Belgium commemorates fallen soldiers on Armistice Day
King Philippe attended the annual Armistice Day commemoration at the monument of the Unknown Soldier in Brussels on Saturday. He laid a wreath and lit the eternal flame of the memorial at the foot of the Congress Column.
The military ceremony commemorates the dead of the two world wars and soldiers killed in humanitarian and peacekeeping missions since 1945. It takes place each year on 11 November, the day in 1918 when the armistice that ended World War I was signed.
Meanwhile, state secretary for Equal Opportunities Marie-Colline Leroy took part in a commemoration at the Belgian monument to Congolese soldiers in Schaerbeek. It was the first time the federal government has commemorated the Congolese soldiers who fought in World War I on Armistice Day.
Belgium mobilised about 300,000 troops on the German East African front, in what is now Tanzania. Researchers estimate losses at 29,000 dead, including nearly 1,900 Congolese. One of the most important battles was the Battle of Tabora, in which Congolese forces fought troops from the German colonies. The Congolese captured Tabora in September 1916, in a strategically important victory for the Allies.
Saturday's gathering was organised by the Bakushinta association, which works to promote and enhance Congolese cultures.
“The Belgian government wishes to commemorate the important role played by Congolese soldiers during the First World War, and thereby honour their dignity,” Leroy said. “It is our duty to fill in the gaps in history, by accounting for all the victims of the two world wars.”
In Ypres, traditional commemorations took place next to the Menin Gate, while the monument is being restored. Prime minister Alexander De Croo attended the ceremony.
“Our city is once again at the heart of Armistice Day commemorations in our country,” said Emmily Talpe, mayor of Ypres. “In the city centre and in the suburbs, we are holding ceremonies in tribute to the many victims who fell here during the First World War. At the same time, we want to continue to strongly promote the message of peace. This is still very much needed today.”
“Peace is a precious commodity that we must cherish,” said De Croo. “The great wars teach us that. Even today, we see conflicts on our eastern and southern borders causing innocent victims. We can only stop extremism and hatred – the main sources of conflict and war – if we respect each other and show solidarity.”
King Philippe at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Brussels © BELGA PHOTO LAURIE DIEFFEMBACQ / BELGA VIDEO HATIM KAGHAT