Great War pilgrimage: ‘When the poppy petals began to fall, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up’ said Robin Lake of Chatteris
PUBLISHED: 12:57 31 August 2018
Members of the Chatteris branch of The Royal British Legion joined thousands on a pilgrimage of Remembrance to World War One battlefields in France and Belgium.
It culminated in a parade and ceremony in Ypres as part of the end of the First World War centenary commemorations this August.
The Royal British Legion event, known as Great Pilgrimage 90 (GP90), was one of the largest in the charity’s history.
GP90 marked 90 years since the original British Legion Pilgrimage of 1928, which saw 11,000 World War One veterans and war widows visit the battlefields of the Somme in France and Ypres in Belgium, a decade after the conflict ended.
That pilgrimage culminated in a march through Ypres to the Commonwealth War Grave Commission’s Menin Gate Memorial for a ceremony to commemorate the launch of The Hundred Days Offensive and in remembrance of those who never returned.
Local Legion members, Robin Lake and Tina Prior represented the Chatteris branch and the local community at the event, as standard bearer and wreath layer respectively.
Speaking about the trip, Ms Prior said, said: “It was an incredible experience and an honour and privilege to be involved in representing the Chatteris RBL, Chatteris community and the 160 young men who went off to war from this town and never returned home.”
She said: “The camaraderie between everyone attending was great and the whole trip was an experience to never forget. There were moments which were very moving, particularly when I placed my wreath beneath the Menin Gate.”
Mr Lake said: “When the poppy petals began to fall, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up”
The first day of the tour took in iconic memorials at Thiepval, Arras & Vimy Ridge.
Day two started with a visit to the Passchendaele museum and Tyne Cot Memorial– the largest Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery in the world. It is now the resting place of more than 11,900 servicemen of the British Empire from the First World War.
Day three was the day of the parade. Over 1100 standards and 1100 wreaths were paraded through the narrow, cobbled streets of Ypres, led by the Band of The Royal Marines.
Many spectators lined the route which finished at the Menin Gate, where a service of Remembrance took place led by The Rt Revd James Newcome, national chaplain of the RBL. VIP dignitaries and special invited guests sat beneath the splendid arch of the gate during the ceremony which culminated in hundreds of poppy petals falling from the roof above.
Each of the 1,152 Royal British Legion branches attending from the UK and overseas (as far away as Thailand, Hong Kong & the Falkland Islands) laid a wreath, containing a remembrance message from their communities.
The wreaths were subsequently arranged into a display on the ramparts of the Ypres town walls and will remain in place for public viewing for at least two months.
Following the parade, everyone attending was encouraged to join together to take part in an afternoon of comradeship and entertainment in the Great Square, where there were stalls, exhibits and music.