Sunday evening and we have rested from our walk today. We have all changed back into our uniforms and after a quick practice of our formation we line up and start our walk through the streets of Ypres. We haven’t even made it out of the doors of the hotel and we are stopped by some guests for some photos.
Off we go again, in a 3×3 ( actually more a 3 x 3 x 3x 2 ) group we make our way along the cobbles. We walk along past the Cloth Hall, an impressive cathedral like structure. A lady rushes past us and stops a few metres in front of us, camera poised to catch us passing her. We offer to stop so she can get the best image. She thanks us and informs us she is a nurse herself and in-fact the head of Nurse Training at a college in Wales. She thanks us again and we return to our journey.
There are lots of people in the streets as usual, all heading towards the Menin Gate for the last post ceremony that is performed every night. We are getting alot of attention as we walk along the street. We turn round a corner and there it is. A beautiful archway at the top of the cobbled road, lit up and swarming with people. All trying to get the best position for the ceremony. The columns and sides are engraved with thousands of names, all are men that have fallen in WW1 and have no known grave, this is their memorial so that they will never be forgotten. It is breathtaking.
We arrive at the outer edge of the crowd, everyone is watching us. We walk proudly through the archway and into the centre of the memorial. Here we chat with the marshals of the ceremony and they tell us where we need to stand. We move to the side and form up ready. We are first, the people who were meant to be before us have not turned up. Now we must wait about 15 minutes for the start of the ceremony, it feels like 15 hours!
A disembodied voice silences the crowd, it is very eerie to suddenly go from the voices of a thousand people to silence. The speaker welcomes everyone and asks that they remain silent throughout the ceremony. Someone’s mobile phone rings…a few seconds for them to find it and silence it then we begin.
The buglers play The Last Post, the sound echoes round the memorial. While they play the crowd does not make a sound, all you can hear is the sound of hundreds of camera shutters softly clicking. Now footsteps as Tracey McRory walks into the centre. She is a musician from Ireland and she has composed a special piece of music for us titled Roses Of No Mans Land. This she now plays. Her violin sings the haunting notes around the crowd slowly. Once finished she steps back and joins our group, she will make up the 4th line of our group.
The exhortation is read by another of our group and then once she has rejoined us the marshal nods to Beverley. The first 3 step forward. They cross the centre of the memorial and on the other side climb the steps ahead of them. Once at the top they stop. Beverley now steps forward and lays the wreath, salutes, steps back and the group then return. As they are on the way back down the steps the next 3 proceed and repeat the process, this time Jennifer lays a wreath. Twice more with Suzanna and Tracey laying wreaths. We rejoin the line of wreath layers, all the time the crowd has watched our every move.
It takes another 10 minutes or so for the other participants of the ceremony to lay their wreaths. Once they have all finished the buglers sound the end of the ceremony, the standard bearer raises the flag and everyone is finished. The crowd starts to move and talk again and we all feel honoured for having taken part in the ceremony.
Suddenly we are like celebrities, everyone wants to take our picture. It is very surreal. It takes about half an hour for everyone to finish lining us up and taking our picture. We do manage to get a lovely group shot with the buglers. We can now relax and feel extremely proud of ourselves for our achievement.
Now we head back to The Ariane Hotel for a wonderful meal that the owners have put on for us.
(images in this post courtesy of Beverly Gall )