‘Never again at war’: Armistice events this weekend look to both past and future


This weekend is the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, and no country has more events planned than Belgium

Every life lost is an empty chair

While the hundreds of events, activities and gatherings that have taken place over the last four years for the First World War centenary have been singularly unique, there is a sense that they are all culminating next weekend. Sunday is the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, the end of the First World War.

The Westhoek region of West Flanders – home to much of the war’s Western Front – is the centre of Belgium’s commemoration events on 11 November. But it’s a three-day programme, in fact, which kicks off on Friday afternoon with the unveiling of Assembly: Memorial Chairs.

The In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres organised the installation by asking people from every nation that fought in the First World War to send chairs. The idea is that every life lost in war is an empty chair back home.

From Friday to Sunday night, the more than 100 chairs are on display in the city’s Astrid Park. Each is illuminated by a lantern that includes information on where the chair is from and how far it travelled to reach Ypres. The installation also includes white flowers and a special soundscape.

Following the weekend, the chairs will remain in Ypres “just like the fallen soldiers”, according to the museum.

Extra Last Post

The programme continues on Friday evening in Ypres with a reading by Iranian-Dutch writer Kader Abdolah and one of three weekend concerts called The Great War Remembered in the city’s cathedral.

On Saturday, visitors are invited to take part in the final leg of the annual four-day commemoration walk from the Somme in France to Ypres. There are several options, from four to 24 kilometres. Also on Saturday is a candlelight procession at the Crest Farm Memorial in Passchendaele and the concert Distortion: A Hymn to Liberty at Zonnebeke Castle. The latter is a collaboration among Flemish composer Dirk Brossé, jazz pianist Jef Neve and singer-songwriter Frederik Sioen reflecting on the unpredictable nature of both war and peace.

Back in Ypres on Sunday are a special service at the cathedral, the Poppy Parade, and a memorial at the War Victims Monument. That is followed by an extra Last Post ceremony at 11.00 at the Menin Gate. The regular nightly Last Post at 20.00 will also take place, closing out the weekend.

All of the events in the Westhoek can be attended by members of the public, though all the concerts are sold out. To attend the reading by Kader Abdolah, email kenniscentrum@ieper.be.

Live broadcast

In Brussels, meanwhile, the annual Armistice Day ceremony will take place at the Grave of the Unknown Soldier at the foot of the Congress Column. Later, at 15.00, the world premiere of War Requiem by Flemish composer Annelies Van Parys takes place at Bozar, performed by the Belgian National Orchestra.

Also at Bozar in the evening is Memory, Let All Slip: Tales of the Great War, a unique performance by seven actors reading texts written by seven soldiers from different countries during the great war. Texts are read in their original languages, with surtitles in English, French and Dutch.

Myriad events are happening around the country, of course, such as Vergeten vrouwen in de Groote oorlog (Forgotten Women of the Great War), with experiences shared as stories, songs, poetry and images in Assenede, East Flanders; a candlelight march in Ghent; a concert of The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace by Welsh composer Karl Jenkins in Steenokkerzeel; and a stage adaptation of the best-selling Flemish novel War and Turpentine in Antwerp.

But nearly every town is planning something. To see if there’s something near you, visit Flanders’ and Belgium’s websites dedicated to the centenary. Many exhibitions, tours and other activities last well beyond 11 November.

Finally, Flemish TV channel Eén will broadcast specials under the tagline Nooit meer ten oorlog (Never Again at War) as well as cover the events in West Flanders and in Brussels live throughout the day.

If you’re planning to head to Ypres this weekend, the city suggests that those coming by car use the free parking on one of three streets: Tulpenlaan, Rijselpoort and Haiglaan. The parking lot belonging to the Picanol Group at Steverlyncklaan 15 is also open to visitors this weekend.
But it might be most wise to come by train. The centre of town is a pleasant 15-minute walk from the station.

Photo top: Menin Gate ©AgeFotoStock/BELGA, above: Tyne Cot ©Kurt Desplenter/BELGA