It's always amazing how things work out, sometimes a quiet word in passing leads to great things, and this is how this story came about.
On Monday, October 30, 2017, Hillsborough Village Councilor Kevin Berry will be attending the Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate, in Ieper (Ypres), Belgium to lay a Remembrance Cross for the fallen men from Albert County who died during the Battle of Passchendaele and have no known grave. He will be placing the cross on behalf of our local legion, Hillsborough Legion Branch 32 next to the name of George Bishop Peck. (Which Peck Hall is named after.)
Our story really begins 100 years ago with the Canadian contribution to the Battle of Passchendaele, (or the Third Battle of Ypres), which in the end, was a Canadian success but at a terrible cost. More than 4,000 Canadians were killed and another 12,000 wounded during the two week long offensive to take a section of ground which was to be given up a year later. (The greater Battle of Passchendaele was almost 5 months long.) It was a battle which came to symbolize the worst horrors of the First World War, due to the sheer futility of much of the fighting, and the reckless disregard by some of the war's senior leaders for the lives of the men under their command. It was also a battle which displayed the sheer courage of the men facing unspeakable terrors in the worst possible conditions.
On October 30, 1917 during the battle, two men from Albert County: William Pearl Cole, 832546 and George Bishop Peck, 283085, were killed while pressing the attack and their bodies were never recovered. Their ultimate sacrifice would be remembered on the Menin Gate Memorial.
The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing is a war memorial in Ieper (Ypres), Belgium, dedicated to the British and Commonwealth soldiers who were killed in the Ypres Salient of World War I and whose graves are unknown. The Menin Gate is inscribed with the names of 54,896 men which includes 6,940 Canadians who died throughout the war in Belgium. The memorial is located at the eastern exit of the town and marks the starting point for one of the main roads out of the town that led Allied soldiers to the front line. Designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield and built and maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the Menin Gate Memorial was unveiled on 24 July 1927.
In 1928, a year after the inauguration of the Menin Gate Memorial, a number of prominent citizens in Ypres decided that some way should be found to express the gratitude of the Belgian nation towards those who had died for its freedom and independence. And so, every night at 8.00pm (20:00 hours) a moving ceremony takes place under the Menin Gate. The ceremony is simple: At 8pm is the Call to Attention by the buglers of the Last Post Association, then the sounding of the “Last Post” bugle call, followed by a minute of silence., then, the sounding of the “Réveille” bugle call, which ends the ceremony. On special days the ceremony is extended with wreath laying and bands.
And so to our story 100 years after the battle.
A few weeks ago, someone mentioned in passing to Hillsborough Legion Branch 32 President Peter Jubb that Councillor Berry was going to be travelling to France on vacation. Wherein Peter asked Kevin if he would be travelling close to Ieper, Belgium and if he was, would he be willing to place a cross at the Menin Gate for the Legion. It turns out that Kevin was planning on touring that very area and was planning on visiting the battlefield, on October 30, and that he would be pleased to place the wreath.
This is where the story becomes interesting. The Legion knew that the two Albert County men had died on this day, 100 years ago, but Peter didn't know that Kevin had a connection to one of the men. It turns out that Councillor Berry lives in the very house that George Bishop Peck grew up in. In fact, Kevin had found his name carved in the attic along with a number of school books and personal items belonging to George Peck.
And so, the man who lives in the house where George Bishop Peck grew up decides to visit Belgium, and just happens to be visiting the battlefield on the very day 100 years after George Peck was killed, and the fact that the legion in Hillsborough decided to honour him on that day is one great, amazing coincidence.