Whitby High School

Battlefields Tour 18th - 21st March 2006


Flanders Field, Belgium - Sunday 19th March

Menin Gate, Ypres


Menin Gate

The Menin Road had been the main supply route from the town into the Salient. Sir Reginald Blomfield, the commissioned archiect, saw the site of the town gate, through which so many troops had passed, as the obvious site of the major memorial to the British and Empire missing from the battles around the town. Work began in 1923, and it was officially inaugurated in July 1927. It was meant to hold the names of all those with no known graves, but when designed the number was still not known. It turned out to be about 100,000, of which 54,896 are commemorated here. (The remaining are recorded at Tyne Cot - click link, left).




Every evening at 8.00 the traffic is stopped and buglers from the Ypres Fire Brigade blow the last post. This has happened every evening since 1928, with the exception of those years in the Second World War when the town was held by the Germans.

Click buglers to hear the Last Post

A few months before we left England for Belgium we arranged with the Last Post Association (who oversee the ceremony) for Whitby High School to take part in the Friday evening ceremony. After a meal at a restaurant next to the Cloth Hall, our party walked up to the gate which had now been cordoned off at each end by the police to prevent traffic passing through. By the time the buglers began their call, the crowd was several hundred strong.

It was a proud moment to see two Year 11 representatives from Whitby, in full school uniform, lead the proceedings. After a one minute silence, Holly Sanders and Nick Paulson (together with another visitor to the Gate) stepped forward to read the exhortation after which they led the wreath laying ceremony.

They shall not grow old as we who are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
WE WILL REMEMBER THEM.


Laurence Binyon 1869-1942

Taken from For The Fallen (4th stanza)
Click here for full poem firstworldwar.com


Siegfried Sassoon 1886-1967

Siegfried Sassoon is one of the greatest poets of the First World War. His early work gives the reader a sense of war as a noble enterprise; his later war poetry attacks the entire nature of war and those who profit by it. After the war he also published a series of fictional autobiographies in which he recounts his life before (Memoirs of a Fox Hunting Man), during (Memoirs of an Infantry Officer), and after (Sherston's Progress) the Great War.

After being wounded in April 1917 Sassoon was sent back to England for recuperation. He had developed increasingly angry feelings concerning the conduct of the war. He now published in The Times his famous anti war statement, "A Soldier's Declaration," written on June 15, 1917. It was even read before the House of Commons. It detailed how he felt that the war was being deliberately and unnecessarily prolonged by the authorities.

Sassoon narrowly avoided punishment by courts martial via the swift assistance of Robert Graves, who convinced the military review board (with Sassoon's reluctant consent) that Sassoon was suffering from shell shock. Consequently Sassoon was sent to Craiglockhart military hotel to recover. It was while at Craiglockhart that Sassoon met and struck up a friendship with Wilfred Owen. Sassoon subsequently edited and arranged publication of Owen's work after the war.

After the war Sassoon stayed angry and cynical and, could not forget his dreadful memories. When on July 24, 1927, in Ypres, Flanders, the Belgian king Albert inaugurated the new Menin Gate, Sassoon was there.

In this large memorial 54.896 names are inscribed - names of allied soldiers who died nearby but whose remains could not be identified, or who are still missing. ( Yet the memorial proved too small: 34.984 names were left over; these were inscribed on a wall a few miles away at the Tyne Cot war cemetery. )

At the opening ceremony the Last Post was sounded - to signify a call for the missing. ( every evening since then the Last Post was and will be sounded at this gate ). Sassoon witnessed it all and became bitter.

The next day, in his hotelroom in Brussels, he wrote the first words of a heartbreaking poem that he never dared to publish. It became known only after his death. He had been alone in his anger.

 

On Passing the New Menin Gate

Who will remember, passing through this Gate,
the unheroic dead who fed the guns ?
Who shall absolve the foulness of their fate, -
Those doomed, conscripted, unvictorious ones ?
    Crudely renewed, the Salient holds its own.
    Paid are its dim defenders by this pomp;
    Paid, with a pile of peace-complacent stone,
    The armies who endured that sullen swamp.

Here was the world's worst wound.
And here with pride
'Their name liveth for ever', the Gateway claims.
Was ever an immolation so belied
as these intolerably nameless names ?
Well might the Dead who struggled in the slime
Rise and deride this sepulchre of crime.

Siegfried Sassoon



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Updated 10th April 2006 by Mike Royden
The Whitby High School, Cheshire County Council.