Sombre ceremonies mark Armistice anniversary in Belgium

Belgians marked the 87th anniversary of the end of the First World War today, with sombre ceremonies planned at the nation’s tomb of the unknown soldier and the playing of the Last Post at the famous Menen Gate in the town of Ieper, which saw some of the fiercest fighting of the “Great War”.

King Albert II was to lead Armistice Day ceremonies in the capital Brussels, laying a wreath to commemorate victims of the First World War after a two-minute silence planned for 11am, which was when the Germans signed their capitulation November 11, 1918, in France.

The war, which started in 1914, claimed the lives of more than 10 million soldiers, making it one of the bloodiest wars in history. The west of Flanders in Belgium saw some of the bloodiest battles.

Ieper, then known as Ypres and pronounced “Wipers” by British soldiers, was completely destroyed by the fighting.

Numerous military grave sites are dotted around Ieper – 76 miles west of Brussels – and the town is home to the Menen Gate, an arch which bears the names of some 55,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers who fell in the trenches of Flanders, but whose remains have never been found.

The slaughter was memorialised in an anguished poem by Canadian army surgeon John McCrae: “In Flanders fields the poppies blow between the crosses, row on row ...”

The area around Ieper saw some of the fiercest fighting of the war, culminating in the battle of Passchendaele on a muddy ridge 8 miles away.

The legacy of that war is still felt, and numerous bodies and bombs left from the war, including unexploded canisters containing poison gas, are regularly found.

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