November 23, 2017. In the morning we’d visited the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres and found the listings for two men whose names are on the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion: Charles Benjamin BUXTON and George Albert CAMPBELL (See A Daytime Visit To Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres).
We returned in the evening for The Last Post Ceremony, which occurs at 8 pm every day at Menin Gate Memorial, rain or shine. It began on July 2, 1928, after the Memorial opened in 1927, as a way for the citizens of Ypres to express their gratitude towards those who had died in defence of Belgium’s freedom.
The only time the ceremony was not held in Ypres was during the German occupation during World War II. Instead, a daily ceremony was held at Brookwood Military Cemetery, in Surrey, England. On September 6, 1944, the evening that Polish forces liberated Ypres in the Second World War, the ceremony at Menin Gate resumed, even though heavy fighting was still taking place in other parts of Ypres.
Bands and choirs from around the world apply to participate in the ceremonies. On the evening we attended the ceremony, the St. Cecilia Helden band from The Netherlands was there. It was very apt since Pieter is from The Netherlands, and that was going to be the next country on our war memorial trail.
We quickly saw that if we wanted to get a spot with easy visibility of the ceremony that we would have to line up at least 1 ½ hours early! We did and so were lucky to have a front line view, and watched the band march through Menin Gate Memorial to stand on the outside of the Memorial.
Police cars soon barricaded the road on either side of the Menin Gate Memorial so no traffic could get by.
Just before 8 pm three buglers from the local fire brigade arrived and played ‘The Last Post’. (For a video clip made by Pieter Valkenburg, which shows where he manages to capture Buxton’s name on the Memorial, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org)
‘The Last Post’ was followed by the Exhortation, where a dignitary said the words we are all familiar with from Remembrance Day ceremonies in Canada. Taken from the 4th verse of Laurence Binyon’s poem ‘For The Fallen’, first published on September 21, 1914, he recited, in English:
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.”
This was followed by a minute of silence, and then wreaths were laid by various groups while the St. Cecelia Helden band played. We were sorry we hadn’t thought of asking to lay a wreath as a way to further commemorate Campbell and Buxton. Following the wreath laying the final bugle call, ‘Réveille’, was played and the ceremony was over.
We were lucky to be right at the spot where the fire brigade walked past, and they graciously posed for a photo. Of course, we gave them Canadian flag pins, and to our surprise we received a Menin Gate Memorial pin in exchange.
This was a beautiful ceremony, with respectful visitors from many countries. Behind us was a family from Poland, a poignant reminder of the Polish allies who liberated Ypres during WWII.
We returned to our hotel in a thoughtful mood, after the day of visiting memorials and cemeteries. We still had a few places in Flanders to visit before going on to The Netherlands, but that would have to wait for another day.
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© Daria Valkenburg