The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are visiting Belgium for a two-day visit to attend commemorations marking the centenary of the first day of Passchendaele, the third Battle of Ypres.
Commemorations began this evening with a ceremony at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial.
William spoke movingly at the Menin Gate monument “Today, the Menin Gate records almost 54,000 names of the men who did not return home; the missing with no known grave. Members of our families; our regiments; our nations; all sacrificed everything for the lives we live today. During the First World War Britain and Belgium stood shoulder to shoulder. One hundred years on, we still stand together, gathering as so many do every night, in remembrance of that sacrifice.”
The relationship between Britain and Belgium is an incredibly special one, something William evoked in the saying: “100 years on we stand together.” Britain entered the First World War to defend Belgian neutrality. A quarter of all the British and empire servicemen who died in the war lost their lives in that area.
The third Battle of Ypres, known as Passchendaele, began in the early hours of 31st July 1917. Its primary objective was to dislodge German forces from the high ground around the city of Ypres (now Ieper) and then advance to Belgian coastal ports from where German U-boats threatened Allied shipping. Men from virtually every corner of Britain’s then empire took part. They faced well-established enemy defences and heavy rain that turned the battlefields into a muddy quagmire. Many drowned in the thick liquid mud. It was summed up in poet Siegfried Sassoon’s line: “I died in hell, they called it Passchendaele.” The conditions at Passchendaele are among the most enduring images of the First World War.
The offensive ended after the capture of Passchendaele village by Canadian forces on 10th November. By the battle’s end, the Allied forces had advanced a mere eight kilometres. The human cost was appalling – an estimated 500,000 men on both sides had been killed, wounded, were captured or missing.
They heard the ‘Last Post’, which has been played at the gate by a bugler almost every evening since 1928. The sounding of the bugle call remembers all the men who fought and fell fighting for the restoration of peace around Ypres during the First World War.
The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing is dedicated to the British and Commonwealth soldiers who were killed in the Ypres Salient of World War I and whose graves are unknown. The memorial is located at the eastern exit of the town and marks the starting point for one of the main roads out of the town that led Allied soldiers to the front line. It was unveiled in 1927.
Here is a look at one of the walls containing names of the fallen.
The Royals watched as over fifty-four thousand poppies fell, one for every name on the Menin Gate..
Next, William and Kate visited the Market Square in Ypres with Philippe and Mathilde for an event telling the story of the four years of war on the Salient.
The incredible event featured performances and music set to a backdrop of light projections onto the historic Cloth Hall. The projection of veterans was enormously powerful and evocative.
Tomorrow, 31st July the couple will be joined by The Prince of Wales as they take part in further commemorations.