On Monday 4th April 2016, two coaches accommodating 65 people left Alford Hall, Warrington and travelled ‘across the water’ to Belgium. We arrived at our Hotel in Ypres at around 7.50pm local time – in fact we actually drove under the Menin Gate just before the roads closed for that nights Last Post. We got a tiny glimpse that night of what we could expect later that week on the Thursday when we too would be standing under this magnificent monument – little did we know at that time how emotional we would all be on the Thursday!!
On the Tuesday we spent the day sightseeing in Brugge – such a beautiful city. Some of us went on canal trips, others went by horse & carriage, whilst others viewed the city on foot or by the local tour guide bus.
In the evening we visited the Welsh Memorial, which is such a magnificent monument. A committee was set up several years ago to raise funds to commission and erect this wonderful Welsh Dragon to remember all those of Welsh origin who fought in World War One. Members of this committee are Alwyn & Glena Bevan of the North Wales Rugby Choir who helped us organise this tour. Alwyn & Glena came to Belgium with us and we have all become such good friends.
Our Chairman Bob Williams and Choristers Gwil Parry and Dale Johnson who are of Welsh descent laid a wreath at the Welsh Memorial in memory of those who lost their lives. Whilst the wreath was being laid the choir sang ‘The Way Old Friends Do’ which was very fitting and moving.
Next we walked across the road to ‘Marc’s Restaurant’ and ate a hearty meal of Belgium Stew, following by suitable liquid refreshment and another little sing-song.
Wednesday saw us visiting various Battlefields and Monuments. We started off at Essex Farm Cemetery, where not only is there a headstone for a 15 year old boy who lost his life, but it is the home of the memorial to Lt. Col. John McCrae the author of the famous ‘In Flanders Fields’. We continued our journey that day by visiting Passchendale, Pilkem Ridge, a German Cemetery, finishing with Tyne Cot. This cemetery is huge – you really do need to see an aerial photo to appreciate how big it is. We laid Wreath’s at Essex Farm and Tyne Cot. At Tyne Cot we sang ‘The Way Old Friends Do’ again – it really does seem to be a very fitting song under the circumstances.
Wednesday evening we did a concert at St Pauluskerk Church, Langemark. Such a beautiful church with wonderful acoustics. Thanks to Bart Demuynck, the Parish Priest for organising this concert and being such a wonderful host.
Thursday morning we visited Talbot House – so much history in one place. This must have been such a comfort in its day to all our soldiers – we can’t imagine what it was like for them but this now museum really gave us a great insight and understanding as to what life was like during the War.
As I am writing about Thursday evening, I am getting goose bumps already. To sing at the Menin Gate during the 30,273 Last Post – was such an honour. Our Chairman Bob Williams laid a wreath on behalf of everyone involved with the choir. As soon as the Choir sang the first note of ‘Adoration’ the sound they made was simply stunning. The unintentional acoustics that the Menin Gate projects is amazing, the sound is just, well I actually can’t describe it – you need to be there to understand. It was spectacular. As the wreaths were being laid the choir sang ‘Deep Harmony’. After the ceremony was finished the choir sang an impromptu version of ‘The Way Old Friends Do’ – they silenced the crowd and everyone stopped what they were doing and listened to our guys singing, that’s when we all got emotional. You just can’t help shedding a tear. It is so emotional.
Friday morning was time for thank you’s to everyone involved before we left Ypres for home.
Belgium is such a beautiful place, full of history. Everywhere is immaculately clean and well kept – a true credit to the good people of Belgium.
There were so many emotions during this trip – despite the sadness and the tears there was laughter, lots of laughter and we have all made some great friends on this trip. Belgium, we will be back. That is a promise!
We must have thousands of photographs between us all, some of which will be posted on our ‘Photo Gallery’ page over the next few days, but the majority you can find on our Facebook page – just click on the link on any of our pages on this website.