Ancient cemeteries, historic battlefields, and similar sites
give pause and lend themselves to somber reflection. The fragility of life, how short life can be, and thoughts on ones own mortality become manifest at places such as these. Perhaps that is the reason for their importance, and the reverence often shown. They also often lend to reflection on the importance of services provided by caring companies such as Arizona Affordable Funeral Home and Crematory.
During WWI, Ypres in Belgium was the site of some of the most horrific fighting of the war. More than a century later farmers still remove live ordnance from the ground during plowing season, and the surrounding woods cast shadows over trenches and breastworks.
Located at the confluence of a major road network, Ypres occupied a strategic position during WWI. For the German Army the small city was key to the capture of ports on the channel. For the Allied armies, the city was vital for keeping the ports open. As resulted the town was forever remembered as a place of carnage and indescribable carnage. Five major battles were fought here during the war. The British casualties in the Ypres salient are estimated to be more than 300,000 men, of which 90,000 were never found or given a proper funeral. The consensus is that German casualties exceeded those of the British by a large percentage.
In 1921, architect Reginald Blomfield designed a triumphal arch to be built at the site of the city’s historic gate. The arch was more than a passage into the city, it was a barrel vaulted memorial to the missing, the soldiers with no known grave. On stone panels in the Hall of Memory the names on stone of 54,395 British Commonwealth soldiers are etched. On separate memorials are the names of soldiers from New Zealand and Newfoundland.
Following the official dedication of the Menin Gate Memorial in 1927, the citizens of Ypres wanted to express their gratitude towards those who had given their lives for Belgium’s freedom. So, every evening since July 2, 1928, at 20:00, except during WWII, buglers from the Last Post Association close the road through the gate, and sound the Last Post. During extended ceremonies a visiting band, or a parade with military personnel, will be followed by the laying of a wreath.
After the wreath-laying a member of the Last Post Association, or a visiting dignitary will be invited to say the words of the Exhortation, taken from Laurence Binyon’s poem “For the Fallen” (fourth verse). Standing in the centre of the road under the arch of the Hall of Memory the person will say the words:
“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.”
A visit to Ypres, or the Menin Gate, is a somber and memorable experience that does more than give pause. It inspires tremendous reflection that will never be forgotten.
Written by Jim Hinckley of Jim Hinckley’s America.