Lest we forget

10th November 2005, Comments 0 comments

On 11 November, a team of buglers sound The Last Post in Ieper, the haunting focus of Belgium's World War I Armistice Day ceremonies. We take a moment to reflect.

"On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11 month,
we will remember them."

Those immortal words have haunted generations since the armistice was signed in 1918 to end The Great War — a war that killed 15 million soldiers and civilians.

The Flanders poppy has become the global symbol of remembrance

A further 50 million are estimated to have died in the Spanish flu epidemic that swept the world trying to come to terms with a war that no one had thought possible.

World War I was an unprecedented tragedy as the long-term impact of the industrial revolution culminated in the first mass global war of the industrialised age. It created the deadlock known as The Western Front.

It stretched in a 720km line of trenches from the Belgian coast via Ieper in the south to northern France and the provinces of Lorraine and Alsace terminating on the Swiss border.

Victories were measured in miles gained over several months as casualty upon casualty mounted.

In the war's aftermath, a new era of social change was ushered in. Eight-hour working days were introduced, wages were increased and socialist ministers appointed. It was time for sweeping change.

Destruction and reconstruction

The Flemish township of Ieper was located at the centre of the battlefields of the Ypres Salient.

In the spring of 1915, intense German bombardment of the Flemish city started and in the ensuing years of battle there was no building left untouched. The city was demolished.

After the Armistice was signed, residents returned from places of refuge, but every building was shattered; houses, shops, municipal buildings, schools, the cathedral, churches, and the Lakenhalle (Cloth Hall) were all gone.

It was initially suggested the city be left in ruins as a memorial and that a new city could be built nearby. But a pressing need to accommodate returning inhabitants led to reconstruction work.

During the 1920s and 1930s the buildings and streets were reclaimed and rebuilt and Ieper is today a monument to reconstruction.

But the shadows of WWI remain and the haunting Last Post is played every day at 8pm under the city's Menin Gate Memorial.

It is a ceremony that has been observed every day since 1928 to honour the soldiers of the British Empire who fought and died there.

It is the bugling of a generation lost and as the ranks of surviving WWI veterans thin, Armistice Day ceremonies on 11 November grow in importance.

Armistice Day ceremonies

Buglers sound The Last Post at the Menin Gate Memorial

Ieper is the focus of the 11 November Armistice Day ceremonies in Belgium.

The national holiday coincides with a service of remembrance, a poppy parade, an official parade with standards and bands and a special Last Post ceremony at The Menin Gate.

In addition, the Last Post Association is organising this year its third remembrance concert in the Ieper Cathedral. Different bands and choirs will bring a musical evocation of the different facets of war.

"Ieper is in fact the place to be for the First World War," Last Post Association spokesman Benoît Mottrie said.

It is also where a group of native Canadians attended the daily Last Post ceremony on 1 November. Canadian Minister for Veterans Affairs Albina Guarnieri and Canadian Ambassador John Mc Nee also took part.

The ceremony was adapted to include elements of traditional native Canadian culture in honour of the 7,500 native Canadians who fought in the Canadian armed forces during WWI.

Belgium's sacrifice

From the start of October 1914 to the end of September 1918, the Belgian army was stationed at the IJzer front between Nieuwpoort-aan-zee and Boezinge, north of Ieper.

Prior to that, the Belgian army had tried to resist the German occupying forces for two months.

And at the end of September 1918, King Albert and Belgian soldiers were involved in the launch of the Allied liberation offensive.

Some 42,000 Belgian soldiers were killed during the war. They were buried in Belgium or near military hospitals in France and Britain, near internment camps in the Netherlands or in German war prisons.
Today, in the Westhoek in Flanders, there are only eight Belgian military cemeteries. In the same region, the four major armies fighting on the Flemish front suffered 550,000 casualties.

Some 23,000 Belgian civilian casualties were recorded and one-fifth of the nation's economic infrastructure was destroyed. Vast tracts of land were littered with explosives and war debris and the battling nations were brought to the brink of bankruptcy.

The Westhoek region in Flanders is now largely a monument to The Great War.

Besides the Menin gate ceremonies, there is also the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ieper, the IJzertoren in Diksmuide, the numerous military cemeteries and war memorials. The In Flanders Fields Marathon is held in September.

Brussels remembers

While the ceremonies in Ieper are the focus of Belgium's Armistice Day, another significant event is held in Brussels.

In Flanders Fields By John McCrae, May 1915 In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place; and in the sky The larks, still bravely singing, fly Scarce heard amid the guns below. We are
The Brussels ceremony will be held at the national monument, the Colonnade of the Congress (also known as the Congress Column).

The monument was erected in 1859 as a symbol of Belgian independence and a tribute to the Congress which drew up the Belgian Constitution in 1830. 

At its peak is the statue of King Leopold I and at the base is the final resting place of the Belgian Unknown Soldier. An eternal flame and flowers now honour all of the nation's dead soldiers killed in World War I and II and on recent peacekeeping operations.

The Unknown Soldier was laid to rest on 11 November 1922, two years after the unknown soldiers of Britain and France were interred and one year after the burial of the American unknown.

The ceremony in Brussels will be attended by King Albert II, members of the federal and regional governments and judicial officials.

King Albert II will lay a wreath at the monument to the Unknown Soldier at 11am, after which a cannon will be fired to signal the start of a minute's silence.

At the end of the silence, a further 20 canons will be fired to signify a 21-canon salute and the monarch will then greet soldiers and veterans.

Once King Albert II leaves, government leaders and soldiers will also lay wreathes. 

Whatever you do this Friday: Lest We Forget.

Calendar of events to honour the day in Ypres 10 - 11 November 2006

10 November 2006
20h00 Special Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate with Devonport Royal Naval Volunteer Band en de Devon Fire & Rescue ServicesBand

11 November 2006
08h45 Commemorative ceremony at the French National Cemetery St Charles de Potyze.
09h30 Service at St Martin’s Cathedral (with St Martin’s Youth Choir)
Service at St George’s Memorial Church
10h20 Departure 'Poppy Parade' to the Menin Gate.
10h30 Departure parade to the different War Memorials, assisted by the Ypriana Band and the St Nicolas Male Choir.
11h00 Special last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate
12h15 Carillon Concert of the Municipal Carillonist, Ludo Geloen
16h30 'The Great War Remembered', a musical evocation of the different facets of war, at St Martin's Cathedral
20h00 Special last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate

Other sources include www.lastpost.be, www.inflandersfields.be or www.wo1.be.

10 November 2005 (updated 10 November 2006)

[Copyright Expatica 2006]

Subject: Living in Belgium, Armistice Day, 11 November, World War I

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