Ypres commemorates the Armistice for the 105th time: “Peace is the only answer”
Yesterday, on November 11, numerous commemorations took place on the occasion of Armistice, the end of the First World War. We went to Ypres, where the Poppy Parade passed through the streets for the 105th time. “We are here to stand up for peace.”
The Poppy Parade is an event that commemorates those who, as Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said, “gave their lives so that we can live in peace today.” But in times when war dominates the news, “it is not unreasonable to wonder what purpose a commemoration like this serves.” Benoit Mottrie, president of the Last Post Association, opened his speech with this question. He gave the answer himself. “We are here first and foremost to remember the people who sacrificed their lives for their country and for ours. Commemorations look back to the past, but also give hope for the future. Because all wars come to an end one day.” A little later he stands among the people on the market and tells us: “Here are representatives of all the countries that were at war in this region at the time and now agree in a united Europe. Living together in peace is therefore possible, and we try to spread that message. Peace is the only answer. Learning from history and trying to move towards a better future.”
Let's not forget
In Menenstraat, Wino Verhoye from Torhout watches the international troops march past. He tries to be there every year. He does not want to hear the argument that such a procession makes little sense. “Without such ceremonies it would be even worse.” His wife, Ria Vandenbroucke, nods in agreement: “It is a ceremony that you must honor. After all, many people died for us,” she says.
“Let's not forget. Let us not forget,” emphasizes Joan Soontjens from Landen. He's lost count. “I've been here maybe fifteen times. And our children and grandchildren also participate in commemorations all over the country. You cannot have a future without respecting your past. We often wonder what our grandchildren will experience next. And why? For a few idiots who want power or who want to make money by selling weapons.”
Came with students
Vanessa Persaud works in a Canadian school in Switzerland and has come to Ypres with her students. “We are here to remember all the lives lost here. It is terrible that so many people are still dying elsewhere. You can see what war can lead to in those endless cemeteries here and you can just feel the whole atmosphere here. It makes me sad, I think about the people in Ukraine, Israel and Gaza. What is said here touches me. We bring young people here in the hope that they will take a moment to think about what war does, so that it doesn't happen to us.”
Ypres resident Syl Degroot is there every year when the Poppy Parade takes place. According to her, “you always feel a special connection between the people here. Such ceremonies create tolerance between people. Hopefully, they will also have an effect in the long term.” Her husband Luc Forceville is especially grateful that we live here in a country where there is peace: “You think about that for a moment. Just when there is war everywhere, it is important to remember those to whom we owe peace.” Anuja Pradhan, a Nepalese lady who lives in Antwerp and is on post with some compatriots to commemorate the fallen Nepalese who were part of the British troops at the time, is not only in Ypres because of the past. “We are also here to work on the future,” she says. “We are here to stand up for peace.”
The brave Briton James McNamara is attending the Poppy Parade for the third time. “Why are there wars everywhere?” he wonders out loud: “Because some people think about themselves too often. While they have to think about humanity. Thinking only about your own interests is destructive. That's how you destroy people. It has destroyed my family and that of many others.” He himself is here to remember. “That's all we can do, remember the dead. We are little people, that's all we can do.” Andy Burcher has been coming from Kent, England, to the Ypres region since 1975 because his grandfather died there during WWI. “We have to learn lessons from this. The main lesson for me is that we as citizens must vote for the right leaders,” he says while we can watch on a large screen in the market as Prime Minister De Croo lays a wreath of flowers at the Menin Gate.