The timing of this 5-day tour coincided with the 3rd Battle of Passchendaele centenary commemorations, and we were fortunate to be able to book an appearance at one of the nightly Menin Gate services in Ypres. These have been performed at 8.00pm every night of the year since 1927 (apart from a short break during WWII), when the town’s volunteer fire brigade decided to honour more than 54,000 missing British and Commonwealth soldiers whose names are engraved on the monument. It was a very moving ceremony as we sang Mansions Of The Lord
and laid a wreath on behalf of the City and County of Swansea.
Our other formal engagement was an afternoon concert in Lille Cathedral (Cathédrale Notre Dame de la Treille) after some time for sight-seeing and chocolate shopping. The soaring interior of the cathedral has wonderful accoustics, which not only enhanced the choir’s performance, but also those of soloist Huw Roberts and accompanist Hywel Evans, who played Vidor’s Toccatta on the organ. The large audience showed their appreciation and demanded an encore.
The social side of the tour was not overlooked, and after a day in Bruges we spent another touring some of the main WWI sites around the Ypres Salient. Tyne Cot is the largest Commonwealth War Graves cemetery in the world, and apart from almost 12,000 graves the rear walls contain the names of over 34,000 soldiers whose remains are still missing in the Ypres Salient. Most of our party had never visited before, and seeing all those names on this and the Menin Gate panels brought home the terrible loss of life.
As a contrast to the open, almost garden-like British cemeteries, we visited the gloomy German cemetery in Langemark, where the remains of more than 19,000 identified and 24,000 unidentified soldiers are buried. Seeing the thousands of names on bronze tablets around the mass grave for the unidentified and the flat black “headstones” for the others made us realise that it was not only British young men were sent to their deaths, but also innocent young Germans too.
We visited the new Welsh Memorial in Flanders, singing Sunset Poem, and laying another wreath. Later in the evening we had dinner opposite the memorial at Marc Decaestecker’s deSportman Café, presenting him with a commemorative plate and thanking him and his committee for being instrumental in suggesting and raising funds for the Memorial.
It had been a very successful tour for our party of 84 choristers and supporters, and it reminded us of the futility of “the war to end all wars”.
There are photos on our Photo Gallery page