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In Ypres, ceremonies mark end of WWI

In Ypres, ceremonies mark end of WWI

(AP) In Ypres, ceremonies mark end of WWI
Associated Press
YPRES, Belgium
Few people understand more about honoring the dead than Daniel Macrae. His uncle was killed in Normandy during World War II, his nephew was killed in the Gulf War, and Macrae himself is an undertaker in his native Scotland.

Dressed in a traditional kilt and wearing a cap from his former regiment, the 52nd Lowland Territorial and Volunteer Reserve, Macrae strolled through a field of paper poppies, some containing poignant messages, on the top level of the Menin Gate in Ypres. “I have relatives that died in different wars, but I’m here in Ypres to honor those who died in World War I,” he said.

Macrae wasn’t the only visitor in town for the Armistice Day weekend. Visitors from Commonwealth countries across the globe were drawn to the windy, cold corridor of the Menin Gate, designed by Reginald Blomfield in 1921 and opened in 1927.

The vaulted ceiling contains the names of more than 54,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers who lost their lives during World War I and have no known grave. The spot was chosen for the memorial as nearly every Allied soldier marched over it or near it on the way to the muddy battlefields.

On Monday, the 95th anniversary of the Nov. 11, 1918, armistice that ended World War I, Prince Philip, husband of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, will join other dignitaries for a special ceremony during which he will receive sandbags of soil from the fields of Flanders.

The 70 sandbags, collected by Belgian schoolchildren from Commonwealth cemeteries in Belgium, will be handed over to the King’s Troop Royal Household Cavalry and then be taken to London where they will be placed in the Flanders Fields Memorial Garden at the Wellington Barracks.

The sound of bugles playing the “Last Post” will echo under the Menin Gate as it does every day, red paper poppies will float down onto the hushed public and the haunting lines written by poet Robert Laurence Binyon will be read:

“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.”

There are no longer any veterans from World War I to attend the ceremonies. The last, Britain’s Florence Green, died in 2012 just a few days short of her 111th birthday.

In France, where more than 1.6 million soldiers and civilians died in the war, President Francois Hollande laid flowers Monday morning at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier beneath the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

Last week, France laid out plans for a year’s worth of events and ceremonies timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I in 2014. Among the first is the so-called Great Collection, launched Saturday. The French national archives have set up collection points staffed by historians and other experts, and are encouraging people to scour their attics and garages for mementos of World War I left behind by relatives, like old letters, photos and military paraphernalia. The objects will be scanned and annotated in a digital archive that already contains tens of thousands of items from around Europe.

Belgium will begin its centenary commemorations in the city of Mons in August at St. Symphorien Military Cemetery. It contains the graves of both German and Commonwealth soldiers who were killed in the first days of the conflict, and also in the last days.

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