After seven months of lockdown, a limited public of 400 people was permitted this week to attend the traditional Last Post ceremony under the Menin Gate in Ypres in West Flanders.
Prior to now, the ceremony has gone ahead as it has, almost without interruption, since 1928, every evening at 20.00.
But because of Covid restrictions, the public was not admitted under the mighty arches of the Gate, a memorial to the soldiers of the British Commonwealth who lost their lives in the First World War, which was fought right up to the gates of the city.
The attraction of the players of the Last Post Association, many of them firefighters from Ypres itself, as well as the resounding acoustics of the Gate, still attracted a public, held at bay by barriers, paying no attention to safety measures.
On Tuesday, one the eve of the latest round of relaxation of restrictions, the public was allowed back in – under certain conditions: wear a mask, number limited to 400, stand on the spot allocated, indication a safe distance.
The Last Post ceremony was started in Ypres in 1928, and carried on every evening at eight until 20 May 1940, when Belgium was invaded by Germany. The hiatus lasted until 6 September 1944, when even as Polish troops fought the Germans back outside the city walls, the ceremony was resumed as an act of defiance.
It has been played every evening since then, a total of more than 30,000 times.
The ceremony is a huge tourist attraction, particularly for visitors who are in the region to visit the many war graves maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Sometimes the ceremony is minutes long, no more than the sounding of the Last Post bugle call, originally a Dutch signal for the end of the day.
At other times, the Last Post Association received delegations of all sorts, from schools to motorcycle clubs, who wish to lay a wreath under the arches, inscribed from floor to ceiling with 54,896 names of the fallen. On those occasions, the ceremony can take substantially longer.
For president Benoit Mottrie of the LPA, the presence of the public is of the utmost importance.
“We want to pass on our message about the past to the current generations,” he told the VRT.
“That is difficult without an audience under the gate. We now have perspective again: we are working towards a special ceremony on July 2, because then the Last Post will turn 93.”