Flanders Memorial Garden opens in Canberra

Summary

Flanders has officially opened its Memorial Garden contained within Australia’s War Memorial in the capital city

Centenary commemoration

The Flanders Memorial Garden opened in the Australian capital Canberra on Tuesday, becoming part of the larger Australian War Memorial in the city. The new garden was funded by the Flemish government in memory of the Australian soldiers who died in the First World War in Flanders.

The garden includes low walls leading to a circle planted with flowers, which reflects the three circles that form the roof of the Menin Gate in Ypres. The poem “In Flanders Fields” by Canadian officer John McCrae is inscribed on one of the garden’s walls.

Thousands of Australian troops passed through the Menin Gate – still home to a nightly Last Post ceremony – on their way to the front. “No monument than the Menin Gate better symbolises the sacrifice the Australian troops made for the defence of Ypres,” Flemish minister-president Geert Bourgeois said. “The Flemish government did not hesitate to contribute to the realisation of this memorial garden in Canberra, an appropriate honour to their ultimate sacrifice.”

Just like the Flanders Fields Memorial Garden in London, which opened in 2013, the Canberra monument contains soil gathered from First World War sites in Flanders, including from Tyne Cot cemetery, Polygon Wood and Hill 60. The structures were built using Portland stone, the same type used on the arch of the Menin Gate.

At the opening ceremony, Australian War Memorial director Brendan Nelson reflected on his country’s ongoing positive relationship with Belgium. “In the Great War, these men and women paid the ultimate sacrifice for Australia, the ideals of mankind and the hope of a better world,” he said. “A centenary gift from the people of Flanders, the garden is a reminder of the eternal truths by which we live, and the lives lost for them.”

Koen Verlaeckt, secretary-general of Flanders’ foreign affairs department, was also present at the opening ceremony. “The memorial garden in Canberra is the second permanent commemoration in another country of the awful events of Flanders Fields,” he said. “It is a place for the fallen to be remembered, but at the same time a place of hope, peace, reconciliation and meditation.”

The Australian War Memorial includes remembrance monuments, a museum and an extensive archive.

Photo: Foreign affairs secretary-general Koen Verlaeckt takes part in the opening ceremony of the Flanders Memorial Garden in Australia
©Steve Burton/Australian War Memorial

First World War

Claiming the lives of more than nine million people and destroying entire cities and villages in Europe, the Great War was one of the most dramatic armed conflicts in human history. It lasted from 1914 to 1918.
Flanders Field - For four years, a tiny corner of Flanders known as the Westhoek became one of the war’s major battlefields.
Untouched - Poperinge, near Ypres, was one of the few towns in Flanders that remained unoccupied for most of the war.
Cemetery - The Tyne Cot graveyard in Passchendaele is the largest Commonwealth cemetery in the world.
550 000

lives lost in West Flanders

368 000

annual visitors to the Westhoek

1 914

First Battle of Ypres