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It might not be the best idea to go shopping next Saturday: all large shopping malls will be closed. The atmosphere will be somewhat different than other Saturdays. Why?
Saturday 11 November is an official holiday. Remembrance Day is a Memorial Day that remembers the members of the armed forces who have died in the line of duty. Remembrance Day is observed on 11 November in most countries to recall the end of hostilities of World War I on that same day in 1918. Hostilities formally ended “at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.”
Remembrance Day is not only observed in Belgium, but also in France, the Commonwealth nations, Poland, the United States of America, … In Belgium, this day has been an official holiday since 1922. Every year the king, the prime minister and many more high-ranking officers gather for a ceremony at the tomb of the unknown soldier and pay honour to all victims, including those of the second world war and all the other wars that took place.
Students that live close to the city centre might find the time to attend this ceremony at the Congress Column. It is by nature a very silent ceremony, including one minute of complete silence at 11 O’ clock. The king and representatives of the veterans and four army detachments lay down wreaths and show respect through salutes and by raising arms. It ends with 21 cannon shots. The soldiers start to parade and the Belgian national anthem, the Brabançonne sounds over the square. A ceremony that provokes Goosebumps and sends shivers down the spine.
The Congress Column is a monument situated at the Congress square in Brussels. It commemorates the formation of the Belgian state and constitution by the National Congress in 1830-1831. The column, including the statue of king Leopold I of the Belgians, has a total height of 47 meters. The four sitting statues surrounding the pedestal represent the major constitutional liberties; the ‘Liberty of Union’, the Liberty of Worship, the Liberty of Press and the Liberty of Education. Two monumental bronze Lions by Eugène Simonis are placed in front of the monument. Five anonymous soldiers were buried at the foot of the monument, the 11th of November 1922. Their tomb is surmounted by an eternal flame.
Students that live too far from the city centre, can probably attend the same ceremony in their own commune. Mayor and representatives from veterans’ organisations tend to come together at the same time at the veteran’s memorial honouring the victims of both world wars. A special ceremony is the one in Laeken, organised by the French army in front of the statue of General Koch.
The most impressive one is the “Last Post” played by four buglers in Ypres. One doesn’t have to wait ‘till 11 November for this: Every evening and in all weather conditions at 8pm sharp, the “Last Post” has sounded since 1928 under the imposing arches of the Menin Gate. This memorial shaped like a Roman triumphal arch displays the names of 54.896 soldiers of the then British empire who went missing in action. On 11 November, a special commemoration is organized at 11 O’clock, and attended by thousands of descendants of British soldiers, many of them wearing a paper poppy.
The poppy of wartime remembrance is Papaver rhoeas, the red-flowered corn poppy. This poppy is a common weed in Europe and is found in many locations, including Flanders, which is the setting of the famous poem “In Flanders Fields” by the Canadian surgeon and soldier John McCrae:
In Flanders fields the poppies grow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.