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Remembering the dead 'vital'


One of the most well-known memorials is the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium

One of the most well-known memorials is the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium

One of the most well-known memorials is the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium

Remembering the dead of the First and Second World Wars is vital in helping prevent future conflict, a director from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) has said.

Ian Hussein, director for the commission's France and Northern Europe Area, said the act of remembering the dead of the First and Second World War, was an important message in helping avoid future wars.

Mr Hussein said there is inevitably a surge in visitors to the commission's sites as people prepare to mark Armistice Day.

The CWGC maintains 23,000 sites in 153 countries, including across France and northern Europe, and preparation is under way ahead of the influx of visitors, he said.

Describing the remembrance period as "highly significant", he said: "It's to pay tribute to those who gave their lives but also to remember this is part of our history.

"It's very important to understand what happened, why it happened and what can be done in the future to prevent future conflict."

Mr Hussein, 49, said work is under way all year round to keep high standards at sites ready for visitors but with numbers up over the remembrance period, extra effort is made.

"During this remembrance period the number of visitors does increase quite significantly.

"There are very large numbers going through some of our cemeteries and invariably seeking to trace the same route.

"We make sure that in the lead-up to this period these areas are in the best condition they can be to prepare for that high number of visitors."

One of the most well-known memorials is the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium, where nearly 55,000 names engraved on its walls commemorate Commonwealth soldiers who died in the Ypres Salient but whose bodies have never been identified or found.

Every night at 8pm the Last Post is sounded at the memorial as crowds gather to remember the dead.

Mr Hussein, from Hackney, east London, who now lives in Ypres, said: "Since 1927 the Last Post has been sounded here at the Menin Gate by the Last Post Association, people of Ypres, paying respect to those who fell here in the Ypres Salient during the First World War."

He said visitors come from across the world, and spanned generations, from "coachloads of children" on educational visits, to descendants of those who died in the First World War.

"I was amazed recently to meet a son whose father died in the First World War and it was quite an experience here under the Menin Gate to have a conversation with him. It was quite a privilege."

He added: "It's amazing here every evening at 8pm to see the crowds - quite literally some evenings there are thousands.

"Anyone who hasn't been to the Menin Gate, I would highly recommend it. It's a very moving experience and each evening is very unique."

Mathieu Mottrie, vice chairman of the Last Post Association, which organises the daily ceremony, agreed that the act of remembering the deaths of so many people would hopefully help avoid any similar tragedy in the future.

The 42-year-old, whose grandfather was one of the people who decided to sound the Last Post each day in memory of the dead, said: "The aim was to continue this, to do it at least once for every fallen, which is nearly in perpetuity. I think if we do it every night it will be until 2300 or something.

"I think still everybody, the local citizens, are behind the idea of giving something back for the fallen, for all those people who came from Commonwealth countries who fought here."

By July 9, 1915 - midway through the centenary period marking 100 years since the First World War - the bugle will have sounded at the Menin Gate 30,000 times.

And Mr Mottrie said it remained an emotional occasion every night.

"You often see after the ceremony young people, 13, 14, 15 in each other's arms crying, because they are moved by the ceremony.

"It has so many emotional effects."

An average of 200-250,000 people come to the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate each year, he said, making an average of around 600 per evening, with numbers swelling to up to 7,000 people on Armistice Day.

He said: "I think it's very important - to give the message to people not to forget what happened here 100 years ago and try to learn from it.

"It's important that people come over and join this commemoration - this simple commemoration ceremony - to pass on the message."

And he said there is no sign of the tradition stopping: "I always tell people that our efforts are nothing compared to the efforts that people made 100 years ago, the soldiers.

"It's no problem to motivate ourselves, and to keep it going."

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