Monday, 4 November 2013

The Flanders Field Memorial Garden in London

The following press release is from Geert De Proost, Representative of the Government of Flanders to the UK:


On Monday 11 November, sixty-two British and Belgian/Flemish schoolchildren will participate in a special ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ypres (Ieper) as part of the Flanders Fields Memorial Garden project.

The Flanders Fields Memorial Garden (under construction) is located alongside The Guards Chapel and the Guards Museum at the Wellington Barracks, near Buckingham Palace. The Garden will thus be at the heart of royal and military London, which is visited daily by thousands of people from all over the world and takes centre stage during each national British ceremony.

With the Memorial Garden, the Government of Flanders seeks to honour the British and Commonwealth soldiers and civilians who died during the First World War and to commemorate them in a suitable manner. The Memorial Garden is to serve as a lasting witness to hope, peace, reconciliation and international unity.

The Gathering of the Soil
What is unique about this garden is that the soil used for its creation has great symbolic significance. In an extraordinary project, called "The Gathering of the Soil", 62 schools from Flanders "adopted" 70 cemeteries from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) in Flanders and other parts of Belgium where Guardsmen who fought in the Great War are buried. Last September, in cooperation with the CWGC and under their professional guidance, the Flemish pupils dug up soil from the battlefields and took a symbolic shovel of earth from the plots of the 70 cemeteries.

The 62 Flemish schools were linked with 62 British schools, with the help of the Institute of Education (University of London). This institution has been selected to run the prestigious First World War Centenary Battlefield Tours Project announced by the Prime Minister, David Cameron in November 2012. The matching of the British and Belgian schools is the start of a lasting twinning; they were also invited to jointly set up educational projects during the next four years in the context of peace education and to stress the importance of commemorating the victims of the First World War, despite the fact that it took place 100 years ago.

The sandbags with soil from the 70 CWGC cemeteries are on display in the Ypres Cloth Hall where they can be viewed by the public until 10 November. For the first time in history, soil from the battlefields and from the cemeteries of Flanders Fields is brought together. In this way the fallen British soldiers are symbolically re-united after one hundred years.

On 9 November, 62 British school children and their teachers or parents will leave from St Pancras station to take the Eurostar to Brussels where they will be welcomed by the host family of their partner school. After spending the weekend together, all the schoolchildren will travel to the city Ypres where, on Monday 11 November, where a special programme has been put together for them, including a visit to the In Flanders Fields Museum and a guided tour around the city.

That same day, a special Last Post Ceremony will be organised under the Menin Gate, in collaboration with Ypres City Council, the Last Post Association, and the Belgian and British armies. In the presence of HRH Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Laurent from Belgium, Minister-President of the Government of Flanders Mr Kris Peeters, Minister of Defence Mr Pieter De Crem, the diplomatic corps and dignitaries from home and abroad, British and Flemish school children will carry the sandbags to the Menin Gate together with Belgian and British soldiers. The Band of the Coldstream Guards, as well as soldiers and officers of the seven regiments of the British Guards and an entire gun crew of the King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery will escort this special, symbolic soil.

At the end of November, the Belgian Navy will take the 70 sandbags to London on the frigate F931 Louise-Marie. On 29 November, Tower Bridge will be opened with full honours and the Louise-Marie will dock at the HMS Belfast. On 30 November, the soil of Flanders Fields will be solemnly handed over to The Royal Navy and subsequently to the British Army who will transport the soil with the necessary decorum to Wellington Barracks. The soil in the sandbags will be incorporated in the Flanders Fields Memorial Garden before the official inauguration in the autumn of 2014.

(With thanks to Geert De Proost)


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1 comment:

  1. Don't know about anyone else, but that gathering of the soil element sends a shiver down my spine.