Battlefields soil added to garden
Soil from the First World War battlefields of Flanders was today blessed and added to a memorial garden which will mark next year's 100th anniversary of the start of the conflict.
Seventy sandbags of "sacred soil" which arrived in London yesterday were taken by gun carriage from HMS Belfast to Wellington Barracks, where the Flanders Field Memorial Garden is being created.
The 1.5 ton carriage of the King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery, drawn by six colour matched black Irish Draught horses, crossed Tower Bridge, and went through the heart of the capital escorted by mounted troops past such national landmarks as St Paul's Cathedral and Buckingham Palace.
The soil was blessed in a ceremony at the Guards' Chapel before eight-year-old Patrick Casey from Barnet was given the honour of pouring a crucible of soil taken from all the battlefields into the heart of the garden.
The bags had been delivered yesterday by the Belgian Navy frigate Louise-Marie, which sailed through Tower Bridge, opened fully in recognition of the event.
The frigate berthed alongside HMS Belfast, and the sandbags were "cross-decked", or moved, to the quarterdeck of the British ship by Belgian naval ratings and members of Number 7 Company Coldstream Guards.
The ceremony was conducted in the presence of the Minister-President of Flanders, Kris Peeters, and Defence Minister Lord Astor.
Lord Astor said later that it was very important that we continue to honour those who fell.
"They were killed for our freedom, they paid a very high price for that, and we are enjoying the freedom now. I thought it was a very moving ceremony."
Trooper Russell Jarman, 29, from Braunton, North Devon, who rode in the procession, said: "My great grandfather was in the Royal Horse Artillery and served in the First World War. During the battle he went into No Man's Land to save the gun and horses that were caught in the shelling.
"He brought the horses back to safety but was fatally wounded in the process. He was awarded a posthumous medal for bravery.
"He was the inspiration for me joining the cavalry. I work with horses every day, and every day think of him and what he must have gone through in Flanders. Riding with the gun carriage today was an emotional moment for me."
Patrick Casey said: "I had to pick up the casket then go over the grass, and tip it out. It made me proud and excited."
Asked if it was important to remember what happened 100 years ago, he said: "Yes, because they risked their life for us."
The garden, designed by Belgian architect Piet Blanckaert, will be opened officially on Remembrance Sunday 2014.