Visiting the Menin Gate, Ypres, Belgium: Poignant Remembrance of World War One Sacrifice in Flanders
The Last Post still resonates here
This stately structure in Ypres (Dutch: Ieper ), Belgium, which is sometimes known as the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing, has been the venue for a moving musical ceremony for many decades, in commemoration of the war dead of the British Empire and Commonwealth. Often under the respectful gaze of many visitors, the Last Post is played by bugle under the arch of the Menin Gate, the design of the arch particularly lending itself to the reverberation of a striking echo.
Its official citation reads:
To the armies of the British Empire who stood here from 1914 to 1918 and to those of their dead who have no known grave.
The memorial gate was inaugurated in 1927 and, except for the interval of World War Two, during the Nazi German occupation of Belgium, regular bugle commemorations have been held here since 1928. Indeed, loyal Belgians recommenced the bugle tradition again in 1944 on the day that German troops were hastily vacating the town.
The memorial arch was designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield, the architect for many famous buildings. Atop the triumphal arch, a limestone lion is a symbol of both Great Britain and Flanders.
It is the interior as much as the exterior structure that is so striking. Inside the cavernous arch, a painstaking attempt has been made to record the names of some of the many thousands of fallen British and Commonwealth troops who fell without a known grave.
It is noteworthy also that, when, finally, the masons ran out of space at the Menin Gate to put all such names, this work continued at the Tyne Cot Memorial, near Ypres.
Prominent personalities to have attended commemorative ceremonies here in recent years have included Great Britain's Prince Philip and Belgium's Prince Laurent.
A note on spelling
In Ypres itself, within the Belgian province of West Flanders (West-Vlaanderen ), the town is known in Dutch as Ieper . The form Ypres , was originally the French spelling, but I am using it here because it is almost universally used as the English spelling of a place which has had a deep impact on British and Commonwealth history, and not as any implied statement about Belgian linguistic politics. Likewise, the name Menin Gate is, in Dutch, De Menenpoort , whereas the spelling Menin, referring to a town in the same province of West Flanders, was originally the French spelling, but I am using it here simply because very widespread references in English to this historically significant structure have employed this spelling. In Belgium, matters of place-name orthography tend to be asserted intensely and Belgian linguistic purists, to whom I pay my cordial respects, are begged indulgence.
Also worth seeing
In Ypres (Dutch: Ieper ) itself, St George's Memorial Church , also designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield and opened in 1929, is well worth seeing, and complements a visit to the Menin Gate. The Cloth Hall (Dutch: Lakenhal or Lakenhalle ) is an impressive building originally completed in 1304, but badly damaged in World War One and subsequently rebuilt. Its belfry is a local landmark. The Cloth Hall houses the In Flanders Field Museum, which focuses on World War One.
The Tyne Cot Memorial , Passchendaele , Belgium (modern Dutch: Passendale ; distance: 13 kilometres) is the Commonwealth's largest war memorial. Passendale is also noted for its Cheese Festival.
Poperinge , Belgium (distance: 13 kilometres) has the Talbot House museum, with memories of World War 1, which was the venue of the founding of the TOC H charity. Poperinge has a number of Medieval churches, and a neo-Gothic Town Hall (Dutch: Stadhuis ).
Ploegsteert , Belgium (distance: 16 kilometres) has a large Commonwealth war memorial, and associations with Sir Winston Churchill, who served here in World War One.
Menen , Belgium (distance: 23 kilometres) is situated on the edge of Dutch-speaking region of Flanders, and possesses an interesting octagonal tower, which dates from the 17th century, on its Town Hall.
Bruges , Belgium (Dutch: Brugge ; distance: 72 kilometres) offers numerous cultural treasures and instances of both ecclesiastical and secular dating from Medieval times. Its 83 metre Belfry has been a major landmark since the Middle Ages. A canal tour can be a useful way for the visitor to become better acquainted with this outstanding city.
Sint Anna ter Muiden , The Netherlands (distance: 91 kilometres) is small, picturesque village which has the distinction of being the westernmost locality of the continental Netherlands. The nearby canal town of Sluis has an interesting belfry.
Calmeynbos , Belgium (distance: 37 kilometres); situated near the border with France, this nature reserve has several kilometres of walks.
How to get there: Brussels Airlines flies from New York to Brussels Airport (Brussel Nationaal / Bruxelles-National ), from where car rental is available. Brussels (distance: 137 kilometres) is the nearest large airport to Ypres/Ieper. The Belgian railroad company NMBS/SNCB maintains a service between Brussels and Ypres. Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Please refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada