The decorators finished early, and by 0605 on Saturday morning we were already on the continent, en route to Ypres (via Brugges) for an educational week-end in the killing fields of Flanders.
Ypres – or Ieper in Flemish but never wipers – is typically Belgian with narrow cobbled lanes that contrast the architectural modernity of a town that has clearly experienced re-development since its obliteration from heavy bombardment during the Great War. It also boasts the Menin Gate, where every night since 1920 (except for the war years, when the ceremony moved back to England) locals and tourists gather under this monument to watch wreaths being laid at the playing of the Last Post. I don’t think I have ever been in a more moving remembrance event and while the general mood was decidedly sombre, I also sensed something else … something equating to relief, you know that feeling you get after paying back a long-term debt. To the 37 thousand or so British and ANZACS soldiers whose names adorn the walls of this monument because their bodies have never been formally identified, found nor interred, we can but hope that in over 80 years that this ceremony has been running, the crowds have accrued enough dignity to put their souls at rest.
For The Fallen
by Laurence Binyon
With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.
Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall not grow old, as we that 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.
They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.
But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;
As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.
However, when it comes to understanding the true horror of this war, a visit to the museum at Sanctuary Wood aka Hill 62 is a must. If the stereoscopic photos, recovered munitions and miscellaneous memorabilia do not paint a clear enough picture of the 4 years of hell endured by the British forces in defence of the Western Front, then slip through the back door and walk in the trenches and/or potholes to get that first hand experience that I guarantee you will not acquire anywhere else. War, at best is ugly and horrific, but the First World War set a precedence for a shameless waste of human lives that has not and hopefully will never be surpassed.
For a change of scenery, we moved onto Brussels and checked into the Holiday Inn, set a stone’s throw from the chic shopping area of Avenue Louise. Earlier we had promised J2 seafood (mussels in particular) for dinner but not having the stamina to face the touts in Rue des Bouchers, we ate locally at Delire Parisien on rue Jordan, just off Ave Louise. Now this is great french cooking, with very friendly service in a setting that is convivial and spacious. The plats du jour promised l’Os a Moelle (bone marrow) which was quite delicious, but we were too late for the foie gras and pheasant, but found equally delectable alternatives a la carte – J in particular fell silent during her entree of Salade de chevre Chavignol with honey which she pronounced as simply excellent. Note: it seems that even in a French restaurant, the diner cannot escape the Belgian witloof (chicory or endive, depending on your linguistic persuasion). The one on my plate accompanying the rognon de veau was surprisingly tasty, perhaps a credit to chef who has managed successfully to present this rather mundane vegetable so that it actually invites ingestion Anyway, the Ch. Grand Bourdieu (Graves) we selected was perfect accompaniment to an outstanding meal, and afterwards we walked off the excesses by strolling into Sablon and taking in a compulsory beer at the Cafe Leffe!
The clocks may have gone back on Sunday morning, but we continued to enjoy summer temperatures as we setttled down to waffles and crepes for breakfast, around the corner from the Grand Place. Several chocolate shops later, we were ready for another break, this time at the Cafe de Bxl for a degustation de cinq bieres, which rounded off beautifully our little week-end in Flanders.
But during our time here, our thoughts were never far away from those men who fought and died that we may continue to enjoy the liberties and pleasures of this life. So boys and girls, remember this …
When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say,
For Their Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today.