On November 11, 1997, we had the extremely emotional experience of attending a Memorial Day service at the iconic Menin Gate in the Flanders Fields town known as Ieper in Belgian and as Ypres in French. It was from this spot that thousands of World War One soldiers set off to battle in what was known as the Ypres Salient.
Old soldiers marched proudly while bands played and crowds surged to share in remembrance of all who had fallen.
Built in 1927 in the form of a Roman triumphal arch, its stone walls are engraved with the names of nearly 55,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers lost in the field of battle but with no known graves.
Canadian names were prominent but none were seen from Newfoundland although the Newfoundland Regiment – including Madeline’s father Richard Roche – also fought there. Buglers have played The Last Post on this site at 8 p.m. every day since the Memorial Gate was erected.
Poignant moments marked the showering of poppy petals into the Memorial.
A nearby site of special interest to Canadians is the St. Julien Memorial and park located in the village of Saint-Julien, Langemark. It commemorates the Canadian First Division’s participation in the Second Battle of Ypres of World War I which included fighting in the face of the first poison gas attacks along the Western Front. The tall imposing structure is surmounted by Frederick Chapman Clemesha’s sculpture, the Brooding Soldier.
Driving through that whole area, and the valley of the Somme, was a sad and sobering experience, seeing almost countless numbers of headstones in huge memorial parks honouring those who had fought and died in what was supposed to be the war to end all wars.