The 2017 Pilgrimage - Report
The British Torch of Remembrance
53rd Annual Pilgrimage to Belgium: 8th-12th November 2017
The British Torch of Remembrance is an organisation which has close links with Belgium. It exists to keep alive the spirit of remembrance to honour those who gave their lives, particularly in the Great War but also in subsequent conflicts. Details of its history and how to become a member, and perhaps also travel with us next year, can be found by visiting www.doyrms/BTOR
The Duke of York’s Royal Military School has been associated with the Torch for a decade. Senior students form an honour guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey, as well as sounding The Last Post and Reveille during the Torch Kindling service which is presided over by the Dean of Westminster. During the service, wreaths were laid by the new Belgian Ambassador, His Excellency Mr Rudolph Huygelen and The Rt Hon Earl Howe, Minister of State for Defence. The service marks the commencement of the five day pilgrimage.
This year, 17 members from all over the country travelled via Dover for a service of remembrance at the old Dover Marine Station, now the Cruise Terminal. Following the service, the group made the traditional march onto the P&O ferry with Torch and Standards and were received with generous hospitality by the captain. Special thanks go once again to Dukie parent, Ann Marie Harrop from the Dover Port manager’s office, for arranging this. Our route took us from Calais to Ostend via Dunkirk where the group paid homage both to the British and Belgian fallen at the War memorial. The Torch was formally welcomed onto Belgian soil by the Mayor of Ostend, prior to a parade through the town centre for a short service of remembrance outside the cathedral. During the next three days we attended civic ceremonies of dedication and remembrance in Roeselare, Bredene and Ieper with Belgian friends, both old and new.
On 9th November, in a last minute departure from our schedule, we visited the grave of Private Ellis Humphrey Evans (Royal Welch Fusiliers) who was killed in action aged 30 on 31st July 1917, in the opening attack of what became known as the Battle of Passchendaele. He was and is a renowned Welsh-language poet whose bardic name Hedd Wyn means “blessed peace.” He was awarded the Bardic Chair posthumously at the Eisteddfod in 1917. Our act of remembrance coincided poignantly with a special centenary commemoration held in Cardiff on the same day when a new Bardic Chair crafted from Flemish oak was presented to the Welsh Assembly by representatives of The Government of Flanders in the UK to mark the part played by Welsh soldiers in Flanders during World War 1. 3,000 were lost. Welsh members of our group delivered the Exhortaion and Kohima Epitaph in Welsh.
During our visit to Ieper, we were received as usual by the First Deputy Mayor in the Town Council offices where the president was invited to light the TOCH lamp. Later that evening, he delivered the Kohima Epitaph during the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate where the Torch and Standards were accorded centre stage.
As is traditional, the pilgrimage culminated in Brussels with three national acts of remembrance. At the Gare Centrale, we joined with members of local, regional and national Belgian veterans’ associations to lay wreaths and march through the city centre to be received at the historic Town Hall. The next day, British Torch members took part in The King’s Armistice Day parade to the Colonne du Congres, resting place of the Belgian Unknown Warrior. Wreaths were laid by the King’s sister, HRH Princess Astrid, and civic and military dignitaries. Our president laid a wreath on behalf of The British Torch of Remembrance and was privileged to be presented to HRH Princess Astrid after the ceremonies. During the afternoon, the group visited the Waterloo Memorial in the splendidly gothic Brussels Town cemetery where we remembered Dukies who took part in that historic battle. That evening, in a moving ceremony back at The Colonne du Congres, the Torch was formally extinguished, only to be lit again at next year’s Torch Kindling in Westminster Abbey at 18:00 hours on Wednesday 7th November at the commencement of the 54th pilgrimage.
As always, the schedule was hectic and we are grateful to our Belgian Branch for working so closely with us to ensure that the trip proceeded smoothly. We met old friends and made new ones on this very special trip whose dual purpose is to keep alive the spirit of remembrance and to maintain good relations between ourselves and our Belgian allies. Wherever we go, our reception was warm, welcoming and not a little humbling. We would be delighted if some of you reading this and being in tune with our objectives were able to join us on next year’s particularly special journey which marks the centenary of The Armistice. Next year’s dates are Wednesday 7th November at Westminster Abbey for the Torch Kindling, followed by the trip to Belgium departing Dover on Thursday 8th and returning on Monday 12th. The Hon. Secretary, Andrew Nunn is happy to answer any queries readers may have.