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dinsdag 10 november 2015

November 11th - The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

On November 11th there is “Armistice Day”, the day that we remember the fallen soldiers during the World Wars.
In Belgium the biggest ceremony takes place at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. But how was this Unknown Soldier chosen?  And did you know that Bruges played an important role in this?

The Belgian Government decided in 1922 to identify an Unknown Soldier. These remains would be buried at the Congress Column in Brussels. This structure was designed by Jozef Poelaert and is a reference to the founding of Belgium and is a tribute for those fallen for the country.
To avoid that the identity of this body would be revealed (or known at all) a special procedure was developed. At five different military cemeteries, at locations where battles took place, one random coffin was exhumed, every time of an unknown Belgian military.
These coffins were then taken to the train station of Bruges, where a blind veteran would tap on one coffin. That would become the Unknown Soldier. This all took place on November 10th 1922.
So on Friday morning, November 10th 1922 the representatives of the military authorities waited at the platform of the train station of Bruges. At that moment, the train station was still located on ‘t Zand. The train they were waiting for brought the 5 coffins, coming from Luik, Namen, Antwerp, the battlefield at the Ijzer and the zone of the Liberation Offensive in Flanders.
The clarion played at 9.15am at the moment the war veterans bring the coffins to the funeral chapel, installed in the waiting area. While several veterans stand guard with the coffins, there is a service in St Salvatorscathedral in honor of the fallen soldiers.

Around 4pm Renold Haesebrouck, the blind veteran is picked up at his house in Assebroek (a borough of Bruges), he arrives at 4.31pm in the train station, welcomed by the minister of Defence. One by one the veteran touches the coffins, then takes place in the middle of the funeral chapel and says: “The fourth coffin from the left contains the remains of the Unknown Soldier”, while pointing to the coffin with his cane.
In the morning of the next day (November 11th) 8 veterans (4 with the left arm lost, 4 with the right arm lost) take the coffin out of the funeral chapel to the train waiting. The national anthem is played when the train slowly moves out of the station.
The coffin is brought to Brussels, placed in the tomb in between the two bronze lions in front of the Congress Column.  At 11.25am every in Brussels stopped moving for one minute. No more clarions playing, traffic stops, everywhere everyone stops working and stands motionless for one minute.

But what happened with the other 4 coffins?
or that we return to Bruges. After a small ceremony in the train station, the four coffins are placed on gun carriages and transported to the military cemetery in Assebroek. Along the way to the cemetery, people line up to bring a salute and show their respect for these soldiers.
At 11am the coffins are placed in the graves. Two canons fire and everywhere people who hear this stop working for one minute.
There is no plan or register of where these graves are. Only after looking really hard the four simple graves are found. Two by two, with a simple cross to mark them. On the crosses you can read the words: “Unknown, military, died in the service of Belgium”. No column, no lions, no eternal flame or Royal salute…