02/07/1928 - 02/07/2018
Report by Sir Edward Crofton, Chairman of The Friends of St George’s Memorial Church, Ypres
Thursday 5th July 2018 dawned bright and clear, under a cloudless sky. All of those, including Dr Derek Gallagher and myself, representing The Friends of St George’s, who had the privilege of attending the 90th Anniversary Celebrations of the Last Post Association at the Menin Gate, witnessed a most poignant rendering of the Salute to the Fallen Warrior, a unique Act of Homage which has taken place since its inception at the beginning of July 1928, and which has continued uninterrupted until the present day. The only exception to this was during the four years of the German occupation of Ieper, from 20th May 1940 to 6th September 1944, when the Ceremony moved to Brookwood Cemetery in England; a combined total of over 31,000 soundings.
The Event began with everyone meeting for a Reception at the Cloth Hall. The Chairman of the Last Post Association, Mr Benoit Mottrie, gave an address of welcome to all those assembled, which included dignitaries and guests, both locally and from around the World, including the City of Ieper, the Government of Flanders, the United Kingdom and Commonwealth, the United States of America and Germany.
We all made our way behind the Australian Army Band to the Menin Gate, where we moved to our appointed areas, and waited for the Ceremony to begin. At exactly 8pm, the Last Post was sounded by 8 members of the Volunteer Fire Brigade, their notes sharp and clear in the evening air. The Exhortation was then given by Mr Darren Chester, the Australian Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, followed by the the Minute of Silence.
As I stood during the Silence, the enormities of ‘Man’s Inhumanity to Man’, the horrors being commemorated, came home to me; there all around were the names inscribed on the enormous white Euville stone pillars, of those who had simply disappeared, with no known grave; over 50,000 of them. My father had served in the Ypres Salient during 1914-15, and I have spotted names inscribed of those in his Regiment who had served under him.
The Minute of Silence was followed by the moving spectacle of poppies raining down from above, one for every individual who had made the Supreme Sacrifice, and whose name was on the Gate. On completion of this part of the Ceremony, the Wreath Laying took place, carried out by both National Representatives, and other public organisations including cadets.
The Kohima Epitaph was then given by Mr Guy Gruwez, the Honorary Chairman of the Last Post Association. The sounding of Reveille brought the Ceremony to an end.
The National Anthems of the United Kingdom and Host Nation were played, before the assembled gathering turned towards the City and proceeded back to the Cloth Hall, to the strains of Waltzing Matilda and other martial favourites. By this time the cobbles were reminding us that they are not necessarily user friendly! On arriving in Market Square, we broke off, the Band halted and dismissed after being congratulated on a first class performance by its Minister for Veterans’ Affairs.
Back inside the area of the Cloth Hall, further refreshment was on hand, and it was a great pleasure to be able to reminisce with both old friends and new acquaintances, on what had been a truly wonderful Day.