Little Bits of History

July 24

Posted in History by patriciahysell on July 24, 2017

1927: The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing is unveiled. Located in Ypres, Belgium, it was dedicated to the British and Commonwealth soldiers killed in the Ypres Salient of World War I and whose graves were unknown. The region around Ypres proper, the Ypres Salient, was the location of some of the biggest battles of the Great War. British, French, Canadian, and Belgian troops attempted to hold back the German incursion in the 1914 Race to the Sea. Hundreds of thousands of men were casualties of the horrific fighting taking place over several months. The Memorial was placed at the starting point for one of the main roads out of town which led the Allied soldiers to the front lines.

The roadway and gate have existed since medieval times, originally as a trade route. The city had to fortify itself against potential invaders and built walls and gates to do so. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the gates were upgraded several times. The gate became known as the Menenpoort (Menin Gate in English) because the road led to the small town of Menen. German strategic plans called for their capture of Belgium and a route to the North Sea. There were five major battles and several smaller ones fought over the path to the sea. British and Commonwealth soldiers went through the gates with 300,000 of them meeting their deaths, 90,000 of them with no known graves.

The arch was designed by Reginald Blomfield in 1921. One enters a barrel vaulted passage as traffic through the mausoleum honors the Missing. There is a lion atop the arch, representing both Britain and Flanders. There is a large Hall of Memory with the names of 54,395 Commonwealth soldiers who died in the Salient but whose bodies were never found. It was originally planned to contain more names, but it was found to be too small and many of the rest of the names are memorialized at Tyne Cot Memorial to the Mission. The Gate was built by the War Graves Commission and as always, not everyone approved. It should be noted, that even now, remains of long dead soldiers are found in the field surrounding Ypres.

When the Gate opened, the citizens wanted to express their thanks to the men and boys who had sacrificed so much so that they might be free. As a symbol of that gratitude, at 8 PM, they played “Last Post”, the British military bugle call to the end of the day. This ceremony has been conducted daily since July 2, 1928 except during World War II when the Germans occupied the region. At that time, the ceremony was held at Brookwood Military Cemetery in Surrey, England. On the day the Polish troops entered town to evict the Germans, the ceremony began again, even as fighting continued in other part of Ypres. On certain days of the year, an Extended Last Post ceremony is held. Their schedule can be found here.

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. – John F. Kennedy

Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow. – Melody Beattie

Gratitude changes the pangs of memory into a tranquil joy. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Gratitude is the most exquisite form of courtesy. – Jacques Maritain