The unveiling ceremony was very protracted - lots of speeches and readings. Each
item was preceded by an announcement in both English and I presume Flemish, given
by two young ladies who had to be helped to scale the heights up onto the dais for
each announcement there being no step. You would have thought someone could have
found a milk or beer crate from somewhere!
After the unveiling many wreaths were then laid and it was at last time for the six
Belgian Fire Brigade Buglers to sound the Last Post and Long Reveille, which they
did magnificently. The ceremony over, it was time for us to move off. Now, having
stood rooted to the spot for the last two hours, it felt as if our bodies had temporarily
forgotten what movement was, but it was a great pleasure when everything clicked
into place. We marched back to our coach appropriately playing the 1914-18 Medley,
which was much appreciated by the departing crowds.
Next it was the short journey back to the Chateau for a Tattoo Finale rehearsal.
We couldn’t do this in the morning as the Belgian Air Force Band couldn’t make it
and it was rather important that they rehearse Highland Cathedral with the massed
Pipes and Drums. We finally did our march off to the Rogues March about half an hour
before the Tattoo was due to start.
There was just time for a sandwich before we began the long wait for our spot in
the Tattoo. The audience of around 3,000 were rewarded by their patience when the
event finally got underway at around 2100 hrs, the delay due to the late arrival
of V.I.Ps who had been involved in the 2000 hrs Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate.
As the last but one of the participants it wasn’t until around 2230 hrs that we finally
formed up at the entrance to the arena. After the announcements in English and Flemish,
the spotlight picked out the Drum Major who gave the command for the Bugles to sound.
The Regimental Call and Fall In were played in fine style followed by the Drummers’
Call. The Corps then stepped off into the swirl of mist (dry ice) in the floodlit
arena playing Galanthia to a rousing reception. I’m not sure if they thought we were
really good or they had had enough of the numerous Pipes and Drums preceding us!
Having halted, our next march in the revised programme was the 1914-18 Medley, which
the audience enjoyed joining in to sing along with Tipperary etc. Next was the ceremony
of ‘Retreat’, playing the Risings (Sarony) followed by the Retreat March followed
by the Risings again. The two ranks of flutes then came forward to the Black Bear
drum beating and all the Corps bugles sounded Retreat. Our ten minutes up, we marched
off playing The British Grenadiers, inappropriate really as we were making way for
the Pipes and Drums of The Scots Guards.
It wasn’t long before we were marching on for the finale, where all the participants,
including the Belgian Air Force Military Band, gathered. The Massed Pipes and Drums,
led by the Scots Guards, played the well known tune Highland Cathedral, then a lone
Piper played the Lament high up on the balcony of the Chateau. We finally marched
off playing the Rogues March with the time approaching 2330 hrs. Mission accomplished!
It had been an exhausting but very enjoyable couple of days and all the hard work
for the last nine months had paid off.
On Sunday morning it was time to pack up and load the coach for the journey home.
Whilst waiting for everyone to get organised and book out of the accommodation we
took a short walk along the road to visit the Messines Ridge Military Cemetery -
a poignant reminder of the reason for our visit to Belgium. On the journey back to
Calais Drummer Banister, with his usual exquisite sense of timing, requested that
a visit to the grave of his Great Uncle who fell during the Great War. The location
was on our route, he claimed. Thus followed a ‘Cooks Tour’ of British Military Cemeteries
in Northern France that tried the patience of our coach driver Pete to breaking point.
On the third threat of “This is the last one we visit!” and lots more cries of “Are
we nearly there yet, Drum Major?” we did eventually find the cemetery in the middle
of nowhere. Photos hurriedly taken, it was back on the coach and finally off to Calais
where we were lucky enough to drive straight onto the next departing ferry.
Our thanks to Geoff Fairfax (and I am sure there was a little help from Christine)
for all his hard work drilling the Corps to such a high standard, sorting out all
the uniform logistics and for making all the arrangements for a very enjoyable trip.