A two-year restoration project on one of the most recognisable memorials of the First World War has begun.
The Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium, is dedicated to British and Commonwealth soldiers who were killed during fighting in the nearby battlefields over the course of the war.
The memorial, on the eastern road out of the town of Ypres, bears the names of some 54,000 officers and men who fell in the conflict, many of whom have no known grave.
Although the Gate remains structurally sound, a recent inspection of the memorial by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) concluded major restoration is necessary to guarantee its long-term preservation.
The project, expected to cost €3.5 million, is due to last two years, restoring the memorial in time for the centenary of its construction in July 2027.
During the war, thousands of Commonwealth troops would have marched through this crossing point on the road eastward towards the battlefields of Ypres.
The infamous salient was formed in October and November 1914, when the British Expeditionary Force succeeded in securing the town before the first winter of the war. A second battle followed in April 1915, during which German troops released poison gas on the Allied lines – the first such use of chemical weapons during the war.
A third battle was mounted by Commonwealth forces in June 1917, and descended into a violent and dogged struggle, claiming many lives on both sides. It only ended with the capture of the village of Passchendaele that November.
One of four memorials to the missing in Belgian Flanders, the monument was designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield. Nearly a hundred years on from its unveiling, this restoration project is focused on conserving the memorial as it was originally designed.
‘One of the basic elements in our approach is to conserve as much as possible in situ,’ said the CWGC’s Sarah Camerlynck, project manager of the restoration. ‘That means, when we see damage, we try to solve it with the same materials that are already in the building.’
The eroded natural stone elements will be repaired, while name panels will be cleaned, the CWGC has said. A new ‘eco roof’, on which grass, moss, and flowers will be allowed to grow, is also to be installed.
Passage under the gate will be restricted for the duration of the work, and the memorial will be only partially accessible to the public.