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Belgium comes to London to remember its war dead

Each July, a Belgian Parade takes place in London at the Cenotaph on Whitehall to pay tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms from both sides of the Channel.

The Belgian Parade through Westminster takes place on the Saturday preceding Belgian National Day.

The fact that it takes place in London is a strong symbol of the fraternity that existed between the British and Belgian soldiers during and after both world wars, and confirms the close ties that continue to unite both countries today.
 
The annual tradition dates back to 1934 when King Albert I of the Belgians, who was also Colonel-in-Chief of the ‘5th Inniskilling Dragoon Guards’, died in a climbing accident.
 
Touched by the death of his cousin and, in recognition of the heroism and sacrifice of the Belgian Army in the First World War, King George V decided to bestow a special honour on the Belgians.

A unique honour

It was an honour that had never been awarded to any other non-Commonwealth nation, and remains unique: the gift of a yearly Belgian Act of Remembrance at the Cenotaph and a parade through Westminster.
 
Belgium remains the only non-Commonwealth nation that is allowed to parade its troops in uniform, bearing arms, in central London.
 
This year, the ceremony saw 250 Belgian veterans and soldiers parade in full ceremony alongside 100 British soldiers which included the Band of the Irish Guards who provided music for the event, the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment, members of F Company Scots Guards, veterans and cadets.

The Belgian remembrance service was attended by His Excellency the Belgian Ambassador to London Bruno van Der Pluijm, and the Chief of Defense Belgium, Admiral Michel Hofman.

Commander Home Command Lieutenant General Ian Cave and Minister for Defence Procurement Jeremy Quin were among those representing the UK Government.

Ancient ties

The UK and Belgium are essential allies and close neighbours. Several British Army units such as the Grenadier Guards and the Household Cavalry Regiment The Life Guards were raised in Belgium.

Jeremy Quin said: "We're reminded of the joint sacrifice our Armed Forces made for the liberties we enjoy today. The legacy of those who fell in battle is the strong and enduring alliance between our two nations."
 
The UK has enjoyed centuries of mutually beneficial trade agreements, with Belgium still the UK's sixth-largest export market.

We're reminded of the joint sacrifice our Armed Forces made for the liberties we enjoy today. The legacy of those who fell in battle is the strong and enduring alliance between our two nations UK Minister of Defence Procurement, Jeremy Quin

 

The Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (NATO’s operational HQ) which employs large numbers of British Armed Force personnel is in Belgium and most recently, alongside the UK and our NATO partners, Belgium has been helping to bolster enhanced Forward Presence on Europe’s Eastern border.  

In April this year the Belgian Air Force provided air support to UK forces on Exercise Furious Wolf in Estonia as our forces practised air land integration.

The silence is marked

As the sun beat relentlessly down on Whitehall and the eleventh hour was struck by Big Ben, the silence was marked.

Wreaths made from fresh summer flowers, that were imported from Belgium just for this occasion, were laid with due ceremony at the Cenotaph, and national anthems were performed: God Save The Queen for the UK and The Brabançonne for Belgium.
 
The solemn Service of Remembrance was followed by a military parade down Whitehall and onto Horse Guards Parade. The Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment joined their comrades from the Belgian Armed Forces in lining the route across the parade square to the Guards Memorial.

Belgium's tribute to British Forces

Another wreath laying ceremony was held at the Guards Memorial in recognition of the sacrifice of British Soldiers, in particular the Guards Division whose Foot Guards and Cavalry took terrible casualties in Flanders Fields in the First World War, and who was at the vanguard of liberating Belgium from Nazi occupation in September 1944.
 
Finally, the Band of the Irish Guards led the troops and veterans back to Wellington Barracks where another short service was held at the Flanders Fields Memorial Garden beside the Guards Chapel on Birdcage Walk.
 
There a lone cornet player, Lance Sergeant Ellis Ward from the Band of the Irish Guards, played the Last Post and more wreaths were laid. The participants then enjoyed a reception given by the Belgian Ministry for Defence at Wellington Barracks.

A final homecoming

The Flanders Fields Memorial Garden is a gift from the Belgian people to the UK for their support in the First World War.

It contains sacred soil taken from every battlefield and FWW memorial site in Flanders and poignantly symbolises a tangible return home of all those soldiers lost on the Front particularly those who have no known grave.

It was created and opened to mark the start of the FWW Centenary commemorations in 2014.