It could be said that the almost unassuming Belgian town of Ypres was amongst the most strategically important locations in the Great War that raged into life on European soil exactly 100 years ago. Over the course of four years and throughout several major battles, the road that winds its way through the town continued to carry Allied soldiers eastwards; towards both the firing lines of the Western Front and to an uncertain future. Many never returned, but the names that now adorn the colossal Portland stone plaques that line the walls of the Hall of Memory ensure they will never be forgotten.
Designed and built to commemorate the tens of thousands of Commonwealth soldiers who fell on the Ypres Salient, the Menin Gate stands as an enduring and evocative symbol of those who died in the ferocious fighting – beautiful yet sombre, subtle yet stoic, and all whilst being understated. The memorial was designed by British architect Reginald Blomfield and he is known to have called this ‘monument to remembrance’ one of only three personal works he wished to be remembered by.
A stroll through the interior of the gates, on the same path the soldiers would have taken a century ago, reveals a cathedral-like interior, with room enough for the main road to thread its way through the arches and carry cars on their way out of the town. The motors are silenced for an hour every day, however, as traffic is stopped and the sound of buglers playing the ‘Last Post’ fills the air. A tradition tracing back to 1928 – and stopped for only one extended period on account of the Second World War – it is observed year round by locals, tourists, relatives and interested observers alike.