Passchendaele centenary: the Menin Gate inauguration ceremony – archive, July 1927

How the Guardian reported the unveiling of the Menin Gate first world war memorial to British and Commonwealth soldiers who lie in unknown graves

The ceremony marking a century since the Battle of Passchendaele was held at the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium. The unveiling of this memorial to more than 54,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers who lie in unknown graves took place 90 years ago, on 24 July 1927.

At the Menin Gate
Yesterday’s unforgettable ceremony in Ypres: A Women’s pilgrimage
From our special correspondent
25 July 1927

Ypres, Sunday,
When all we English who flood to-day this town of imperishable memories have departed and Ypres recovers its accustomed calm, when the deep peace of the Flanders landscape enfolds again our hundred cemeteries, and the fall of an English foot is seldom heard, then will this strong and beautiful arch raised by loving English hands at the Menin Gate speak impressively for the many thousands of our race who lie forever in this alien soil. We shall leave them now feeling that they are less lonely.

From the summit of the memorial a lion couchant looks eastward across the battlefield towards Zonnebeke. It is nobly alert yet free from any hint of arrogance. It dominates the memorial and seems to promise for an absent people an unwearying solicitude for the resting-places of its fallen. Through weakness and folly we may have realised few of the ends which we proposed to ourselves for their sake, but we remember. At least we are not likely to fail in that, one reflected during to-day’s unforgettable ceremony.

The Gathering at the Gate.
We gathered at the Gate this morning, a great multitude drawn from both races, British and Belgian. There was every sort and condition of Englishwoman there. They came from the Home Counties, from the shires, and from the industrial North. Scotland sent its own proud host, and Wales and Ireland theirs. People from the Dominions, and particularly Canada, who gave so many of her finest young men to the defence of St. Julien, were to be found sprinkled sparsely among the crowd’s. The Belgian populace occupied the remoter points of vantage.

One has said of our own people that they were of all sorts and conditions. Indeed, one cannot recall any other post-war occasion that has brought together in complete unity of spirit such diverse social elements. To borrow an expressive French phrase, it seemed like the Union Sacred of the war all over again.

It is no pleasant thought that that Union of all classes which once appeared to hold promise of permanence can now only flash into transient being before a cenotaph or a Menin gate. We all poured towards the gate together to-day in an atmosphere of mutual kindliness – officers of high rank and ex-soldiers of no rank, poor women brought over from half the towns of Great Britain by the Ypres League, and well-bred women pressing forward on the arms of their menfolk with wreaths to be placed at the arch. Only this distinguished the two orders of women: the one had come over at its leisure and in every circumstance of comfort, the other had made the journey without sleep in one night and were now visibly wearied. Only that fighting resolution of the English working woman carried many of them through the final ordeal at the arch.

Through the Arch.
It was an almost perfect day. The sun shone, flooding the scene with that quality of light which you find in a Hobbemeyer. Wherever new-quarried Portland stone stood in relief it was touched to a bright radiance. The virgin whiteness of this vaulted arch carries with it such a suggestion of purity that it is almost as easy to believe that it might have descended from above as been prised from below. Through the vault and just those interminable lists of names incised on the walls and surrounding loggias we all had to pass, for the unveiling was performed before the eastern side, which confronts not the town, but the Salient.

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Manchester Guardian, 25 July 1927.
Manchester Guardian, 25 July 1927. Photograph: The Guardian

Speeches were made by King Albert of Belgium, and Field Marshall Lord Plummer, who told the assembled families of the fallen, “He is not missing. He is here.” A Guardian editorial stated, “In form it is a triumphal arch, but just inscribed with the name of these unburied dead; in spirit it is a monument to the vanity of military glory and of deep contrition for their sake.”


Richard Nelsson

The GuardianTramp

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