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Haunting daily reminder of fallen

For many people, the Last Post is an annual marker, played once a year on Armistice Day as the war dead are remembered.

But in the Belgian town of Ypres, the haunting sound of the bugle sounds each night in a perpetual reminder of those who lost their lives in the First World War.

And to those who attend - residents or visitors - there is no escaping its emotional effects.

For one British-born resident of Ypres, the ceremony that has been in place since 1928 still brings tears to her eyes.

Eve Saynor, who has lived in the town for seven years, said: "People don't expect the feelings they have when they come here. I see people crying, I come here regularly and even I well up still."

Mrs Saynor, whose husband works for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, is a member of the Ypres branch of the Royal British Legion and turns out in the run-up to Armistice Day to collect for the Poppy Appeal.

The nightly ceremony attracts hundreds of visitors as each night, at 8pm, buglers from the local fire brigade play the last post and wreaths are laid in memory of those who died.

It is a tradition that has taken place every day since the memorial, which is dedicated to British and Commonwealth soldiers who died in the Ypres Salient during the First World War, was unveiled in 1927.

Nearly 55,000 names are engraved on the wall of the memorial commemorate Commonwealth soldiers who died in the Salient but whose bodies have never been identified or found.

After the memorial was opened in 1927, the citizens of Ypres started the tradition as a way of showing their gratitude for those who gave their lives for Belgium's freedom.

Other than the occupation by the Germans in the Second World War when it was conducted at Brookwood Military Cemetery, in Surrey, England, the has continued on uninterrupted since July 2 1928.

Mrs Saynor, 59, originally from Maidenhead, Berkshire, said: "This is organised by the Ypres people, the Last Post Association, and the ceremony, this remembrance service, is held on every night of every day every year and has done since the building of the gate."

She said there is growing interest in commemorating the dead from the First and Second World Wars, especially among younger generations as children learn about their grandparents and great- grandparents.

But she said the Last Post at the Menin Gate is always full, with huge crowds spilling into the road on November 11.

Of the emotional occasion that is held each night, she said: "People don't expect the feelings they have when they come here. I see people crying, I come here regularly and even I well up still.

"It's an emotional thing - so many people died to keep our country free, to keep Europe free.

"It isn't until you come here and to the Somme and you visit the cemeteries that you realised how many people died."

As buglers, drawn from the local fire brigade, play the Last Post, crowds of schoolchildren, local people and visitors of older generations, stand silently in the huge archway adorned with the names of the dead.

Wreaths are laid for relatives of those who died, and different regiments visit to give guards of honours for the war dead.

Visitors Richard Merton and his wife Tarn, both 78, from Ashby de la Zouch, Leicestershire, watched the ceremony for the first time just a few days before Armistice Day.

Mr Merton said: "My father was a horse gunner in the First World War in France and he subsequently fought in the Second World War where he was not quite so lucky - he was a guest of the Germans for the entire war.

"We visited many of the well-known battlefields from the Second World War and I thought it would be nice to come here with the advent of the anniversary of the First World War and pay respect to those who made the sacrifice on our behalf. That's why we have come.

"It's so well-known we said we should come and see it. I think it's wonderful they have kept it up."

He added: "I think the younger generation are beginning to appreciate through school tours and things what it all means and the importance of the past, and history.

"When you think there are 50,000 names up there it is staggering. It just brings home the enormity of it. We should never be allowed to forget what sacrifices have been made."


From Belfast Telegraph