At 8pm every night since 1928 – with the exception of the German occupation in World War 2 – buglers from the fire brigade of Ypres have stopped the traffic and performed a simple act of remembrance at the Menin Gate. It is their tribute to those who gave their lives in World War 1 to secure Belgium’s freedom. A sombre and extraordinary experience that we had the privilege to see.
The Menin Gate is the most famous Commonwealth war memorial in Flanders, perhaps the world. Tens of thousands of soldiers passed through here on their way to the front. Many never returned. Opened in 1927 the memorial bears the names of 54,896 soldiers reported missing in the Ypres Salient between the outbreak of war and 15 August 1917. It was built to provide for those who had nowhere else to lay a token of remembrance.
We arrived 1.5 hours early for the ceremony. Sometimes there are just a few spectators, other times, like when we visited in summer there were hundreds of people. Irrespective of numbers this would always be a moving and unique experience.
We staked out a piece of pavement, the whole place was pretty empty when we got there but by 7.15 it was completely packed.
At 8pm the traffic was stopped, the buglers played the Last Post and the flag was lowered. The Tribute to the Fallen was read out and a short wreath laying ceremony took place. Two minutes silence then the Reveille was played signifying the end. People filed away in complete silence. This simple ceremony had an extra-ordinary effect on us and I think, everyone else. Moving and a wonderful thing to see.
The only slight sour note was as we walked away from the Menin Gate. Street vendors had set up a series of makeshift stalls in the streets around the memorial and were looking to flog war related souvenirs to those departing the ceremony. It just didn’t feel right.