Menin Gate lions to go on display in Ieper, Belgium
The iconic Menin Gate lions, past which thousands of Australian and other allied forces marched on their way to the Belgian battlefields of the Western Front, will return to their original home in the city of Ieper (Ypres), Belgium, as part of commemorations of the First World War.
From 1822 the stone sculptures bearing the Ypres coat-of-arms stood at the entrance to the Cloth Hall, the town’s civic and commercial centre, before being moved to either side of the street leading to the Menin Gate in the mid-nineteenth century. They remained there during the First World War even as Ypres was reduced to ruins by German artillery fire.
The lions, broken and scarred, were later recovered from the war rubble, and in 1936 the Burgomaster of Ypres presented them to the Australian government as a token of friendship and an acknowledgement of Australia’s sacrifice in the region during the war. Since 1991 they have been displayed inside the front entrance of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
This joint initiative between the Belgian, Flemish and Australian governments will see the lions temporarily returned to the Menin Gate, coinciding with the centenary anniversaries of one of the most notorious and costly campaigns of the First World War, the Third Battle of Ypres. This campaign included the battles of Menin Road, Polygon Wood, Broodseinde, Poelcappelle, and Passchendaele. The names of 6,191 Australians are among the 54,000 British and Dominion soldiers listed on the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing, commemorating those who died in the fighting in Flanders and have no known grave.
Director of the Australian War Memorial, Dr Brendan Nelson, said that the powerful bond between Australia and Belgium, forged in the service and sacrifice of those who walked through the Menin Gate on the way to the front, is honoured with this joint initiative.
"We will be forever linked with the City of Ieper and the people of Belgium. In recognition of these deep bonds forged in bloody sacrifice the Australian War Memorial will deliver the Menin Gate lions, with the assistance of the Royal Australian Air Force, back to their original home," Dr Nelson said.
"The lions will arrive in time for Anzac Day and stand sentry once again as Flanders and Australia remember the cataclysm that was the First World War. They will act as a reminder of the price paid by so many in battles in which many thousands of allied soldiers perished."
Dr Nelson also said the Memorial has commissioned a documentary feature on the loan of the Menin Gate lions to Ieper. The film will include the historical context of the lions and how they relate to the story of Australians at war in Belgium in 1917.
While the lions are on display at the Menin Gate in Ieper, there will be a small exhibition at the In Flanders Fields Museum to outline the history of the sculptures from their creation in 1822 to the present day. The lions will return to the Australian War Memorial after Remembrance Day 2017.