December 7th Ieper, Menin Gate and a free half day
The day started quietly with a check up on Hayley’s progress and then our commemorations at the Menin Gate. Hayley was hoping to be let out of hospital, 36 hours after an appendectomy!!, but her doctor decided that she needed one more day. This meant that Katie had the sole responsibility for commemorating Cyril Rigney, Rufus’ brother, who was lost during the Messines campaign near the Bethleem Cemeteries. She was not alone, however, as we had a total of 8 soldiers to commemorate here. Next to the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux this memorial holds the most names of Australian soldiers, therefore so many of ours are remembered here. The cold had returned as the previous day was a little warmer, and while there was no snow, the moat at the foot of the ramparts, where we conduct our commemorations, was frozen, as was the soil as we tried to place our commemorative cards in the ground. Tristan and Hamish made a quick dash back to the hotel to grab our trusty screwdriver, which had allowed us to penetrate the snow covered soil in the days before, and made sure that our cards would not blow around in the Arctic winds.
The commemorations were all done well and with due respect and feeling, however Flo’s story of her great, great Uncle Andrew, and of his brother who committed suicide the day after he returned to Australia brought tears to my eyes. As a veteran of 3 trips like myself, the stories do not get easier to tell. In fact the reverse is true. With better knowledge and information available, and a greater desire to find the whole story, more details emerge that add flesh and soul to the person we are remembering. Naturally I had to follow her with my commemoration for the day, so I was already emotional as I began to tell the story of Herbert Lancelot Place DCM. He was a young man who was awarded for bravery and leadership and who quickly rose through the ranks to become a lieutenant shortly before he was killed. The lost potential that he represented, like all of those men that we remember, not to mention the loss of their potential offspring, is a big part of the message that we hope that the students involved in this project start to comprehend. After our commemorations were complete I asked the students to spend some quiet time reflecting on all of the names on the memorial, to consider the sacrifice these men and their families and communities made, and to think about how they, the students, could best repay that sacrifice by living a full and rewarding life, being grateful for each day and making sure that they looked after those less fortunate then themselves.
After we had finished at the Menin Gate Anny lead us on a brisk walk around the ramparts of this ancient town. Many of the key points date back hundreds of years, and the history oozes out of the bricks. However the most poignant place for all was the Ramparts Cemetery which is on the side of the moat. With grass all round and a watery (icy) backdrop, this is one of the most serene places. We then made our way back to the centre of Ieper to get some lunch and for some of us to catch up on some long overdue washing, in a Laundromat!!!
DYLAN VAN DEN BRINK
This morning I did my last commemoration, Herbert Mobbs. I was very happy with how it all went and hopefully it was enough to pay respect for all that he had done for us to live the lives that we have today.
Today we went to the Menin Gate to do some commemorations. After that Jurgsy said while you are walking around here try to think of every single name as potential lost. They could have been a father, brother or son and many did not get the chance to be a husband or father. They were farmers, labourers, stockmen, lawyers and so on. We never got to see what they could have been. Then this makes you think, “Are you worthy of their sacrifice?”
After our commemorations at the Menin Gate and a walk around the area, I, and some of the other girls, went to visit Hayley at the hospital. She is fine but they are keeping her there just to be safe. She seemed to brighten up a lot more when we walked into the room. It was good seeing her because I missed her.
Today I had my final commemoration; my great grandmothers uncle, Benjamin Crouch. The service took place at the Menin Gate where Benjamin was one of 55000 names of soldiers with no known grave.
Later in the evening we were to attend the Menin Gate Last Post ceremony and participate by saying the Ode and laying the wreath. Of course it wouldn’t be a CS Menin Gate ceremony without Flo singing the National Anthem. The key roles are decided by the students who vote for those that they wish to represent them in the ceremony. Nick and Lina were given the ultimate honour of saying the Ode while Tim and Molly laid the wreath. Jade and Oliver also place Australian flags with the wreaths. They all performed their roles with dignity and respect and yet again did themselves, their families their schools and their country proud.
Jade Newman (cont'd)
That night we took part in the Last Post Service. We voted for Nick and Lina to read the Ode, Tim and Molly to lay the wreath, and Oliver and myself to lay the Australian flags. It was an honour to be voted in by my peer and to take part in a public service. Flo sung the National Anthem, beautifully as always, then I placed a poppy next to Cliff's (Benjamin Crouch) name. My day, my last day of commemoration felt complete.
I believe that this trip has given me more confidence, as I am volunteering to do roles within public events like the Menin Gate Ceremony. Before this trip I would have hid in the furtherest corner when an opportunity like that came up.
Nick and I were dominating “Toy Story” on Xbox when we found out that we were reading the Ode together. I wasn’t nervous until I found out that Nick was. That made me nervous!! We’d practised a few times right up to the moment before. It was a fantastic opportunity to be able to participate in an important ceremony especially with a friend.
DYLAN VAN DEN BRINK (cont’d)
Later that day we went to the Menin Gate ceremony. Today we were lucky enough to help host it. We held the Australian and Ngarrindjeri flags while others laid wreaths and flags. Flo finished with a great performance of the National Anthem. What really took me away, however, were the buglers; their performance of the Last Post sent shivers down my spine.