The Queen will be joined by the Grand Duke of Luxembourg and the King of the Belgians on Thursday as she opens the new Flanders memorial garden at Wellington Barracks, as part of events and memorials commemorating 100 years since the outbreak of the First World War.
Joined also by the Duke of Edinburgh and Duke of Cambridge, The Queen and the King of the Belgians will both lay wreaths after prayers at the memorial.
With the ‘sacred soil’ taken from 70 different battlefields of the First World War, each with the support of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and collected by Belgian and British school children (several of whom will attend the opening event on Thursday), the ceremony will be supported by the Band of the Grenadier Guards and State Trumpeters from the Household Cavalry providing the musical accompaniment for the events. Representatives from each of the seven regiments of the Household Division will also lay wreaths at the new memorial.
Designed by Belgian architect Piet Blanckaert, the memorial carries the insignia of all the seven regiments of the Household Division.
The Major General commanding the Household Division, Edward Smyth-Osbourne, explained, “the Foot Guards Regiments are made up of Grenadier Guards, Coldstream Guards, Scots Guards, Irish Guards and Welsh Guards and so represent all four nations of the United Kingdom.
“Taken with the two Mounted Regiments from the Household Cavalry, the Life Guards and the Blues and Royals, they also represent both cavalry and infantry. In the same way that these seventy sandbags of soil represent all the battlefields of Flanders, these seven regiments represent all the British Expeditionary Forces to who gave their lives for our freedom.”
As well as the thought which has gone into the insignia on the memorial, the surrounding garden’s design has also been thoroughly considered by the designers. Designed to be a “quiet place of reflection and contemplation”, the memorial is also full of hidden meaning and symbolism. The first level of soil, for example, is shaped as a rectangle – alluding to the cemeteries of the war dead.
On top of it is a circular soil bed, representing eternity as a victory over death. The circular shape also refers to the opening in the roof of the Menin Gate in Ypres, from which every year on 11 November poppies rain down. The garden contains a bench made from Flemish Bluestone too, plus trees indigenous to the battlefields of Flanders.
After the ceremony, Prince William will join King Philippe from Belgium at a reception on the forecourt of the Barracks – once The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh have departed – hosting 300 guests who have donated their time or money to the creation of the memorial garden.
Last year, Prince Philip joined Prince Laurent from Belgium at Menin Gate in Ypres for the Last Post ceremony on Armistice day. There, British troops from the Kings Troop Royal Horse Artillery filled sandbags with the sacred soil which would eventually be transported back to England to form the Flanders Field Memorial at Wellington Barracks.
The Menin Gate is the official Memorial to missing British and Commonwealth soldiers killed in the Ypres Salient and whose final resting place is unknown.
Wellington Barracks is just a stone’s throw away from Buckingham Palace and is where soldiers and officers who usually form The Queen’s guard at Buckingham Palace and St James’s Palace are based. Along with the Guards Museum and Guards Chapel in the Barracks, the new memorial will form part of the publicly accessible parts of the home of the Household Division.
Guards Museum Curator Andrew Wallis said: ”If you would like to help us raise the funds for the upkeep of this powerful commemorative memorial or find out more, please go to the project website where you can find a number of ways in which you can get involved: www.flandersfieldappeal.com”
Photo credits: Ed.ward and © Crown Copyright 2014