Menin Gate

The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing is one of four British and Commonwealth memorials to the missing in the battlefield area of the Ypres Salient in Belgian Flanders. The memorial bears the names of 54,389 officers and men from United Kingdom and Commonwealth Forces (except New Zealand and Newfoundland), who fell in the Ypres Salient before 16th August 1917 and who have no known grave.

The names are engraved in Portland Stone panels fixed to the inner walls of the central Hall of Memory, to the sides of the staircases leading from the lower level to the upper exterior level, and on the walls inside the loggias on the north and south sides of the building.

The road leading from the market place to the Menin Gate Memorial is the Meensestraat, a road which continues through the Menin Gate Memorial and becomes the Marshalk Frenchlaan.  This road is named after Field Marshal Sir John French, who was appointed to the title of 1st Earl of Ypres after the war.  He was the first commander of the British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F.) from the time when it landed in France in August 1914 to December 1915.  After approximately 150 metres, there is a crossroads and, taking the right turn, the road becomes the Meenseweg: the road to Menen.  In 1914, Menen was known by its French name of Menin.  This road became known to the British Army as “the Menin Road”.

From October 1914 British and Commonwealth troops began to march east through the town’s eastern exit or gateway, known at the time by its French name of the Porte de Menin.  This translates as the Menin Gate.  In its Flemish translation, as it is now known, the gateway is called the Menenpoort.  In 1914 there was no building or formal gate as such.  It was simply a crossing point over the moat and through the ramparts of the old town fortifications.  Throughout the Great War, soldiers from practically every British and Commonwealth regiment passed over this spot.  Many thousands of them never returned.

Thousands of soldiers in the British Army and Commonwealth Forces lost their lives fighting in the Ypres Salient.  The remains of over 90,000 of them have never been found or identified.  The site of the The Menin Gate Memorial was considered to be a fitting location to place a memorial to commemorate the missing British and Commonwealth soldiers.

The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing was designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield, one of four Principle Architects engaged in directing the construction of over 1,200 British and Commonwealth cemeteries and memorials along the Western Front for the Imperial War Graves Commission (now named the Commonwealth War Graves Commission).  Sculptures on the memorial were by Sir William Reid-Dick.

The memorial is built of reinforced concrete faced with Euville stone and red brick.  The single span Hall of Memory is covered in by a coffered half-elliptical arch.  Over each of the two central arches, there is a large panel for a dedicatory inscription.  The same inscription is carved on each of the western and eastern panels and reads

TO THE ARMIES
OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE
WHO STOOD HERE
FROM 1914 TO 1918
AND TO THOSE OF THEIR DEAD
WHO HAVE NO KNOWN GRAVE

Above the panel on the east side of the memorial there is a sculpture of a lion lying down, looking away from the city and facing the Ypres Salient battlefields.  It was included to mark the fact that at the start of the war in 1914, the Menin Gate was guarded by two stone sculptured lions.  In the centre of both the north and the south side of the Menin Gate, there is a broad staircase leading from the Hall of Memory up to the ramparts and the loggias.  The inscription over the entrances to the staircases reads:

AD MAJOREM DEI GLORIAM
HERE ARE RECORDED NAMES
OF OFFICERS AND MEN WHO FELL
IN YPRES SALIENT BUT TO WHOM
THE FORTUNE OF WAR DENIED
THE KNOWN AND HONOURED BURIAL
GIVEN TO THEIR COMRADES
IN DEATH

A feature of the architecture of this building is that two loggias run along the length of the north and south sides of the memorial on the upper level.  A loggia is a gallery or a corridor open to the air on one side and supported by columns.  This upper level is situated on the ramparts of the old fortifications dating back to the time when the city was protected by fortified walls and a moat.

The inscribed panels of Portland Stone, bearing the names of the missing casualties, continue up the walls of the north and south stairways and then along the walls of the upper level of the memorial.  The names are inscribed on the memorial in blocks by regiment. 

The Last Post Ceremony

Every night at 8.00 pm a moving ceremony takes place under the Menin Gate in Ypres.  The Last Post Ceremony has become part of the daily life there and the local people are proud of this simple but moving tribute to the courage and self-sacrifice of those who fell in defence of their town.

At 7.00 pm, people gather at the Menin Gate.  The ceremony brings many visitors to Ypres and most nights there are many people in attendance.

At 7.30pm the police arrive and all traffic is stopped from driving through the Menin Gate until 8.30pm.  For one hour the noise of traffic echoing around the memorial from the cobbled road ceases.  The crowd is hushed and a stillness descends over the memorial.

At 7.55 pm the buglers of the local volunteer fire brigade arrive and stand ready at the eastern entrance.  They then step into the roadway under the memorial arch and make their way to stand in the centre of the Hall of Memory. The Buglers stand in a line across the eastern entrance facing towards the town.

At 8.00 pm the sounding of the post is conducted, a solemn and dignified event.  On more formal occasions, the ceremony is extended after the sounding of “Last Post” and before the sounding of “Réveille” and involves the laying of wreaths, parades of military personnel carrying standards and music from visiting bands, choirs or orchestras.   It is at such times that the words of the poem by Laurence Binyon, ‘For The Fallen’ are read out.

Robert Laurence Pinyon’s Famous Poem

Laurence Binyon was an English poet, dramatist and art scholar (1869—1943).  He composed his best known poem while sitting on the cliff-top looking out to sea from the dramatic scenery of the north Cornish coastline.  A plaque marks the location at Pentire Point, north of Polzeath, which claims to be the place where it was written.

The poem was written in mid September 1914, a few weeks after the outbreak of the First World War.  During these weeks the British Expeditionary Force had suffered casualties following its first encounter with the Imperial German Army at the Battle of Mons on 23rd August, its rearguard action during the retreat from Mons in late August and the Battle of Le Cateau on 26th August, and its participation with the French Army in holding up the Imperial German Army at the First Battle of the Marne between 5th and 9th September 1914.  The poem was published in The Times newspaper on 21st September 1914.

Laurence said in 1939 that the four lines of the fourth stanza came to him first.  These words of the fourth stanza have become especially familiar and famous, having been adopted by the Royal British Legion as an Exhortation for ceremonies of Remembrance to commemorate fallen servicemen and women.

Laurence Binyon was too old to enlist in the military forces but he went to work for the Red Cross as a medical orderly in 1916. He lost several close friends and his brother-in-law in the war.

For The Fallen