The Great Pilgrimage in August 2018
In 2018 the Royal British Legion organised a “Great Pilgrimage” to mark the 90th anniversary of its first such event. This pilgrimage saw eleven thousand WW1 veterans and war widows visit the battlefields around Ypres. This Pilgrimage culminated in a march through Ypres to the Commonwealth War Grave Commission’s Menin Gate Memorial for a ceremony commemorating the launch of the ‘Hundred Days Offensive’.
The Hundred Days Offensive (8th August to 11th November 1918) was a series of massive, Allied offensives which ended the First World War. Beginning with the Battle of Amiens (8th - 12th August) on the Western Front, the Allies pushed the Central Powers (the Quadruple Alliance: Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Bulgaria and Turkey’s Ottoman Empire) back, undoing the latter’s gains from their Spring Offensive. The Germans retreated to the Hindenburg Line, but the Allies broke through the line with a series of victories, starting with the Battle of St Quentin Canal on 29th September. This offensive, together with a revolution breaking out in Germany, led to the Armistice of 11th November 1918, which ended the war with an Allied victory (but with no surrender by the Central Powers). The term "Hundred Days Offensive" does not refer to a battle or strategy, but rather the rapid series of Allied victories against which the German armies had no reply.
This year, The Royal British Legion launched an event known as Great Pilgrimage 90 (GP90) to mark the 90th anniversary of the Great Pilgrimage. The objective being to bring together as many Legion Standards as possible; over one thousand RBL Branches from around the country each sent two representatives to make this one of the largest events in the charity’s history, one as standard bearer and one as wreath layer. The Hannover Branch, which was reconstituted in 2014, was represented by its Chairman, David Brett, as standard bearer, and a member, Gerald Blanchfield, as wreath layer, earning the Branch the right to the Ypres ‘battle honour’ on its standard.
Around 2,300 Legion branch representatives participated in a 4-night visit to Belgium and France from the 5th – 9th August. The first two days were spent visiting battlefields and cemeteries on the Somme and the Ypres Salient, appreciating more than ever the huge sacrifice made by a generation of young men from all over the Commonwealth during the four years of this ghastly conflict.
On the morning of Wednesday 8th August, participants assembled outside the town of Ypres for a parade which would finish at the Menin Gate, as it had done 90 years previously. They set off at 12:00 hours, in ranks of four, to march through the town square with a total of 1,150 Standard Bearers. This was, by far, the largest number of Branch Standards ever paraded at one event. The Standard Bearers were followed by the Wreath Layers in a parade that was well over a mile in length. They joined other Legion dignitaries Civic and military guests from the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth and European countries at the Menin Gate for a Service of Remembrance. After the service wreaths were laid on behalf of the thousands of branches represented. The wreaths remained on public display close to the Menin Gate until 31st August.