Visit the Menin Gate during the day and you’ll find yourself stepping into a quiet state of contemplation as you pass under its echoey arches where you are alone, except for the company of two or three others, to reflect on the thousands of names that are etched into the portland stone walls.
Visit at 8pm and you are one of the many hundreds who have come to attend the Last Post Ceremony: the commemorative event that has taken place every evening since 1929*.
When night falls in Ypres, the Menin Gate lights up like a beacon of remembrance at the entrance to the memorial town. Indeed, the whole town of Ypres encapsulates a sense of remembrance; from the Menin Gate to the In Flanders Fields museum to the poppies that are placed in shop windows, your thoughts can never drift far from the history of the town as you stroll through its streets. Never is its history more powerfully felt than when standing in the crowd at the Last Post Ceremony. More powerful still is the opportunity to perform at the Last Post Ceremony; an unforgettable experience for any music ensemble.
The History of the Last Post Ceremony
Dedicated to the British and Commonwealth soldiers who were killed in the Ypres Salient of World War I and whose graves are unknown, the Menin Gate memorial is a place for visitors to come and pay their respects to the thousands of soldiers who gave their lives in the war.
Following the Menin Gate Memorial opening, the citizens of Ypres wanted to express their gratitude towards those who had given their lives for Belgium’s freedom and so the Last Post Ceremony was introduced. At 8pm of every evening, buglers from the local fire brigade close the road which passes under the memorial and sound the ‘Last Post’. Bands and choirs from around the world may also apply to participate in the ceremonies.
‘The Last Post Ceremony is something special and unique’
We interviewed Stefaan Vanderstraete, Ypres resident and General Manager of the Menin Gate Hotels, about the history of the Last Post Ceremony and its emotional significance. Having lived in Ypres for thirty years, Stefaan remarks how he is still struck with the same emotion every evening at 8pm that ‘makes [him] silent’. He goes on to describe how unique the ceremony is due to the fact that it ‘was not started up by a government […] it was the citizens from Ypres that intuitively started up the commemorative act’.
Hear more from Stefaan about his experience of the Last Post Ceremony:
Performing at The Last Post Ceremony
When the Last Post Ceremony begins, the hum of chatter from the volume of people gathered behind the railings seizes and a respectful silence falls under the memorial arches. As the buglers play the call to attention, the rich, brassy tones hold the crowd in a commemorative stillness. Then a few from the crowd step forward to lay their wreaths of poppies before guest choirs or bands perform their heartfelt contributions to this deeply moving ceremony.
Image source Stad Leper
‘The best moment of the tour was singing at the Menin Gate and having people coming up in tears of emotion over our singing. The organisers were very professional and let us know exactly when and where we should stand etc. It was a truly magical moment.’
Ms Kay Richards, Renaissance Chorus, The Menin Gate, 2016
‘The highlight of the tour was the emotional thrill of singing to nearly 2000 people at the Menin Gate ‘Last Post Ceremony’. So quiet, you could have heard a pin drop!’
Mr Graham Hunter, Maureen Hunter Singers, Belgium, May 2016
Charged with such emotional energy, it is no wonder that performing in the Last Post Ceremony is so often cited as a highlight for concert groups that tour to Belgium. In Sound Company Community Choir were one such ensemble who performed at the Menin Gate last October and found it to be ‘a very moving experience and a highlight of the tour for many choir members’.
Watch In Sound Company performing at the Menin Gate:
Hear from choir member, Keith Horsfall, about his experience of singing at the Menin Gate:
PERFORMING AT THE MENIN GATE; FAQ’S
How many pieces can we perform as part of the ceremony?
You can perform a maximum of two pieces.
Where will our music group be positioned during the ceremony?
Smaller groups (up to 25 people) are accommodated on the pavement, whilst bigger groups ( +/- 50 musicians) will perform from on the cordoned off-road.
What kind of music can be played at the ceremony?
Music must be appropriate to this kind of ceremony. National anthems are not permitted. The songs have to be approved by the organisers in advance.
*The only exception to this was during the four years of the German occupation of Ypres from 20th May 2940 to 6th September 1944.