Menin Gate Lions take pride of place in Ieper once more

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is set to receive the famous Menin Gate stone lions, before they go back on display at Ieper later this month.

The lions are being loaned to the Belgian city by the Australian War Memorial for seven months, as part of commemorations marking the centenary of major battles in the Ypres Salient.

A delicate operation to transport the statues onto a Royal Australian Air Force C-17A Globemaster III plane was completed in Canberra last week.

The lions will arrive in Belgium this week and will be stored at the CWGC facility in Ieper, before being unveiled in time for Anzac Day services at the CWGC Menin Gate Memorial from 24 April.

Peter Francis, spokesman for the CWGC, said: “The CWGC is honoured to be working with our Belgian and Australian partners to help return the Menin Gate lions to their original setting.

“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.

“This year we look forward to welcoming their descendants to commemorations at CWGC cemeteries and memorials around Ieper as we pay tribute to their service, their sacrifice and their memory.”

The two stone lions 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.

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 troops passed the lions on their way to the Belgian battlefields on the Western Front.

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.

Director of the Australian War Memorial, Dr Brendan Nelson said the strong bond between Australia and Belgium will be renewed and strengthened by this joint initiative.

“Belgium and Australia both remember the catastrophe of the First World War. The lions will arrive back in Ieper just before Anzac Day, and 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,” he added.

The lions will be officially unveiled and inaugurated during a special Last Post on 24 April.

They 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.

The Belgian federal government will provide transport for the lions on Belgian territory and will arrange for the construction of two plinths on which the lions will stand.