetery in Surrey. But when Polish forces liberated the town on 6 September, 1944, buglers defiantly took up position as fighting continued around them.

The Gate - part victory arch, part mausoleum bears the names of 54,896 souls lost in battle.This imposing limestone structure is testament to the horror of the Western Front. Opened 1927,  on the site of the old gate to the Menin Road -  through which tens of thousands marched never to return. Back then it was merely a gap in the ramparts. The memorial was to provide for those who had nowhere else to lay a token of remembrance, a place where they could say: 'He is not missing. He is here.' Immense though it is, there is no room to commemorate the others whose bodies the surrounding fields stubbornly refuse to give up, or who are buried as 'A Soldier of the Great War Known Unto God'. A further 34,984 names are carved on panels at the Tyne Cot cemetery near by, on the slopes beneath Passchendaele.

Once a year in Canada,, we haul out the poem, the poppies, the parade, stop for a minute, then go about business as usual. 91 years ago  armistice  ended the carnage of the First World War. Although we swore "never again" Canadian soldiers are still sacrificed on battlefields far from home. I wonder...  if we paid the same daily homage to our fallen, would we have been as quick to follow Bush's call to arms?

Click HERE to visit the Ieper Last Post Association website. Leave your note of thanks in their book of honour.

Related Articles

Ypres, where the Last Post plays every single day

The Last Post Ceremony, Ieper — Menin Gate

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