On Sunday April 25 I commemorated ANZAC Day at Ypres or alternatively Ieper (as always in Belgium, everything has a Flemish and a French version). Alex kindly invited me to attend a commemoration service organized by the New Zealand Embassy in Brussels. Our tour bus was joined by a busload of kiwis who had driven all the way from London to be there.  Our bus also included an embassy staffer hilariously reminiscent of Murray the cultural attaché in FotC and Scott, my bus buddy, whose pedo glasses and odd affinity with striking up a friendship with the 8 and 11 year old girls sitting in front of us struck me as rather unfortunate. He seemed happy though, and isn’t that really what we all ultimately want?

We arrived at the small village of Messines (Mesene). This has particular relevance for kiwis as the New Zealand memorial commemorating New Zealand dead in this theater of the First World War is located there. The traditional angular obelisk stares down a gentle slope a few hundred meters to where members of the New Zealand 1st Division launched an attack on the German line during the battle of Messines, 1917, which involved blowing up massive mines stuffed with explosives under the German lines. This successful manouvere is in stark contrast to the sickening waste at later battles in the area such as Passchedaele where hundreds of thousands casualties were spent in the ultimately futile acquisition of mere kilometers, a few hundred metres or even nothing at all. The scene of the world’s first calculated application of biological weapons (mustard gas) as well as haunting and everlasting prose such as that of John McCrae:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We later proceeded in a parade from the town hall of Ypres to the Menin gate, erected in 1917 to honour those dead not found and inscribed with 54,896 names of Commonwealth soldiers (except the New Zealanders who are inscribed at Tyn Cot Cemetery). Trailing a full marching band of drummers, brass and proud local veterans holding aloft the flags of Belgium, New Zealand and Australia. The Last Post was precisely sounded by an association that has been doing that same every day since the end of the War. Rebecca, a New Zealander, gave an incredibly goosebumpy lamentation, piercing in the silence, the gate providing superb acoustics.

My own connection to Ypres is not particularly personal. I had no relatives that I know of who fought in World War I, The Netherlands being a neutral country. In an interesting aside, my grandfather was made an honorary citizen of Ypres. My reason for travelling there was that I believe it is important to remember the futility of war, and there is no better way to remember that than attend a ceremony honouring war veterans. It is not about glorifying war, extending it a certain undeserving mystique or politicising it to aid current political debates. War is hell and there is no better way to see that than visit mass graves, concentration camps or torture camps.

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