Planning to visit the Menin Gate and attend the Last Post ceremony at Ypres (Ieper)? If not, you should be! This incredible place is will worth putting on your travel itinerary. Here's everything you need to know about visiting Ypres and attending the Menin Gate Ceremony.
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What is the Menin Gate Ceremony?
Four years ago, I'd barely even heard of Ypres or the Menin Gate Ceremony. I certainly didn't know that EVERY. SINGLE. EVENING at 8pm sharp, hundreds of people gather to watch smartly turned out buglers pay their respects to the missing men of WW1 (those who died in Belgium and were never found.)
THIS is what the Menin Gate Ceremony and the Last Post of Ypres is all about- paying respects to the fallen and lost so they are not forgotten.
Why attend the Menin Gate Ceremony?
In 2017, I was homeschooling our daughter and one of her subjects was History. Specifically, WW1 history.
It was during these lessons I discovered the amazing ceremony of the Last Post at the Menin Gate- and the fact that it is STILL happening every night nearly 100 years later!!
I desperately wanted to see it, so while touring Europe in our motorhome, we stopped at Ypres to experience this incredible ceremony for ourselves.
Here's everything you need to know to do the same!
Watch the video
Watch the video below to get a taste of the Menin Gate Ceremony, or read the post below:
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What is the Menin Gate war memorial?
During WW1, tens of THOUSANDS of British and Allied men passed through the town of Ypres in Belgium on their way to the front lines. The town itself was defended for 4 years by Allied soldiers against attack from the Germans.
When the war ended, many of them were never found. No body, no dog tags. Nothing.
So a monument was built to remember them. This is the Menin Gate.
The gate is a HUGE arch, spanning an entire street, one of the main entrances into Ypres. Even from a distance, it's impressive.
Looking at it, you'll probably guess that the Menin Gate is a monument or war memorial. But you probably wouldn't realise that it is the largest British War Memorial in Belgium.
You also probably wouldn't guess from a distance that the ENTIRE structure is covered in the names of the missing (presumed dead.)
Where is the Menin Gate?
The Menin Gate stands on the outskirts of the Belgian city of Ypres.
(SIDENOTE: Ypres and Ieper are the same place in different languages. Local signs will mostly say ‘Ieper'.)
It came as a huge surprise to me that the Menin Gate was in the middle of the city, and cars drive through it every day. For some reason, I thought it would be closed off and unapproachable, like a cemetery.
But people wander through it, drink their coffee through it, talk on the phone through it and, having watched this for a while, I agree with the idea.
After all, these men died so that people could go on living their lives. It seems fitting for them to be right in the middle of everything, not pushed to a quiet corner and forgotten about. Even with the hustle of a city, there's a quiet aura to the place as you walk around. It feels very respectful.
How many names are on the Menin Gate?
The Menin Gate is engraved with the names of 54,896 men who died in the Ieper Salient and who have no known grave. That's 54,896 men whose bodies were not found in THIS AREA alone.
It was the first ‘memorial to the missing' anywhere in the world and the walls are COVERED with the names of the dead. And they're not spaced out either. They're neatly printed, in fairly small font.
The names are organised by their platoons or troops and rank and then alphabetised. The names go around most of the surfaces of the Menin Gate, including the outside.
Seeing them there, so many rows, going so high and around every wall, was staggering.
A lot of the names are British, but there are also names from Allied countries, including the thousands of Indians who died near Ypres in WW1.
Apparently, after the unveiling, they realised that the Menin Gate was actually going to be TOO SMALL to hold all the names, so all of the missing who died after August 1917 (another 35,000!) are remembered at Tyne Cot, which is the largest Commonwealth cemetery in the world.
Every single one of the names on the Gate has a story, had someone to miss them and mourn them. The sheer scale of death in WW1 is just heartbreaking. Honestly, I didn't expect it to be so moving- but it brought a lump to my throat as we walked around- it's incredibly humbling.
Why is the Menin Gate so called?
There has been a gate (of some description) in Ypres since medieval times. It was called the Menenpoort (Flemish) or the Porte de Menin (French). “Poort” is Flemish for Gate, so British soldiers translated it into ‘Menin Gate' when they were travelling there.
You will still see signs for Menenpoort and Porte de Menin everywhere too.
What is the Last Post?
In the British Army, the start and end of the day were signalled on a bugle (or by piper). The Réveille (from the French word reveiller- to wake up) was sounded at the start of each day and the Last Post was played at the end. This tradition can be traced all the way back to the 17th Century.
Drums were used to signal rounds and to call off-duty soldiers out of the pub and back to their billets. By the time the Last Post was played, everyone had to be back or face the wrath of their superior officers.
The Last Post has long been used in military funerals and ceremonies, to signal the end of the soldiers day. It is still traditionally played on a Bugle.
What is the Menin Gate Ceremony history?
In 1928, a year after the Menin Gate was opened, a number of influential citizens of Belgium gathered in Ypres, wishing to find some way to remember and honour the people who had died for the freedom of the Belgian nation.
The privilege of playing the Last Post was given to members of the local volunteer Fire Brigade. The first Menin Gate Ceremony took place on 01 July 1928 and continued every night for about four months. It started up again in 1929 and from 11 November 1929 it has taken place EVERY SINGLE NIGHT in all weathers, except during German Occupation of Belgium between 1940-1944.
During this time, the ceremony was carried out in England at the Brookwood Military Cemetary, Surrey. On the very evening that the Menin Gate was liberated, the ceremony started up again, despite heavy fighting going on all around it.
It really is one of the best places to pay your respects to the heroes who fought for our freedom – and a great place to commemorate the anniversary of D-Day.
What time is the Last Post at the Menin Gate Ceremony?
The Ceremony starts every evening at 8pm (20:00) sharp. To get the best view, arrive about an hour before; by 7.30pm it's impossible to get a space near the front.
TOP TIP: For the best view, put your back to the river and go to the LEFT side (the majority of the ceremony takes place on the right.) Ideally, you want to be in the middle of the arch, near the side entrance with steps and near the road.
The Buglers will stand at the entrance to the arch on the river side and will march from there to the middle entrance on the right-hand side. (This will make much more sense when you're there- promise!)
We arrived about an hour before the Last Post started and got a great position. I'll be honest, I didn't expect there to be so MANY people. It was a random Tuesday in the middle of April; I naively thought it would be pretty quiet. It wasn't.
The mix of ages, nationalities and genders who had come to pay their respects was astounding. It wasn't just British tourists, which honestly is what I expected. It was a melting pot of everyone who felt that the sacrifice these missing men made was worth remembering.
How long does the Last Post ceremony last? – Timeline
The ceremony itself only lasts about 30 minutes, unless it is a special memorial, such as on 11th November each year.
Here's a timeline so you know what to expect.
- 7pm- Crowds start to gather. Arrive now to get the best spot.
- 7.30pm- Road is closed to vehicles
- 7.50pm- Buglers arrive
- 8pm- Sounding of the Last Post
- One Minute silence
- Lament (if there is a piper present)
- Laying of Wreaths (time taken depends on how many people are there to lay a wreath)
- The Exhortation (see below)
- Réveille bugle call
- End of Ceremony (8.30pm at latest.
The Last Post Ieper- who plays it?
The buglers from the local fire brigade still play the Last Post during the ceremony. There are 3 or 4 of them each night. As they begin to play, the entire place falls completely silent. It's the most haunting atmosphere.
I honestly didn't expect it to be emotional- but oh my goodness it was.
What are the words of the Menin Gate Ceremony?
After the wreath-laying, a dignitary or visitor will be asked to read the Exhortation. This is a section from the poem “For the Fallen' by Lawrence Binyon. The words that are read aloud each night are:
“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.”
Ypres is a pretty city but, unfortunately, we didn't get to explore it fully. Halfway through the Last Post Ceremony, it started to rain very heavily and, of course, we hadn't bought our coats!
Luckily, some tourist shops were still open after the ceremony so we bought an umbrella (despite the two we have in the van!!) and then decided to buy ice creams; as you do in April in the pouring rain!
Sadly, I can't tell you much about Ypres at all, other than the Cloth Hall museum is beautiful at night and the local ice cream is delicious!!
Ypres is under two hours from Brussels and I hope to be able to plan a return to Belgium very soon to explore more of this gorgeous country- although the roads are SHOCKINGLY bad to drive in a Motorhome!
Visiting the Menin Gate- where to park a motorhome or camper
We tried to find an aire with our Motorhome, but honestly, we struggled a bit. I'll admit, we were being cautious as Ypres is only an hour from Calais and we were a little worried about parking somewhere remote.
We decided to stay at the main campsite for Ypres: Camping Jeugdstadion Ieper. They have a camping car (motorhome) parking area at the front, and then further camping areas around the sides and back. Unfortunately, the camping car area was full, but they found space for us on another area in the back (more expensive but very pleasant.)
We paid 24€/ night for our spot- I think they charged us extra for our trailer.
When you arrive, you will not be able to get through the barrier. You need to park up, go to reception and check-in, as well as pay a 4€ deposit for the key card for the barrier.
Although the campsite was expensive, it was clean and only a 10-15 minute walk into Ypres. When we return to the area, we will most likely stay there again.
I would recommend booking a space as they are the most popular campsite in the area. The motorhome area is open all year, but the campsite (and shower/ toilet block) closes between 12th November and 01 March, so bear that in mind when you book.
Last Post at the Menin Gate- final thoughts
This. If you can only see one thing on your holidays, see this ceremony. It is IMPOSSIBLE to describe the emotions, respect and atmosphere of the ceremony. You absolutely need to experience it for yourself.
In today's world, where most people seem to be out for whatever they can take, it's so refreshing to find a place where people come only to give back and say thank you. It restores your faith in mankind a little bit.
I was especially amazed by how many young people were there and how respectful they were. I hope this ceremony continues for many, many years to come to remind us all of the heartbreak of war and the things we can achieve if we work together.
How about you?? Have you ever experience the Last Post at the Menin Gate? What did you think of it?