The Iconic Towns of Ypres and Verdun

Ypres was the British Symbol of sacrifice as Verdun was to the French. The Menin Road being the British equivalent of the French Voie Sacree (The Sacred Way) at Verdun. Hill 60 and Passchendaele were enshrined as a symbol of resolute resistance and valour as were forts Vaux and Douaumont at Verdun for the French.

Winston Churchill said “I should like to acquire the whole of the ruins of Ypres – a more sacred way for the British does not exist”. He wanted to purchase the town after the 1918 Armistice as a lasting memorial to the sacrifice at Ypres. The Belgian government and the Ypres population argued it would make a far better memorial if the town was returned to its former glory.

The Ypres Salient was a 20 mile and 35 mile deep bulge in the Western Front and incorporated the town. Over the four years of war the Salient fluctuated from 2 to 8 miles from the centre of Ypres. The British were the main defenders of the town, and although it may have been strategically more beneficial to retreat, the politicians agreed to make a stand to defend and hold Ypres. The Germans never occupied Ypres during the Great War. In 1918 the town was almost completely destroyed, a pile of rubble, where it was stated a man on a horse could see an uninterrupted view from one end to the other. Reconstruction began in 1920, after temporary accommodation had been provided for the returning population. Within five years much of the rebuilding work for private housing and most public buildings and utilities had been finished. St. Martin’s Cathedral was rebuilt from its ruins under the leadership of the city architect Jules Coomans. Pre-1914 the spire had been a square tower, but during the reconstruction Coomans had plans to change the spire to a pointed one. When the new ”gothic” cathedral was finished in 1934 it had been built with a pointed spire. The cloisters and monastery gate to St. Martin’s Cathedral was one of the few structures which was not completely demolished by the end of the war. It was still standing while everything around it in the immediate vicinity was reduced to piles of rubble. It was restored in 1938. Work on the rebuilding of the Cloth Hall started in 1928 and the western wing and belfry tower were completed in 1934. The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing was designed by British architect Sir Reginald Bloomfield in 1921. It was built and is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and was unveiled on the 27th July 1927 to honour the missing who have no known graves. An arbitrary cut-off date of the 15th August 1917 was chosen  for the inclusion of names on the walls of the Menin Gate Memorial, and from that date onwards the missing were inscribed on the Tynecott Memorial to the Missing.


The “Last Post Ceremony”

A number of prominent citizens of Ypres decided that some way should be found to express the gratitude of the Belgian nation to those who died for its freedom and independence. The playing of ”The Last Post” is the traditional salute to the fallen warrior and originally local farmers, labourer’s etc. performed the “Last Post Ceremony”. They would meet up, arriving on bicycles, unstrap their bugles, play “The Last Post” and then go home. In 1928 the “Last Post Association” was founded and began performing the “Last Post Ceremony” at the newly completed Menin Gate. Traditionally, the buglers of the association are members of Ypres Voluntary Fire Brigade and they wear their uniform while performing the “Last Post Ceremony”. It is the aim of the “Last Post Association” to maintain this ceremony in perpetuity. The “Last Post Ceremony” is performed at 8.00 pm every evening, every day of the year. The local police close the road through the Menin Gate, and reopen the road upon completion of the ceremony. The only interruption to this ceremony was during the German occupation in the Second World War. The ceremony is also performed at 11.00 a.m. on Armistice Day, the 11th November, and is a tribute from the residents of Ypres to honour the fallen for the four years of sacrifice from 1914 – 1918, the war to end wars  :–




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