Orchestra members from Larne play at Ypres’ Menin Gate

Antrim Youth Orchestra members Michaela Mulvenna and Caoimhe Mc Donnell, who played at the Menin Gate war memorial in Ypres. INLT-34-720-con
Antrim Youth Orchestra members Michaela Mulvenna and Caoimhe Mc Donnell, who played at the Menin Gate war memorial in Ypres. INLT-34-720-con

Members of Antrim Youth Orchestra recently played at The Menin Gate war memorial in Ypres, Belgium.

Orchestra members, including young people from Larne, played tunes including ‘Danny Boy’ and ‘Nimrod’ by Sir Edward Elgar at the gate, which is dedicated to the British and Commonwealth soldiers who were killed in the Ypres Salient of World War I and whose graves are missing.

The memorial, located at Ypres’ eastern exit, marks the start of one of the main roads out of the town that led Allied soldiers to the front line.

The triumphal arch was designed by Reginald Blomfield in 1921, and is the entry to the barrel-vaulted passage for traffic through the mausoleum.

Four battles took place on the Ypres salient during the Great War, leading to heavy casualties.

The first was the 1914 “Race to the Sea”, which culminated in the Battle of the Yser and the First Battle of Ypres and saved the area from occupation.

The Second Battle of Ypres in 1915 saw the first use of gas and the near total destruction and evacuation of Ypres.

The Third Battle of Ypres at Passchendaele took place in 1917, followed by the Fourth Battle of Ypres, the Battle of the Lys.

The Fifth Battle of Ypres in August 1918 was part of the Hundred Days Offensive, and pushed German forces out of the salient entirely and permanently.

Inscribed in the memorial’s large ‘Hall of Memory’ are the names of 54,896 Commonwealth soldiers who died in the Salient, but whose bodies have never been identified or found.

The ‘Last Post’ ceremony has taken place at the gate every night at 8pm since its opening in 1927, apart from during the German occupation in World War II.

The ceremony sees bugle players from the local fire brigade close the road under the memorial and sound the “Last Post.”

On the evening that Polish forces liberated Ypres during the Second World War, the ceremony resumed at the Menin Gate despite heavy fighting still taking place in the town.

Bullet marks are still visible on the memorial from this period.

As well as locals, the Last Post ceremony draws tourists from around the world who visit to pay their respects to the war dead.

One tourist who was particularly pleased to view the performance on August 9 was Dutch visitor Arend Dubbelaar, who in the past frequently visited his in-laws in Larne.

Arend commented: “I was very surprised that The Youth Orchestra from Antrim were playing during the ceremony.

“I was delighted as I use to be a regular visitor in Larne, when I still saw my in-laws there.

“It’s been a while and I have not been there for a few years now, but Larne is still in my heart and will most likely never leave.

“The music this orchestra played was fantastic and many spectators took pictures from the orchestra after the service.”

The last post ceremony finishes with the famous words from the Laurence Binyon poem for the fallen, which he composed while sitting on the cliff-top looking out to sea over the north Cornish coastline.

The most famous lines, in the fourth stanza, are now used during many war commemoration ceremonies.

They read: “They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

“Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

“At the going down of the sun and in the morning

“We will remember them.”