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Military wives’ musical tribute at iconic WW1 memorial

5 August 2016
Thirty military wives from Portsmouth paid homage to Great War fallen when they performed at the iconic Menin Gate in Ypres.

The ladies, all members of Portsmouth Military Wives’ Choir, were invited to sing at the world-famous Last Post ceremony, a nightly ritual in the Belgian city for nearly 90 years.

The gate acts as a cenotaph for more than 54,000 Commonwealth soldiers who died in the Ypres sector between 1914 and 1918 but whose bodies were never identified.

Ever grateful for the sacrifices made by those men – and thousands more –in Flanders, locals pay tribute at 8pm daily with a service of commemoration under the gate’s imposing main arch.

Led by musical director Andrew Cleary the choir – one of 80 such groups across the UK’s military community – performed three pieces at the ceremony (Prayer of the Children, Amazing Grace and the National Anthem), watched by thousands of people before choristers Margaret Pugh and Suzanne Bull laid a wreath.

The short ceremony at the Menin Gate was the musical and emotional high point of the visit to the Ypres, but it was not the their sole performance.

The ladies decided to sing this piece here, as their own way of paying respects to those that gave the ultimate sacrifice

Lieutenant Commandder Marie Whitehouse, from Royal Navy Headquarters on Whale Island

The singers also gave a free lunchtime concert at St Martin’s Cathedral – 13 songs in all, including Wherever You Are (the Christmas No.1 in 2011 when performed by the original Military Wives’ Choir) with the acoustics in the house of worship powerfully adding to the music.

The final stop on the short visit was Tyne Cot cemetery, the largest Commonwealth War Graves burial ground in the world; nearly 12,000 souls, most victims of the terrible Passchendaele offensive in 1917, have found peace here.

The choir stopped those visiting the graves in their tracks with an impromptu performance of For the Fallen.

“It is not until you stand here, amongst so many graves, that you truly feel the emotion captured in the words of this famous poem,” said Lt Cdr Marie Whitehouse, who works at the Navy’s HQ on Whale Island.

“The ladies decided to sing this piece here, as their own way of paying respects to those that gave the ultimate sacrifice.

“And it was both an honour and a humbling experience for the choir to take part in the Menin Gate ceremony to remember those that made the ultimate sacrifice during the Great War.”

You can watch the choir’s performance at the Menin Gate at: Portsmouth Military Wives Choir Facebook page

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