East Grinstead choir sings at Last Post ceremony to honour the fallen of the First World War
A choir from East Grinstead who sang at the daily Last Post ceremony in Ypres were praised for making it extra special for the hundreds of people gathered to remember the fallen from the First World War.
East Grinstead Choral Society members sang two specially selected songs while poppy wreaths were laid at the famous Menin Gate memorial in the Belgian town.
The Last Post, the traditional final salute to the fallen, is played by the buglers in honour of the memory of the 300,000 soldiers from the British and Commonwealth, who died in battles in the so-called Ypres Salient.
The service, which attracts hundreds of visitors, takes place every evening at 8pm at the Menin Gate, a memorial whose walls are inscribed with the names of almost 55,000 soldiers who have no known last resting place.
Chairman Richard Young said it was a very emotional experience for the choir.
“It was a privilege to take part and sing under the great arch of the Menin Gate, which bears the names of so many young men who gave their lives but have no known grave. Many of us had a tear in their eye as we sang.
“The response from the crowd afterwards was incredible, with people of different nationalities coming up to us to say how beautifully we sang and to thank us for making the occasion so special for them.”
“This was the third time we have taken part in the Last Post Ceremony. Our last visit was in 2014 and being there at the centenary of both the beginning and the end of the Great War was something really special to us all.”
The choir sang ‘Crossing the Bar’, a poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson set to music by Sir Hubert Parry, and ‘O Valiant Hearts’ a hymn commemorating those who fell in the First World War, with words from a poem by John Stanhope Arkwright set to music by Charles Harris.
The choir’s musical director Richard Jenkinson said: “These two works were selected as they reflect the journey from life through death and acknowledge the supreme sacrifice that so many young men made a century ago.
“I was very proud of the choir. They thoroughly deserved the praise and thanks they received from so many people attending the ceremony.”
The 45 choir members were joined by 15 guest singers, including 12 from Kent Chorus, and friends and family for the weekend visit to Flanders.
As well as taking part in the Last Post Ceremony, they also sang at Mass at St Martin’s Cathedral and morning eucharist at St George’s, an Anglican church built in Ypres to serve both as permanent memorial to the dead and as a meeting place for the visiting relatives.
They also visited four war cemeteries, including Tyne Cot, the largest cemetery for Commonwealth forces in the world, where almost 12,000 soldiers are buried, and the German at Langemark where more than 44,000 soldiers are buried.
“It was particularly important for us to visit a German cemetery as well as the British ones,” said Richard Young. “It reminds us what a tragic waste of life the Great War was for both sides in the conflict.”
The choir's visit was organised by two of our members, Ray and Anne White, who ensured that we packed a great deal into our time in Ypres. We would like to thank them for making it a very memorable experience.
East Grinstead Choral Society’s next event is a Summer Soiree – an evening of popular choral classics and songs from West Side Story and Oliver! – on Saturday 23 June at Imberhorne Lower School, Windmill Lane, East Grinstead. They will be joined by young voices from St Mary’s Primary School.
Tickets, price £15, include a light supper and are available in advance only from choir members or by calling 01342 328774.
The choir rehearses every Thursday evening during term time from 7.30pm to 9.45pm at the Jubilee Community Centre, East Grinstead, and new members would be made very welcome.
Richard Young said: “We like to think that East Grinstead Choral Society is one of the friendliest and most welcoming groups around. Members come mainly from East Grinstead but also from a large surrounding area. Some have been with the choir for many years, but new members join all the time. If you'd like to join us then we'd be delighted to hear from you!”
The choir will also be performing at East Court Live, the free party in the park on East Grinstead’s East Court terraces on Sunday 1 July.