In 1927 HV Morton attended a pilgrimage of some seven-hundred bereaved relatives to the unveiling of the Shrine to the Missing, erected in honour of those soldiers killed or missng in action during the First World War yet whose bodies had never been found. We know this shrine today as the Menin Gate at Ypres – through whose previous incarnation so many thousands of troops had marched to the trenches, sometimes never to return. The trip, though borne with great stoicism, was an ordeal for most of the pilgrims. Understandably some, for reasons of age or disability, were unable to attend in person and a booklet entitled “Menin Gate Pilgrimage”, which included the article Morton had written, was produced for them. This is an edited excerpt from his description of the ceremony:
The unveiling at Menin Gate, 1927
The buglers stood facing the Menin road, and blew their call towards the old front line.
No sooner had their last note faded than the pipers of the Scots Guards, standing outlined against the sky, high on the great rampart, played the lament, “The Flowers of the Forest”, and the wind, catching the sound of the wild Highland pipes, carried it out over the Salient, over the little dips and hollows in the green fields which were once trenches. There were dim eyes in Ypres to-day.
The sound of the pipes in that place was indescribable. One forgot the Menin Gate, the crowd, the very scene itself, and one’s thoughts went out into the open country, where the corn now waves and flowers grow, and one waited there with aching heart at the end; waited, it seemed, for some signal which should have come from out there along the Menin road.
The King and the generals went, the officers of state and the guards of honour departed, leaving the Menin Gate to the mothers of Britain. They came to it bravely, so bravely and calmly, holding their little posies of garden flowers. All one could do was to put one’s arm in theirs, as if they had been one’s own mother, and, pointing high up on Menin Gate, spell out a name to them.
“That’s him,” they said, and cried a little.
Then they hung their appealing flowers on Menin Gate; little clusters of rambler roses, snapdragons, lilies, all from home. The wind of God will take the message of these flowers and bear it over those little lost corners of foreign fields.
[Originally issued as HVM Society Snippets – No.311]