I must have visted the battlefields of World War One a dozen times and afterwards each and every time I travel back home in silent awe. Sixty million soldiers called to arms. Ten percent perished.
Wait … WHAT?
If you would translate that to present times and current populations, either in the Netherlands or in Australia, it would mean we would be mourning 2 million deaths. And that’s just “us”.
We already start sending governments home when we would hit 1% of that. I know, because in Holland we seriously discussed the 24th soldier dying in Afghanistan.
Once you start digging into the names and backgrounds you find thousands of names form Australia and New Zealand. The Commonwealth at work in its darkest form.
Visiting Ypres (or “Ieper” in Dutch/Flemish) is really worth the effort. The surrounding countryside is littered with graveyards and memorials, silent witness to the incomprehensible horror that took place a century ago. The town is beautifully restored: most was destroyed beyond recognition by endless bombardments.
Since 1927 a ceremony is held at 20:00 at the Menin Gate, a triumph arch on which 54,000 names of Commonwealth soldiers who were never found have been inscripted. And in the rare instance that a body is recognized, the soldier will have a burial with full honours and this name is taken from the Menin Gate.
As far as I know, only three names were removed …
I have shared that emotional remembrance moment three or four times now and each time I am deeply touched by how many people still join. Great grandchildren connecting with their great grandfathers.
2016 … 30,000 evenings after the fact and remembrance still going strong. This shot is less than one minute after the ceremony ended … just a normal day, no special date. It makes you stop and think.