Prince William was in Belgium yesterday to attend a ceremony at the Island of Ireland Peace Park alongside The Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Princess Astrid of Belgium to mark 100 years since the beginning of the Battle of Messines Ridge.
Fought from 7-14 June 1917 the Battle of Messines Ridge marked the first time that the 16th Division from Ireland and the 36th Division from Ulster went into battle together during World War One. This distinction has left the battle with symbolic significance for Ireland and Northern Ireland.
When the commemoration was first announced, Secretary of State, Rt. Hon. James Brokenshire MP said: “I am pleased to announce this shared UK-Ireland ceremony to mark the centenary of the Battle of Messines. We have seen all too well how history can divide, but our ambitious goal throughout this decade of centenaries is to seek to use history to bring us together, and to build on the political progress that has been made throughout these islands.
“This shared ceremony is an opportunity to remember the service and sacrifice of those who fought at Messines Ridge, as well as to further strengthen the important relationship that exists between the United Kingdom and Ireland.”
500 guests, including descendants of those who fought at the battle, witnessed the commemoration. Proceedings included an Act of Remembrance, musical interludes from the Royal Band of the Belgian Navy and readings from members of both the Irish Defence Forces and the Royal Irish Regiment. The Duke of Cambridge placed a wreath at the foot of the round tower during the ceremony and spent time meeting with guests afterwards.
From the Island of Ireland Peace Park the Duke travelled to Wytschaete Cemetery where he paid his respects at the 16th Irish Division Memorial Cross and had opportunity to reflect on the shared history of Ireland and the United Kingdom.
Over 1,000 servicemen who fought and died in World War One are buried or commemorated in Wytschaete and Prince William met with family members and descendants of some of them. He spent time learning about their stories before witnessing the Field of Flanders soil ceremony, in which children from Belgium, Ireland and Northern Ireland promoted peace through the exchange of soil.