A Very Special Last Post in Ypres

Every night starting in 1928, the Last Post has been played at 8:00pm under the Menin Gate Memorial in Ieper, Belgium to honor the British and Allied soldiers who fell in combat during the Ypres Salient in World War I. At present, this solemn salute has been played over 29,000 times following the same format. Last Friday, March 15th, the Last Post had a special presentation to commemorate the opening of the Hoover Exhibit at the In Flanders Field Museum.

Despite the cold weather and strong wind, hundreds of observers lined up to hear the Last Post this past Friday night. Among those  were Mayor of Ieper, Alderman, Governor , U.S. Ambassador to Belgium, Howard Gutman, and Belgian Minister of Defense, Pieter de Crem.  After Ambassador Gutman recited the daily poem, all men laid down wreathes in gestures of honor and respect to those that gave their lives when fighting for Belgium’s defense.

After the Last Post, the U.S. Color Guard led guests to the’ In Flanders Field Museum’ for the opening of the Hoover Exhibit on the ‘Commission for Relief in Belgium’ – an impressive story of humanitarian aid. Before the United States officially entered the First World War on the side of the Allies, Herbert Hoover led a massive campaign to relieve the ailing Belgian population from starvation. Throughout the course World War I, the CRB shipped over 3.2 billion tons of materials to Belgium and was able to feed over 11,000,000 Belgians. Even more impressive was that this was all carried out through volunteer donations.

 

At the opening of the ceremony, both Ambassador Howard Gutman and Minister of Defense Pieter de Crem gave speeches highlighting the lines of trust and friendship shared between the United States and Belgium and the fortitude of our bi-lateral relationship that has endured two World Wars and many other hardships. This relationship is still strong today, and the Hoover Exhibit at the In Flanders Field is a strong commemoration to that fact.

The exhibit itself contains a vast array of objects such as photographs, documents, memorabilia, concise explanations of the CRB, and original crates used during the Belgian relief effort. In addition, a short film documentary is screened at the back of the exhibit which provides a good overview of the history and includes interviews of Belgian-Americans who grew up during that hardship. What stood out the most to me was the collection of decorated flour sacks. The cotton sacks that were sent to Belgium as part of the relief effort could have been misappropriated to the German war effort (such as in ammunition) so they were carefully monitored. Oftentimes, these empty flour sacks were embroidered with beautiful artwork that displayed Belgian and American symbols or colors. These signs of gratitude were then sent back to the United States either as gifts or as pieces of art towards future fundraising.

As an American university student, it was exciting to have the opportunity to experience the Last Call, the exhibit reception, and the exhibit itself. The Commission for Relief in Belgium is an important story in both nation’s histories, and one that ought to be remembered and commemorated, not forgotten.

More information on the Herbert Hoover and the Commission for Relief in Belgium Exhibit can be found at their official website: http://www.hooverlegacy.be/Index.htmm

 

James Peranteau

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