Danny Breslin

How it is…

The Last Post

No, don’t panic, the title doesn’t mean that this is the last you’ll be hearing of Danny Breslin, I’ve got far too much to moan about to just let it go like that. The Last Post I am referring to is the ceremony that takes place every evening at 8 o’clock at the Menin Gate in Ieper (that’s a capital ‘i’ by the way, it doesn’t say LEPER!), a place more familiar to some of you as Ypres. So now we leave Croisilles and head north, ever north.

We drove towards Belgium, a country I have had a great affection for that has lasted many years. I had offered to take my turn at the wheel, an offer that was turned down by a loud “NO!” Neil tried to be diplomatic by saying that he hadn’t put me on the insurance, but the real reason was that Teresa has been terrified of my driving since many years ago I took her old Mini around a traffic island on half the wheels the manufacturers intended to be touching the road. I don’t know what her problem is, the car didn’t roll. I get where I need to go safely, just a little sooner than she would. There was no way I would be allowed to drive the hire car so the chances of me getting my hands on the steering wheel of her BMW are very remote indeed, even though I have offered to show her what it can actually do. Some people eh?

I sat in the back watching the French countryside roll past. I spent the time reflecting on what I had felt in the military cemetery, I didn’t want to discuss it with the others because I struggle to voice my feelings; I can write it, I just can’t say it. If they wanted to talk to me about it then that’s fine, I can listen and empathise, but I can’t do emotion, I won’t do emotion.

We reached the border and carried on through, I remember the time being held up at that border on the way back into France for about two hours while they searched the coach for contraband. Another story for another day. Border controls in Europe aren’t what they were so there was no stopping. I told Teresa you could always tell when you had gone from France into Belgium because the cows faced the other direction. She asked me what I meant by the other direction then told me to shut up because she realised I was being a git.

We reached Ieper and got our first sight of the Menin Gate, standing at the starting point of a main road that the Allies used on their way to the front. It was easy to find our hotel, the Novotel Ieper Centrum, it was just off the town square. We dumped our stuff and headed into the square to get something to eat. There was a cafe there with tables outside so we sat and ordered some food and watched the world go by for an hour. I love Ieper, it has a resilience to it, a backbone. Twice it has been flattened and yet phoenix-like it has been rebuilt again and still stands proud and defiant. The superb architecture, lovingly reproduced, is stunning.

Ieper town square

As you can tell I’m no photographer, this photo is probably the best of a bad bunch, but I hope this gives you some idea.

The others headed into the museum in the square and I went off to do my own thing which mostly consisted of getting my head down for an hour. I think the exertions of actually feeling emotion, and struggling to hide it, took alot out of me. It’s not easy being British you know!

That evening we took a stroll down to the Menin Gate, we went early to give us a chance to explore a little bookshop we had spotted earlier. All the books in there seemed to be about the two world wars. There were also many items to buy that had been fashioned out of shell casings, bullets etc. Leo told me he thought it was in bad taste, to some extent I agreed; these things were not intended as ashtrays or flower vases, they were designed to kill people. These quirkey little conversation pieces may have deprived a families of loved ones. Just an opinion anyway.

We walked to the gate, I’m really going to struggle here with the description of the monument I am talking about, I don’t know if my words can do it justice so I would urge you to go and visit if you get the chance, have a look for yourself. It is a huge stone monument, on it is enscribed the following dedication:

“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 Menin Gate

This photo shows just one panel of names. On every part of the walls, covering the entire inside of the gate are names of men and their regiments. Men from all over the world who gave their lives but were deprived of a resting place. You know that expression “it took my breath away”? I’ve come to realise that it is one that is overused because this actually stopped me breathing. Thousands and thousands of names of those without graves; 54,896 to be exact. Yet when it was finished in the 1920’s it was discovered that it was not nearly big enough to contain all the names it needed to. It was decided that only the missing killed  before 15th August 1917 would be honoured here, the rest – another 34,984 – were honoured at the Tyne Cot memorial, which we visited the next day and I will describe soon. These figures do not include the missing of New Zealand and Newfoundland who have their own memorials elsewhere.

Can you imagine a situation where there were so many killed yet their remains have never come to light? To this day they are still digging up the remains of the fallen in the battlefields of the Ypres Salient. So many lives wasted yet still the public were buoyed by songs like “Oh what a lovely war.”

The ceremony is a little different every night, the one we attended had a choir that sang the National Anthems of Great Britain, Canada and Australia; and hymns: “Abide With Me” and “I Vow to Thee My Country”. The four buglers played the Last Post and the sizeable crowd that had gathered stood in silence, both young and old bowed heads together. All were moved.

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November 19, 2012 - Posted by | Travel | , , , , , , , , ,

5 Comments »

  1. The title was an OMGoodness moment when I read it 🙂

    Comment by flyingbubbles | November 20, 2012 | Reply

    • Nah, I’ll be around for as long as I have fingers with which to tap.

      Comment by Danny Breslin | November 20, 2012 | Reply

  2. Great post! Hats off to those gallant soldiers who gave all they had!
    Salute!
    the collies and chuck 🙂

    Comment by colliesofthemeadow | November 27, 2012 | Reply

  3. […] already told you about things that happened in Germany (my favourite story ever), France and Belgium, special memories from India and almost causing a bloodbath in Tunisia. And if you’ve […]

    Pingback by Bogged down « Danny Breslin | November 15, 2013 | Reply


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