On 8th August 1928 the Royal British Legion organised “The Great Pilgrimage”, which saw 11,000 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.
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 1000 RBL Branches from around the country each sent two representatives to make this one of the largest events in the charity’s history. Tim and Sue Small represented Seale and Sands, Tim as Standard Bearer and Sue as Wreath Layer.
We joined 2,300 other Legion branch representatives on a 4 night visit to Belgium and France from the 5th – 9th August. The first 2 days of our stay were spent visiting battlefields and cemeteries on the Somme and the Ypres Salient. It was impossible not to appreciate the huge sacrifice made by a generation of young men from all over the Commonwealth during the four years of this war.
On the morning of Wednesday (August 8th) we assembled outside the town of Ypres for a parade which would finish at the Menin Gate as it had done 90 years previously. We set off at 12.00 in ranks of 4 to march through the town square with a total of 1,150 Standard Bearers. This represented, by a significant amount, the largest number of Branch Standards ever paraded at one event. We were followed by the wreath layers in a parade that stretched well over a mile in length. We joined other Legion dignitaries Civic and military guests from the UK, Commonwealth and Northern Europe at the Menin Gate for a Service of Remembrance. After the service Sue laid her wreath on behalf of The Seale and Sands Community. The wreaths are now on public display close to the Menin Gate and will remain there until 31st August.
Both Tim and Sue consider it to have been both an honour and a privilege to have represented Seale and Sands at this event and were both humbled by the experience of marching through the hugely appreciative crowds of people in the town. It was without doubt a once in a lifetime opportunity that neither of them will forget.