The famous Menin Gate stone lions were unveiled as they resumed guard at their former home in Ieper ahead of this week’s ANZAC Day services.
The stone lions were unveiled by First Alderman Jef Verschoore and Australian Minister, The Hon Dan Tehan, with Belgian Vice Prime Minister, Kris Peeters, at CWGC Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial during a special ceremony yesterday, alongside the opening of a small explanatory exhibition about the lions in the In Flanders Fields Museum (IFFM).
The lions were officially unveiled and inaugurated during a special Last Post - a ceremony that has been organised every evening since 1928 by the Last Post Association. On 24 April, the ceremony took place for the 30,655th time.
At the joint initiative of the Belgian and Australian governments, the lions have returned temporarily to their symbolic home at the Menin Gate, as part of the 100th anniversary commemorations of some of the most crucial battles of the First World War, including the Third Battle of Ypres - the Battle of Passchendaele, the Mine Battle of Messines and the Battle of Polygon Wood.
The lions will stand on the bridge in front of the Menin Gate and will be returned to the Australian War Memorial after Armistice Day, 11 November 2017.
The history of the lions is being told in a file exhibition in the IFFM. First Alderman Jef Verschoore, also chairman of the IFFM, who also welcomed delegates to yesterday’s service, said: “We are delighted that both governments and the other relevant partners, such as the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the Last Post Association, have joined forces to make possible this remarkable project.”
The two stone lions, which each hold a shield bearing the coat-of-arms of Ieper and after 1822 stood on the old staircase leading up to the entrance of the Cloth Hall, the civic and business centre of the city, have been temporarily returned to their original home as part of the commemoration of the First World War.
In the middle of the 19th century, the lions were moved to a new position at the Menin Gate, where they stood during the First World War, while Ieper was reduced to ruins by German shells. Thousands of Allied troops, including many Australian infantry units, passed the lions on their way to the Belgian battlefields on the Western Front. Many of them were destined never to return.
The lions, broken and damaged, were later recovered from the devastation and in 1936 they were gifted by the Burgomaster of Ieper to the Government of Australia as a gesture of friendship and gratitude for the sacrifices made by the Australian nation. Since then, they have stood guard at the entrance to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, where they have been admired by visitors from all over the world.