Flanders Fields

The construction of the Menin Gate in Ypres

The construction of the Menin Gate took place between 1922 and 1927. This well-known war memorial commemorates Commonwealth soldiers who died during World War One.

The Menin Gate in Ypres is one of the most famous war memorials in the world. It bears the names of 54,896 Commonwealth soldiers who were reported missing in the Ypres Salient between the outbreak of war and 15 August 1917. It’s also the location of the Last Post, a deeply moving ceremony that takes place at 8 pm every evening under its arches.

In a recent post I covered the reconstruction of Ypres after its total destruction during the First World War. I mentioned that I would be describing the building of the Menin Gate separately. This was because Katrien and Steven who run B&B La Porte Cochère in Ypres recently sent me some fascinating photos of the construction of the Menin Gate. They were particularly interesting as Steven’s grandfather was closely involved in the building’s construction. They kindly allowed me to share them here.

Construction of the Menin Gate began in 1922 and was finished in 1927. This photo was taken at quite an early stage. All the white stone was shipped over from Portland in England
Carving the lion that sits on top of the Menin Gate. No fewer than seven lions were carved until they were happy with one (I guess the stonemasons had never seen a real lion). They were carved in situ on top of the gate; otherwise they would have been too heavy to lift. In between these two lions you can see two of Steven’s Great-Uncles who were stonemasons. More of them later.
Work is now in full progress. On the top right of the Gate you can see the shed where the lion is being carved
All the scaffolding used on the Menin Gate was wood. Metal scaffolding had recently been invented but was not in great use in the 1920s.
This photo was taken from the top of the Menin Gate during its construction. You can see the rails upon which the huge white stones were transported.
The stone blocks were transported to the building site on trolleys which ran on the rail tracks.
The architect of the Menin Gate was Sir Reginald Blomfield who also designed Lambeth Bridge and the Piccadilly Circus Quadrant in London, and numerous cemeteries.
Blomfield’s architectural style displays a mix of classical and modern influences. Typical is the use of brick in a contracting combination with natural stone. This is evident in this photo.
Fairly new in this era was the use of iron cables to reinforce the concrete.
Surveying the site is Sir Reginald Blomfield (the man in black). The man standing behind him is Steven’s grandfather, Leo-Gustaaf De Plancke.
Leo-Gustaaf De Plancke was a stonemason, and this is his stone carvery. At the back you can see the crane and some of the people working for De Plancke.
Workers pose in front of the huge stones. The devaluation of the Belgian Franc in 1926 nearly bankrupted contractors and led to many Belgian workers trying to find employment in France. Nevertheless, Blomfield described the work as “carried out in an admirable manner.”
Steven’s maternal grandfather, Leo-Gustaaf De Plancke, worked together with his six brothers on the Menin Gate; they were all stonemasons. Leo-Gustaaf’s father and grandfather were also stonemasons. On this family picture – taken outside their house – you can see Steven’s great-grandmother (widowed) with her seven sons. One of them was married and had two children. Leo-Gustaaf is the third person from the right.
Leo-Gustaaf De Plancke was born in 1903 so he and his brothers would have been too young to fight in the First World War. He died when he was 70 years old from dust in his lungs due to his work with the white stones.
Part of the unveiling ceremony of the Menin Gate, 24th July 1929.
The Last Post 1930. Second from right is Pierre Vandenbraambussche, founder of the Last Post, fourth from the right is Henri Sobry, Mayor of Ypres.
The Last Post 2020, during coronavirus times. ©Stefaan Tanghe
The Menin Gate 2020 ©Stefaan Tanghe
Remembering the Fallen. ©Stefaan Tanghe

Thank you Katrien and Steven for sharing these photos of your family and the construction of the Menin Gate. And thank you Stefaan for the contemporary photos.

If you are interested to learn more about Flanders Fields you might like to check out some of my other posts:

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Categories: Flanders Fields, History

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9 replies »

  1. oh what extraordinary photographs, and how fascinating to see the construction. It is a wonderful memorial. I’m never going to look at those lions the same though – I presume the ones that didn’t make it were destroyed or are there sections hiding somewhere?!

  2. Thanks for sharing these amazing photos and the fascinating story Denzil. We’ve been to the Menin Gate twice and both times found it to be a very moving experience. So many names – it’s almost beyond comprehension. We found a Canadian soldier with our surname on the gate – sure to be a distant relative as they all left Ireland during the potato famine and either travelled to Canada or Australia.

  3. Fascinating and so interesting to see all the photos and background to this. We used to take school trips and our A Level Literature students there. It is a very moving place. I am sorry to hear that the stone caused lung damage though. So little was known to protect people then and now we have this virus and some won’t wear masks.

    • Thanks Georgina. I wonder when hard hats came into use; they certainly didn’t seem to be in use then. Mind you, as you point out, some today don’t wear the necessary protection!

  4. Denzil, I loved this review and thank you for sharing these rare and incredibly interesting photos. I am not sure if you are aware that the Australian War Memorial (AWM) in Canberra has the two lions from the original Menim Gate (gifted to Australia post WWI). They were loaned back to Ypres for centenary commemorations in 1918/19. Also at the AWM is a haunting painting of the Memin Gate Memorial which is one of my favourite exhibits at the AWM. I have written short reviews on the lions and the painting which you can find here : https://ramblingwombat.wordpress.com/2017/07/19/menin-gate-lions/ and https://ramblingwombat.wordpress.com/2017/07/19/menin-gate-at-midnight/

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