During the 1st World War, Ypres was the centre of intense fighting between British and German forces, as it remained an Allied salient on the western front, surrounded on three sides by the Germans. Several major battles were fought in or near the city, in 1914, 1915, and 1917 (the latter usually referred to as Passchendaele)
By the end of the war, the city was almost obliterated by artillery shelling, including the magnificent medieval Cloth Hall, which was in ruins.
In the 1920s, the centre of the city was rebuilt as close to the original designs as possible, using money from the reparations Germany was obliged to pay as part of the Treaty of Versailles. Many of the medieval houses in the main square have plaques showing the original date of the house, and the date when it was rebuilt. The Cloth Hall now houses the excellent Flanders Fields Museum, dedicated to Ypres’ role in the war.
Not far from the main square is the Menin Gate, poignantly placed on the road leading east out of the city, along which thousands of soldiers headed out towards the front line trenches. The walls of the archway are inscribed with the names of over 54,000 soldiers of the British Commonwealth who died in the fighting around the city and have no known grave.
During the day, traffic passes normally through the arch, but at a few minutes before eight o’clock each evening, the road is closed to traffic, and often hundreds of people crowd under the archway to hear the Last Post being played by three or more buglers from the local fire brigade. The total silence as this is played makes every hair on your neck and arms stand on end. The ceremony ends with various uniformed groups, or groups of veterans, marching under the archway to lay wreaths of red poppies.
The ceremony has taken place every single night since 1928, except for a period during the 2nd World War when the city was occupied by the Germans. They banned the ceremony, but it was resumed on the evening of liberation – 6 September 1944 – even though heavy fighting was still going on in other parts of the town.
Here is a short video of the Last Post Ceremony