October 26, 2017. Menin Gate (Menenpoort in Flemish) is a large archway, with a bridge over a moat that surrounds the city of Ypres. Between October 1914 and September 1918 hundreds of thousands of Commonwealth soldiers marched through it on their way to the battlefields. 300,000 of them died, and 90,000 have no known grave.
Ypres was at the centre of a road network and essential for the Germans to capture in order to take the English Channel ports through which British support came into France during World War I. For the Allies, Ypres was important as it became the last major Belgian town that remained out of German control.
Five major battles occurred around Ypres. During the First Battle of Ypres the German army’s advance to the east of the city was stopped. Eventually, however, the Germans surrounded the city on three sides, bombarding it throughout much of the war. The Second Battle of Ypres was the second German attempt to take the city in April 1915. The third battle, which we know as the Battle of Passchendaele, occurred over five months in 1917. The fourth and fifth battles occurred during 1918.
Today, Menin Gate is a memorial to 54,616 Commonwealth soldiers who died before August 16, 1917 and have no known grave, about 6,983 of them Canadians.
Two of those Canadians are listed on the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion: Charles Benjamin Murray BUXTON and George Albert CAMPBELL. So, of course, we went to find their names on the Menin Gate Memorial.
Inside the archway is a Hall of Memory, with stairwells on either side of the archway, and panels listing the names of each of these soldiers. One wall by the stairwall lists the names of Canadian soldiers, and we first found Charles Buxton, listed under the names of those from the Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry. Pieter stood by the wall listing his name and held up Buxton’s photo and a plaque that he’d asked Kevin Peddle of Prince County Trophy and Awards in Summerside to make for him.
We then searched for the listing for George Albert Campbell under the Canadian Mounted Rifles, and repeated the procedure, holding up a picture of Campbell and a memorial plaque.
If you were paying attention at the beginning of this entry, you read that 90,000 WWI Commonwealth soldiers have no known grave, but only 54,616 are listed on Menin Gate. Why? When the memorial was completed, it was too small to contain all the names of the missing and unidentified soldiers, as had originally been planned. An arbitrary cut-off point of August 15, 1917 was chosen and the names of 34,984 British soldiers missing after this date were inscribed on the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing instead. The names of missing and unidentified soldiers from New Zealand and Newfoundland are listed on separate memorials.
With advances in DNA and stories about finding skeletons in various graves in fields, we wondered what happened if a soldier was identified. Any remains are reburied in a cemetery, and if the soldier can be identified the name is removed from the Menin Gate Memorial.
We were glad we had the opportunity to visit Menin Gate Memorial in the morning, before it got busy and before the Last Post Ceremony in the evening, which we would come back to attend.
We also wanted to visit Maple Copse Cemetery, where Campbell is believed to be buried, and Sanctuary Wood, where Buxton lost his life during a battle, and have a chance to tell their stories in the spot where they were last.
First, though, we decided to visit areas in and around Passchendaele, beginning with Lt. John McCrae’s field hospital bunker, the subject of the next blog entry. Comments or stories? You can share them by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org or by commenting on this blog.
© Daria Valkenburg