‘We will remember them’: the Belgian town that falls silent every night

·3-min read

Row upon row of white headstones marking the graves of First World War fallen soldiers line cemeteries in the fields around Ypres in Belgium, with many bearing no names.

Tens of thousands of soldiers lost their lives in the fighting around the town a century ago and the people of Ypres have never forgotten.

The names of more than 54,000 men are inscribed on the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing near the entrance to the town, a giant monument to those whose graves are not known.

Every night the town, which was largely reduced to rubble during the war and was rebuilt, comes together to honour those who lost their lives in the Ypres Salient during the First World War.

Ahead of the burial of nine British soldiers, the Duke of Kent was among around 100 people lining the street that runs through the Menin Gate on Tuesday night.

Every evening at exactly 8pm, police halt traffic passing under the memorial arch to allow buglers of the Last Post Association to play their simple but moving tribute.

Carved into the side of the giant memorial, surrounded by lists of the fallen, the text reads: “Here are recorded names of officers and men who fell in Ypres Salient but to whom the fortune of war denied the known and honoured burial given to their comrades in death.”

First World War soldiers to be laid to rest
The nine British soldiers who served and died in the First World War, are laid to rest more than a century after their deaths with full military honours (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Silence falls as the buglers, wearing the uniform of the local volunteer fire brigade, play the Last Post.

Historically used to signal the end of the day’s labours and the onset of the night’s rest, the call has come to represent a final farewell to the fallen at the end of their earthly labours and at the onset of their eternal rest.

As in Remembrance services across the world, the famous lines from Laurence Binyon’s poem For The Fallen are read out, and those gathered echo the well known refrain: “We will remember them.”

The unique homage ends with the buglers playing the Reveille, a call historically played at the beginning of the day, to rouse the troops from slumber and to call them to their duties.

The Duke of Kent joined the poignant tribute ahead of the burial of nine First World War soldiers (Gareth Fuller/PA)
The Duke of Kent joined the poignant tribute ahead of the burial of nine First World War soldiers (Gareth Fuller/PA)

In the context of the Last Post Ceremony it symbolises not only a return to daily life at the end of the ceremony, but also the ultimate resurrection of the fallen on the Day of Judgment.

The ceremony began on July 2 1928 and has continued for nearly a century.

When the town was occupied by the Germans in the Second World War the service was conducted in England.

On the evening that Polish forces liberated Ypres in September 1944, the ceremony was resumed at the Menin Gate despite parts of the town still seeing heavy fighting.

With the passage of time, the meaning of the ceremony has become broader and deeper.

The bugles no longer remember simply the fallen of the British Commonwealth, but also their comrades-in-arms from Belgium, France and many other allied nations.

The Last Post Association’s website adds: “We remember, too, that many died on the other side of No Man’s Land: enemies then, but partners now in a united Europe.

“In this sense, the Last Post Ceremony is not only a mirror reflecting Europe’s troubled past, but also a beacon of hope for all our futures.”

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