Saturday was a free day to enjoy Ieper with, amongst other things, its Cloth Hall Museum, its wonderful market and ramparts walk. It is not advisable to try to speak Flemish so why not practice your French whilst here – you will find the locals will answer you in perfect English! Ieper is a tourist town a little bigger than Diss, made famous of course by the Last Post Ceremony that takes place at the Menin Gate at 8pm every evening, 365 days a year. As you tour the chocolate shops, cafes etc, you notice suddenly that there is not a single shop selling the usual tourist tat. As I have said, the town and its people are far too proud and dignified for that.
At 8pm we were to be given the honour of taking part in the wreath laying ceremony at the Menin Gate and we were lucky enough to have two WW2 veterans with us to carry this out on our behalf. Here too we were to lay our second wreath to a Gislingham man; this time remembered as one of over 100,000 missing on the Salient. Private W. Gray, grandfather to Peter Gray of Bungalow Farm. We were asked to be in position by 7.30pm because so many people would be there and our position was to be one of prominence so that we could also see everything. To a man and woman we arrived by 7.30pm. At about 7.55pm we were offered the honour of reading the Exhortation. Remembering our old Service training – never volunteer – we three veterans took one pace smartly backwards thus leaving good old Margaret in front, who duly agreed to say it!
Several hundred people crowd under the Menin Memorial on a Saturday night, including members of our armed forces. To hear the buglers playing the Last Post and the reading of the Exhortation is as moving an experience as many will ever have. The acoustics are fantastic and this brings a tear to many an eye as you fully realise why you are there – FOR YOUR TODAY WE HAVE GIVEN OUR TOMORROWMargaret was great and it was only afterwards that she shook like a leaf, having realised the enormity of what she’d done. There are some great photos of the Last Post at Menin Gate here