Choir pays WW1 tribute in Ypres

JUNE 1: The Croydon choir has paid its tribute to the fallen of World War One during an affecting and fulfilling visit to Ypres in Belgium, the location of some of the bloodiest fighting of the entire war.

The choir sings during wreath-laying ceremony at Menin Gate (photo JWT)

On Friday May 27, the choir took part in the regular Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate, built in 1927 to commemorate the 55,000 Allied soldiers who went missing in successive battles at Ypres.  While wreaths were laid, the choir sang the moving valedictory Mansions of the Lord, followed by the equally poignant last verse of Keep the Home Fires Burning. Around 600 people witnessed the ceremony and a number told choir members afterwards how moved they were by our singing.

Choir members peruse the names of the 55,000 missing at the Menin Gate

The following evening, May 28, the choir sang at St George’s Memorial Church in Ypres, constructed in 1928-29 as another monument to the fallen at Ypres.  A rapt audience heard the choir perform eight songs with commemorative or sacred themes, including a setting of Wilfred Owen’s poem Futility, composed by choir music director Richard Hoyle under the title Move Him Into the Sun.   After an interval the choir sang a further nine pieces in a lighter or more celebratory mood.

Alex and George at Menin Gate

There were solo spots by choir tenors Nick Hewitt and John Aitkenhead, whose choice included a setting of In Flanders Fields. Afterwards the St George’s chaplain, Rev Brian Llewellyn, thanked the choir for a “wonderful and memorable” performance.

St George’s officials were especially interested in the five choir members whose families’ WW1 stories were published in the choir’s printed programme, saying that they would include them in a report on the concert for the parish newsletter.

Choir members among the 12,000 graves at Tyne Cot (photo Trevor Watkins)

The St George’s performance came as the culmination of an intense and emotional day, when the choir members and their family and friends, totalling just over 100, took a guided tour of WW1 cemeteries, including Tyne Cot with 12,000 British and Commonwealth graves, and the cemetery of Langemark, where 44,000 German soldiers are buried. They also visited a memorial to the Canadian field doctor John McCrae, who wrote In Flanders Fields.

Some choir members spent time in the In Flanders Field museum in Ypres.  They included Richard Hoyle, whose grandfather fought in the Third Battle of Ypres in 1917, and bass Peter Gillman, whose father fought in the Fifth (and final) Battle of Ypres in 1918.

The choir returned to Croydon on May 29, agreeing that it was one of the most poignant and successful tours it has ever undertaken.  

Richard Hoyle commented that it was “one of the most memorable” of the choir’s thirteen tours to date.  The choir made “an impressive sound” at the Menin Gate and gave “a heartfelt first performance” of Move Him Into the Sun. Richard added: “Like everyone else, I was deeply moved by our Saturday morning tour, especially at Tyne Cot.”


The choir at St George's Memorial church, Ypres (photo JWT)

More photos of the tour can be seen in the Picture Galleries section under History and Heritage - once there, click on the Choir Tour link. The pictures are by John Ward Turner, Charles Joy, Michael Pardon, Trevor Watkins and Peter Gillman.