http://www.doyrms.com/BTOR

THE foundation, a short history AND THE ACTIVITIES of

“ THE BRITISH TORCH OF REMEMBRANCE “

During the annual meeting of the “Nationale Federatie van Oud-strijders van België” (National Federation of Belgian Veterans) in 1926, the publisher of the organization’s magazine remarked that the Belgian veterans wanted to have a personal way to commemorate their fallen comrades. He suggested that a torch would be the symbol of this commemoration; a torch of freedom that would be transferred from father to son during a ceremony at the eternal flame of the memorial for the Unknown Warrior in front of the Congressional Column in Brussels. It was agreed upon that this ceremony would take place on the 11th November of every year. Nine torches, representing the then nine provinces of Belgium, would be marched in the dusk to the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in order to pay homage to the fallen. After this parade the torches were to be extinguished.

This idea quickly spread through the country and soon some three hundred torches were kindled by mayors of townships and villages during ceremonies at local memorials. This preferably happened in the presence of school children. These torches were then transferred to the provincial capital where they were extinguished after a ceremony and after having kindled the torch representing the province. The province’s torch was then transported to Brussels where, together with the torches of all other provinces, it was paraded in the dusk of every 11th November in the direction of the Congressional Column, to pay homage for the fallen at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior.

After some years, torches from other countries all over the world where Belgian veterans were located, such as the United Kingdom, France, The Netherlands, Brazil, the United States of America, etc… joined the ceremony during Armistice Day in Brussels. It took until 1945 though for the torch of the N.S.B. /F.N.C.[1] - British Branch, located in London, to be presented at the ceremony in Brussels during a pilgrimage to Belgium.

In 1965 some “Old Contemptibles[2]” discussed the possibility to partake in this ceremony with a British torch delegation. Mr René Gallant, Belgian retired colonel and ex-member of the Belgian Secret Army of World War II[3] together with the British major Ray North invested time and energy in organizing this. The result of this combined endeavour was the first pilgrimage of “The British Torch of Remembrance” to Belgium, together with the London branch of the N.S.B./F.N.C., in 1966. Amongst the participants of the first pilgrimage of The British Torch of Remembrance were LtCol Sir John Russel, Mr Fred Butler president of the “Old Contemptibles”, Maj Ray North and Mrs Grace Mulligan: standard bearer. Mrs Mulligan was standard bearer until the time she had to abandon this task due to old age. She was active in the organization though until she was 93 years old. Mr Fred Butler was the last president of the “Old Contemptibles” and his passing away was a great loss for the organisation indeed. As in lots of veteran’s associations old age makes is harder and harder to travel to commemorations and that is why the younger generation attempts to continue the work of their predecessors. This younger generation continues to uphold the tradition of the torch. Members of the current UK Branch come from all over Great Britain.

The current management of the British Torch of Remembrance is assured by the head committee located at The Duke of York’s Royal Military School at Dover  (see:http://www.doyrms.com/BTOR )



[1] Nationale Strijdersbond van België / La Fédération Nationale des Combattants de Belgique : the national Belgian veterans association

[2] Nickname of the WW British Expeditionary Force. It is rumoured that the name originated from a derisive utterance of the German emperor Wilhelm II, who on 19th August 1914 scornfully would have ordered to “annihilate the treacherous English and to walkover the contemptible army of General French”. Hence survivors of the regular British army assumed then name “Old Cotemptibles” No historical evidence of such an order given by the German emperor has been found though.

[3] Belgian resistance movement during WW II)

 

Every year on or about 7th November the British torch is kindled at the flame of the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior by the Dean of Westminster Abbey. The day after the kindling of the torch the pilgrimage proceeds to Belgium where at Oostende, the members of UK Banch are welcomed by the Belgian Branch of The British Torch of Remembrance, the mayor of Oostende and distinguished members of different local associations. This is followed by a ceremony at the war memorial in Oostende and the laying wreaths by the different associations and dignitaries that are present.

 

The day after the ceremony in Oostende, the British delegates take part at the ceremony of the kindling of the Belgian Torch or Remembrance in front of the town hall of Roeselare and a parade to Roeselare communal cemetery for a ceremony in honour of the British fallen that are buried there. In the afternoon the British delegation travels in the direction of Ieper where they participate at the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate in the evening. Next day there is a ceremony in Bredene and the pilgrimage ends on 11th November in Brussels at the Armistice Day ceremony there.

 

The British Torch of Remembrance is a completely self-supporting association and does not receive aid nor assistance from any official or government source whatsoever. We finance our expenses thanks to the gifts donated by supporters and the income generated by the organisation of events.

 

To you from failing hands we throw

 

The Torch be your to hold it high

 

If ye break Faith with us who die

 

We shall not sleep, though Poppies grow

 

In Flanders Fields.

 

(Extract uit in Flander’s Fields door LtCol John McCrae)

 

The “Reason to Be”

“The British Torch of Remembrance Belgian Branch  (BTBB)“

What started in the past as a kind of ‘friendship service’ across the borders has grown to an association with more than 350 members. The BTBB has had its “ups and downs” but due to the energy generated by some enthusiasts it has now become a well known concept in Roeselare, Ieper, West Flanders and even throughout Belgium.

The BTBB wants to continue to spread the idea of the “Torch” as a symbol of tolerance and peace and to assure that those who fought here for our fatherland will be honoured for ever; that the military and civilian casualties who died in the struggle for our freedom will be remembered.

That is why, other than the organization of a yearly ceremony to commemorate the British victims of both world wars in our region, our Anlgo-Belgian association is also present at a large number of other commemoration ceremonies throughout the country.

The BTBB wants to assure that the youth is adverted that, now the veterans of the “Great War” are no longer here, and the images of those horrible years of that war are fading, that we have to continue to help avoiding that such atrocities, crimes to humanity, no longer will occur in the humane civilization we strive for.

The wars and destructions worldwide are “so far away”. The recollections rising at the occasion of visits to the multitude of cemeteries in our own region bring us back ‘so close’ to all that sorrow.

 

Tomb of the unknown soldier (Brussels)

 

Grave of the unknown soldier in Brussels

 

 King Albert I attends the funeral, November 11, 1922

 

The grave of the unknown soldier is a monument in Brussels where on 11 November 1922 the mortal remains of an unknown soldier were buried. The monument lies at the foot of the Congress Column, which commemorates the National Congress of 1830, which ratified the Belgian Constitution. Choice of the unknown soldier [edit]

 

In 1922, a coffin was dug from five fallen military cemeteries of a fallen Belgian soldier whose name and military grade were unknown. At those cemeteries soldiers were buried who had been killed during the First World War in battles in Antwerp, Liège, Namur, on the Yser Front and in the zone of the liberation offensive in Flanders. The five coffins were transferred and stored in the Bruges railway station.

 

On November 10, 1922, the Bruggeling and war invalid (he was blind from the battle) Raymond Haesebrouck was taken to the station. General de Longueville asked the veteran to appoint one of the five crates. Haesebrouck chose the fourth box. From then on it was the symbol for all those who sacrificed themselves for the Belgian Fatherland and are buried under an unnamed cross. The remaining cases were reburied in the military cemetery of Bruges

 

On November 11, 1922, a special train took the precious freight to the Brussels North Station, where the coffin was placed on a truck. From there it went to the Congress Column. Along the course an honorary hedge was formed by war disabled and deportees. The coffin was buried with all honor and in the presence of the royal family in the sepulcher just before the Congress Column. King Albert I spoke these words during the ceremony:

 

It is of no importance to know whether he is a citizen, workman or farmer, Fleming or Waal; we pay tribute to him because in our eyes he represents the enduring qualities of our race, because he is an inviolable symbol of the defense of our freedom and unity and independence, and a guarantee for the immortal existence of our Fatherland.

 

During state visits and during special occasions, flowers are deposited by the king and his high guests