The lions were unveiled at a Special Last Post ceremony on the eve of Anzac Day (Photo © Commonwealth War Graves Commission)

Menin Gate Lions back on guard in Ypres

Posted on on 26 April 2017
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Two stone lions, passed by soldiers on their way to the battlefields of Ypres, have returned to Flanders in readiness for some of the biggest commemorations of the First World War Centenary.

The lions, loaned by the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, will serve as a reminder of the huge losses suffered during the Third Battle of Ypres/Passchendaele in 1917.

They were unveiled on April 24, the eve of Anzac Day, at a special Last Post Ceremony attended by the Australian Veterans' Affairs Minister, Dan Tehan, Belgian Vice-Prime Minister Kris Peeters and Jef Verschoore, Acting Mayor of Ieper (Ypres).

The lions will stay on display until Armistice Day, November 11. They were airlifted to Belgium by the Royal Australian Air Force as part of a joint centenary initiative by the governments of the two countries. 

Dr Brendan Nelson, Director of the Australian War Memorial,  said: "Belgium and Australia both remember the catastrophe of the First World War. 

"The lions will resume guard at the place where they once stood all those years ago. There they will remind us of the price paid by so many during the battles for Ieper, Polygon Wood and the Wijtschate-Mesen ridge, during which tens of thousands of Allied soldiers were killed."

The lions, thought to date from the 17th Century, bear Ypres' coat of arms (Photo © Commonwealth War Graves Commission)

During the Great War, the lions flanked the original gateway leading out of Ypres towards Menin and the battlefields.

Still bearing the scars of shell damage, they were presented to Australia by the Burgomaster (Mayor) of Ieper in 1936 as a gesture of the city's gratitude for Australian sacrifice.

Both statues were restored in the 1980s, and put on display at the entrance to the Australian War Memorial, the focal point for the nation's remembrance in the capital, Canberra.

This is the second Centenary intercontinental venture for the lions. As Centenary News reported, they travelled to Ottawa 2014 for the Canadian War Museum's Fighting in Flanders exhibition. 

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission - which cares for the Menin Gate, the memorial to the Missing of the Ypres Salient, dedicated in 1927 - has been involved in the project to display them again in Ieper.

CWGC spokesman Peter Francis said: "The return of the lions is an important symbol as we prepare to mark the Centenary of Passchendaele - The Third Battle of Ypres. Hundreds of thousands of young men and women, from across the Commonwealth, marched past the lions at the original Menin Gate on their way to the front. Many would never return."

The Menin Gate Lions are in Ieper (Ypres) until Armistice Day, November 11. They will then be returned to the Australian War Memorial, Canberra. Their story is told in an exhibition at In Flanders Fields Museum, located in the Cloth Hall, Ypres.

Sources: Commonwealth War Graves Commission/Australian War Memorial

Images courtesy of CWGC

Posted by: CN Editorial Team