I have just arrived home from four days in Belgium attending the Passchendaele 100 services and events. I have to say what a privilege it was to be included.
The Menin Gate Service on the perfect evening of Sunday 30th August was poignant and moving. The King of the Belgians said in his speech: “And when a fresh breeze whispers through the arches, it touches something inside all of us. It is as if the fallen were telling us: we did this for you.” Later in his speech he said: “The bodies of thousands of soldiers who remained here forever became one with the earth. So your graves on our soil become our graves on your soil.”
There was beautiful music and singing throughout, the laying of wreaths by VIPs and by members of the fantastic National Citizen Service Graduates, and when the poppies were released it seemed entirely suitable that the breeze took them along the Menin Road – the direction to the front line.
After a reception at the Cloth Hall we took our seats for the the entertainment. The participants are well documented and the BBC coverage was excellent but my lasting memory is of the laser images on the the Cloth Hall combined with the voices of the veterans recalling their painful stories.
The Tyne Cot Service on Monday 31st August was well organised considering there were over 4000 people there. Again, the weather was perfect, the situation significant and the words very moving. The first voice from an Australian Officer who simply recalled the sacrifice of an Australian of 45th Battalion, D Company – the same unit as Spencer Parkes, whom I was representing. They must have known each other. Later, I was happy to balance a British legion Memorial Cross alongside Spencer on the Menin Gate. Among the moving readings was a letter from an Unknown German Officer to his mother, and then the laying of flowers on the two German Graves in the cemetery.
Every picture I have every seen of the Battle of Passchendaele depicts mud, death and grey, mud, death and grey – conditions which the 21st century mind finds almost impossible to imagine. But at the Canadian Memorial in the village of Passchendaele (now Passendale), from where I could see what would have been the ‘normal’ area north east towards Roeselare and what would have been the horror of the battlefield to west, there was a deep sense of contrast, of striving inches at a time through sludge to reach the heaven of clean ground.
Click on the picture to link photographs and short videos.
One thought on “Passchendaele 100 Commemorative Events”
Wished I could have attended but was with you in spirit especially when I caught a brief glimpse of you on TV on the march to The Menin Gate on Sunday. Reminded me of Gallipoli 100. Will have to buy you a pint and get some pointers for November.