Centenary commemoration: MP pays tribute to brave men who perished at Passchendaele

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP with Chelsea Pensioner Peter Henry, whose daughter lives in Hilden.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP with Chelsea Pensioner Peter Henry, whose daughter lives in Hilden.

Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said he was honoured to represent Northern Ireland at two special events to mark the centenary of the Battle of Passchendaele.

The DUP man, Chairman of the World War One Centenary Committee, was among those who attended a ceremony at the Menin Gate, Ypres on Monday evening, and an event at Tyne Cot cemetery on Tuesday to remember those who served King and country during the First World War’s ‘Battle of Mud’.

The pipes and drums of the Royal Irish Regiment leading the standard bearers and veterans on a march through the Menin Gate.

The pipes and drums of the Royal Irish Regiment leading the standard bearers and veterans on a march through the Menin Gate.

The Battle of Passchendaele, fought on flooded and muddy fields near the town of Ypres in Belgium between July and November 1917, claimed the lives of around 325,000 Allied troops and 260,000 German soldiers.

“In a very moving and fitting ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ypres on Monday evening, we remembered the tens of thousands of British soldiers, those from other European and Commonwealth countries and from Belgium itself who perished in this tumultuous battle,” Mr Donaldson explained.

“The event included tributes by the Duke of Cambridge Prince William and the King of Belgium, as well as the laying of wreaths by the Prime Minister Theresa May and other government and diplomatic representatives.

“Symbolising the involvement of a number of Irish regiments at Passchendaele and Ypres, the Irish Guards were involved in the wreath laying ceremony and the pipes and drums of the Royal Irish Regiment led the short parade of standard bearers and veterans to the Menin Gate. Many of the soldiers from all over Ireland who died at Ypres are commemorated on this finest of war memorials.”

On Tuesday morning, the local MP attended a further commemoration event at Tyne Cot cemetery near the village of Passchendaele.

“This is the largest cemetery in the world that is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and it is the final resting place for thousands of the soldiers who died in the mud and carnage of Flanders,” Mr Donaldson continued.

“Leading the tributes on the British side was Prince Charles, together with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the Prime Minister. They all laid wreaths at the memorial stone or on individual graves in the cemetery and it was particularly poignant when some schoolchildren laid flowers on the graves of German soldiers also buried in Tyne Cot cemetery, a reminder that death in war affects all sides.

“Walking around the graves, I was struck by just how many hold the last remains of local soldiers who lost their lives at places like Messines, Passchendaele and Ypres. Row upon row of graves in such a peaceful setting are a powerful reminder of the scale of death and destruction that occurred on this battlefield 100 years ago and of the young men who travelled from our local communities to fight and die for our freedom. They left behind loved ones whose hearts were broken by such a devastating loss. We who are their successors do well to remember and honour this sacrifice.”