Great Pilgrimage 90
On August the 5th at some ungodly hour we convened in Norwich to set off on our pilgrimage to Ypres. 82 of us with 41 standards and wreaths representing Norfolk, off to join a party of nearly two and a half thousand to commemorate the Great pilgrimage of 1928. There was myself as standard bearer for Watton and Alan Chilvers carrying the Wretham standard, with KC Jones and Lorna Chilvers as wreath bearers respectively. We were on 2 buses one was bound for Gent in Belgium and our bus, after collecting comrades from Suffolk and Essex along the way was bound for Lille in France. Our hotel in Lille had obviously not been warned of the impending 3 bus loads of ex service personnel and it didn't take long before they had run out of large glasses and shortly afterwards beer. The Brits were back! On the Monday we visited the memorial at Thiepval and Arras it was a long day in the heat, luckily the bar had been resupplied during our absence. On the Tuesday we went to the Canadian memorial and Tyne cot cemetery the largest British military cemetery in the world and ended the day in Ypres to get a look at the parade ground for the following day. Wednesday morning was best bib and tucker and fully booted and suited we set off for Ypres to wow the crowd, and did we? We formed up in a side road 1200 standards followed by the same number of wreath bearers. At 1200 hours precisely the Marines band struck up our tune and we burst into the market place to cheers and thunderous applause. I have been on a few parades in my service career but nothing like this, everybody grew 6 inches as we marched through the market place down the high street to the Menin gate. The same route that the British Expeditionary Force had taken on its way to the front in 1914. We marched through the gate wheeled and formed up as massed standards on the far side for the memorial service (see picture). It was a bit warm but nobody seemed to mind the discomfort too much. The march off saw us back through the gate and retracing our steps to no less applause and shouts of "Thank You", it was all very humbling. The parade took 12 minutes to pass in ranks of 4.
Thursday we boarded the buses for home having made a bundle of new friends and contacts, an event not to be repeated in our lifetime.