Remembrance is the lifeblood of modern Ypres. Every night of the week military and paramilitary style bands flock to the Menin Gate to pay homage to the dead. In many respects this is a noble gesture, and few can pause beneath the lists of the butchered engraved on the panels of the gate and be unmoved by the scale of the slaughter. Yet after two weeks of research in Flanders at the behest of the Irish government one begins to develop a certain cynicism for the pageantry and show, and this is frequently voiced by the Flemish themselves who are themselves burdened with the memory of destruction and of refugee grandparents. Ypres has become the shrine of faded memory and faux nationalism, and it has become so at the hands of people who have no memory of war or experience of devastation or displacement. Amid the throngs of ex-service personnel there are those who come to the gate of the fallen to share in some vague sense of the glory of war to reassure themselves of the righteousness of indefeasible nationalistic opinions and prejudice, and to convince themselves that war – even now – is somehow worth it. On my last night in Ypres I had a close encounter with a group that left me feeling frustrated and sad.

The Bolton Caledonia Pipe Band had come to town, and their music in the square below the Cloth Hall after the Last Port at the Menin Gate was quite exquisite. Whist out with Boomer – the dog who had adopted me for the day – I stopped and listed to them play a number of tunes, and I was quite taken with them. Later in the evening, after I had dropped Boomer home, I ran into a few members of the band in a burger bar. I was sitting behind them chowing down on my bun and heard that the members of the band, who were all in kilts, were speaking with English accents, and I thought this quite wonderful. It is great to see that our southern neighbours have finally caught on to the masculinity of the kilt and sporran. Their accents were one thing, but their words were quite another. They were telling jokes about the Irish – the usual crap about how stupid Irish people are. They were telling jokes about the Chinese – the usual pretty racist ‘jokes.’ It was then that I felt offended that they were wearing kilts, and all of a sudden their music became empty and crass. All of it descended into farce. Perhaps our fellow Gaels are stupid. Like us they were stupid enough to bleed and die in England’s futile wars.

Jason Michael
Blog Author

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