Armistice Day: How does Belgium commemorate?

Armistice Day: How does Belgium commemorate?
Credit: Canva

Armistice Day on 11 November marks the effective end of World War I and is a day to remember the millions of lives lost to a years-long conflict.

German and Allied forces officially signed the Armistice accord at around 5:00 AM of 11 November, following days of negotiations that saw the Germans come to the table after suffering heavy losses during the summer of 1918.

Credit: Belga

The Armistice ordered belligerent parties to terminate “hostilities on the Western Front, on land and in the air, within six hours of signature,” ushering peace into Europe on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Approximately 41,000 Belgian soldiers died in the First World War.

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The document also ordered the ‘immediate evacuation’ of German troops from occupied countries such as Belgium, France and Luxembourg ‘within 15 days following the signature of the Armistice. It stipulated ‘that German soldiers who failed to leave those territories within the given delay would be made prisoners of war.’

In Belgium, the commemoration of 11 November was only organised for the first time in 1922 when the Unknown Soldier was buried at the Congress Column. Previously, Belgium preferred to remember the First World War on 4 August, the date of the invasion in 1914.

So What Happens in Belgium?

Since the Armistice was signed, several monuments erected in cities across Europe pay tribute to those who perished in the war and led to the creation of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, meant to honour the unidentified soldiers killed during the conflict.

In Belgium, this symbolic monument lies at the foot of the Colonne du Congrès, which celebrates the creation of the Belgian constitution and which is crowned by a statue of Leopold I, the first Belgian monarch.

On Armistice Day, commemoratory events are generally organised throughout Belgium and Europe. As confirmed by the palace, King Philippe will attend the military ceremony in homage to the Unknown Soldier, to the dead of the two world wars and to the soldiers who have fallen during missions for peace since 1945.

Credit: Belga

This ceremony takes place at the Colonne du Congrès in Brussels in the presence of the Presidents of the House and the Senate, representatives of the government and of the constituent bodies. During the ceremony, a wreath to honour the fallen soldiers is placed at the foot of the tomb.

In the city of Ypres – the scene of one of the more costly battles of the war as well as of the unofficial Christmas Truce between German and British soldiers –crowds of people usually attend a commemoration of Armistice Day. A bugler plays the Last Post at the Menin Gate war memorial.

After strictly limited celebrations last year, where only four people were present at the ceremony, Armistice Day in Ypres can be commemorated again with the traditional ceremony under the Menin Gate.

The Menin Gate at Ypres. Credit: Johan Bakker, Wikipedia

The ceremony is public, with 400 invited guests. Visitors will require a Covid Safe Ticket that will be checked on arrival. The entire service can also be followed on a big screen set up on the Grand Place in Ypres, where a mask is recommended.

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