Take a peek at what the Branch has been up to....
Dunkirk and Waterloo Battlefield Tour - 13 February 2022
More than 20 members and supporters joined the first battlefield tour of the branch’s centenary year on 13 February 2022. The tour at the Wellington Museum in Waterloo combined a visit to the Road to Dunkirk Exhibition (details above), led by committee member Alain Brogniez and Olivier d’Olne, as well as an introduction to the Battle of Waterloo by committee member Dennis Abbott. Alain laid a poppy wreath beside an exhibit commemorating the 97 British troops massacred by Waffen-SS at Le Paradis and 80 British and French PoWs murdered in Wormhout. Only one man, Hauptsturmführer Fritz Knöchlein, held responsible for the first massacre, was convicted of war crimes. The tour, meticulously organised as ever by Steve Grant, raised more than €100 for the Legion.
Battlefield Tour – Yser 2 October by Dennis Abbott
The Battle of the Yser (16-31 October 1914) was the focus of the branch’s second autumn battlefield tour, aimed at raising awareness of the 100th anniversary of the RBL and the branch’s 2022 centenary. Organised by committee member Steve Grant with Flanders guide Christophe Deconinck, the visit took in sites linked to the Belgian Army’s heroic resistance against enemy forces at the tip of the Western Front. Despite being outnumbered, the Belgians stopped the German advance by opening sluice gates which flooded a large area, making it impassable for the enemy.
The tour began at the Yser Towers and Peace Gate at Duiksmuide, built to commemorate Flemish soldiers killed in the battle. The towers bear the letters AVV-VVK, which stand for Alles Voor Vlaanderen, Vlaanderen Voor Kristus, or All for Flanders, Flanders for Christ.
The first tower, completed in 1930, became a site of pilgrimage for the radical Flemish Movement, some of whose members were accused of collaboration during the Second World War. It was blown up in March 1946. No-one was caught. A second and bigger 84-metre tower was built near the ruins of the first and opened in 1965.
The visit continued to the Trench of Death (Dodengang) and museum, on the banks of the Yser Canal. The Belgians sustained hundreds of losses holding the position against the enemy, who were dug in both sides of the waterway.
After a brief stop at the Peace Mill, the tour continued to the Vladslo German Cemetery, which contains 25,644 soldiers and the famous statues of The Grieving Parents by Käthe Kollwitz, created in memory of her youngest son, Peter, whose remains lie just in front of the figures. At the Belgian Military Cemetery in Houthulst, Christophe Deconinck highlighted the graves of Hector Brel, related to famed Belgian singer Jacques Brel, and two footballer brothers, Adjutant Ignace Evrard, 22, and Lieutenant Joseph Evrard, 24, who played for Cercle Brugge. Both were killed on 28 September 1918 and are said to have died in each other’s arms. The cemetery is also the last resting place of a large number of Italian PoWs and Sous-Lieutenant Roger d’Udekem d’Acoz, related to Belgium’s Queen Mathilde. The tour, greatly enjoyed by around 30 enthusiastic members and supporters despite the wet conditions, ended at the ‘De Ganzepoot’ (goose foot) sluice complex and King Albert monument in Nieuwpoort.
Here's a selection of images from the trip
Battlefield Tour – Ypres 11 September by Dennis Abbott
Some 30 members and supporters of the branch took part in a very successful fund-raising battlefield tour to Ypres on 11 September 2021. Organised by committee member Steve Grant with local guide Christophe Deconinck, the tour took in sites in and around the Flemish town which was the scene of some of the heaviest fighting during the First World War. The visit started and ended at the iconic Menin Gate, the memorial to nearly 55,000 Commonwealth soldiers whose bodies were never found or identified. The next stop was Essex Farm Cemetery, the last resting place of 1,200 servicemen including 15-year-old Joe Strudwick and Thomas Barratt VC. The site was an advanced dressing station where Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae of the Canadian Army Medical Corps wrote the poem In Flanders Fields in May 1915 in tribute to his friend Lieutenant Alexis Helmer. The group also visited the German cemetery at Langemarck, where more than 44,000 soldiers are buried, Tyne Cot, the largest Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery where 12,000 lie, and Hill 60, a strategic site overlooking Ypres where mines in tunnels were detonated in June 1917 under German positions, resulting in thousands of casualties and leaving deep craters which are still clearly visible.
The visit ended with the famous Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate. Chair Zoe White laid a wreath on behalf of the branch, together with member Jean-François Husson and Jane Sidebottom, chief of staff to Ambassador Lindsay Croisdale-Appleby, head of the UK Mission to the European Union.
Annual Act of Remembrance at Evere Cemetery, Brussels
26 June 2021
by Dennis Abbott
The branch’s annual act of remembrance at the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery is always a special occasion but, judging from the universal appreciation expressed by members and supporters following this year’s ceremony, the bar has been set very high for the future!
The commemoration, held on Saturday 26 June, attracted a large turnout and, despite the presence of a few ominous clouds on the horizon, the weather gods were kind, for once.
Before the service, master of ceremonies and branch events coordinator Phil Hyde, responsible with Steve Mace for the faultless technical set-up, reminded everyone to scrupulously respect social distancing rules.
Chair Zoe White, flanked by branch Standard Bearer Freddy Roiseux and his counterparts Jean-Marie Vanwelkenhuyzen of the Political Prisoners’ Association (Confederation Nationale des Prisonniers Politiques et Ayants Droit) and Erik Ramakers from the European Confederation of Veterans (CEAC-ECOS), warmly welcomed members and guests, signalling that the event would include a number of new features, more of which later.
The British Ambassador to Belgium, H.E. Martin Shearman, set the tone for the commemoration, reminding those present of the enormous sacrifices made in the cause of freedom. During the First World War, 880,000 British forces gave their lives, 6% of the adult male population. The figure rises to over 1.1 million when the future Commonwealth countries are included. In the Second World War, 384,000 British soldiers were killed, as well as 70,000 civilians.
Branch Chaplain the Reverend Canon John Wilkinson unfortunately could not attend the event, but prayers were answered when Padre Nia Williams, serving with the European Joint Support Unit at NATO Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) in Mons, kindly agreed to deputise.
Nia echoed the Ambassador’s theme of sacrifice and highlighted the ordeal of living under enemy occupation, citing the poignant words of a distinguished Belgian branch member, the late François Roberti-Lintermans: “Freedom is the air that you breathe. It’s only when it’s taken away that you realise it exists and how important it is.”
One of the undoubted highlights of the ceremony was the presence of the Military Wives Choir Belgium, conducted by Nigel Ward and making their first live appearance since the start of the Covid pandemic. Their beautifully sung opening rendition was Carry Me, a song written by renowned film score composer Adam Langston.
Branch Secretary Andrée Ferrant read the 67th Psalm, a fitting call for “salvation among all nations” at a time when global tensions are once again on the rise.
Dennis Abbott, branch historian-researcher, paid tribute to two of the heroes buried in the cemetery. Flight Sergeant George Thompson used his bare hands to extinguish the burning clothing of two gunner crewmates, left unconscious when a shell hit their plane and set the fuselage alight. The 24-year-old, from Kinross in Scotland, later died of his injuries and was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. Major Robert Mélot, from Brussels, served with the British Special Air Service in North Africa, Italy and France. Twice wounded in action, he was awarded the Military Cross. He saw his hometown liberated, only to lose his life in a vehicle accident with his driver.
As customary at the annual commemoration, Vice-Chair Jean-Pierre Pede read the names of some of the fallen. The list included men from the Royal Army Service Corps – in which his late father-in-law, Harry Moffatt, also served.
Didier Nollet, immaculate in a three-piece suit, traditional bowler and carrying a rolled umbrella, paid tribute to branch member François-Marie Jacobs, who passed away last November, aged 95. François-Marie served with the 5th (Belgian) Special Air Service and was Honorary Chairman of the Marche-en-Famenne branch of the Fédération Nationale des Combattants. Didier’s moving words, delivered in English, French and Dutch, were received with spontaneous applause.
Eight-year-old Oscar, a pupil at the British School of Brussels, gave a wonderfully confident reading of Major John McCrae’s famous First World War poem In Flanders Fields, also receiving a well-deserved round of applause.
Following the Exhortation, read by Zoe, wreathes and flowers were laid on behalf of the British Embassy by Ambassador Martin Shearman and Defence Attaché Group Captain Justin Fowler, for the branch by Mireille Picron and Patrice Lotiquet, as well as by Nadine Clarisse for CEAC-ECOS Brabant (Confédération Européenne des Anciens Combattants) and Tibor Albert, Vice-President Western Europe of the United Nations Peacekeepers’ Association (Association Internationale des Soldats de la Paix).
Following prayers, the Military Wives Choir gave a pitch-perfect performance of We Will Remember Them. The ceremony closed with God Save The Queen and La Brabançonne, the Belgian national anthem, followed by the traditional laying of poppy crosses.
Zoe expressed thanks to the speakers, behind-the-scenes team and many members present, who included Belgian veteran Jean-Luc Deswaene, a branch member for more than 30 years.
Several branch members later joined for a convivial lunch at Le Lion Belge in Evere.
Photographs: David Bizley, Viviane Pede.
100 Years of the Royal British Legion
On 15 May the Royal British Legion marked 100 years of charitable support to the Armed Forces and their families. Branches across the world celebrated the events in different ways, the scale and ambition of each event highly dependant on the fluctuating COVID-19 regulations that shape our own environments. In Belgium, with the lifting of some regulations the week prior we were able to hold a small wreath laying ceremony, as requested by the RBL National Chair, at 0900 UK time, 1000 CET. On receiving the request, Andrée, our Honorable Secretary, quickly made the necessary arrangements and a small but determined band gathered in a damp Evere Cemetery to mark the event at the very same time the RBL laid wreathes at the Cenotaph in London.
Left: Alain Brogniez, Jean-Pierre Pede, Ethel Pede-Moffatt, Andrée Ferrant, Dennis Abbott, Laura Houlgatte-Abbott and David Bizley on the 100th anniversary of the RBL.
In the evening, I was lucky enough to be invited to attend a special edition of the Last Post at the Menin Gate with Freddy Roiseux, our fabulous Standard Bearer flying the RBL Brussels Branch flag. Christophe Onraet and Patrick Buerms (President and Chair of Ypres Branch respectively) arranged for all three Belgian branches to lay a wreath in the presence of the UK Ambassador to Belgium and the Mayor of Ypres. Standing alongside Patrick and Sid (Chair of Antwerp branch) for the first time was both great fun and I hope the start of a closer relationship between the branches once we can break free from COVID!
Antwerp, Brussels and Ypres Branches mark 100 years of the RBL in the presence of the UK Ambassador to Belgium at the Menin Gate
Act of Remembrance at Evere Cemetery, Brussels
3 October 2020
76th Anniversary of the Liberation of Brussels
3 September 2020, Colonne du Congrès
The Royal British Legion Brussels Branch were honoured to lay a wreath on this most meaningful of anniversaries. Images provided by the UK Defence Attache to Belgium.
Remembrance Pegasus Walk in Bure on 5 January 2020
An exceptional year for this highlight in the commemorative calendar. Over 200 people joined the walk remembering the sacrifices of the men who fought in the Battle of Bure, a vital part of the Battle of the Bulge. This walk remembered the actions of British paratroopers and Belgian SAS who took part in the allied counterattack on 3-5 January 1945. A tough battle, the units involved sustained heavy casualties. This commemorative march ensures that their sacrifices are remembered.
For more details of the Battle of the Bure, please see this article provided by Michel Bourland (in French).
Images courtesy of Michel Bourland, Dennis Abbott and Alain Brogniez.
An invitation to the British Residence in Brussels.
A number of our members were invited to join the British Ambassador, H.E. Mr Martin Shearman CVO for an evening at his residence in December 2019. Great food, song and company. It was a superb chance to catch up not only with the Branch, but fellow charities in Brussels. The images have been kindly provided by Eric d'Hulster.
An Act of Remembrance at Hotton-sur-Ourthe, May 2019