Portsmouth military wives pay stunning tribute to fallen British war heroes

Portsmouth Military Wives Choir performing in front of the Menin Gate
Portsmouth Military Wives Choir performing in front of the Menin Gate
Daniel Gibbs

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THIRTY military wives from Portsmouth paid homage to heroes killed during the First World War when they performed at the iconic Menin Gate in Ypres.

The women, all members of Portsmouth Military Wives’ Choir, were invited to sing at the world-famous Last Post ceremony, a nightly ritual in the Belgian city for nearly 90 years.

The gate acts as a cenotaph for more than 54,000 Commonwealth soldiers who died in Ypres between 1914 and 1918, but whose bodies were never identified.

Ever grateful for the sacrifices made by those men – and thousands more – in Flanders, locals pay tribute at 8pm daily with a service of commemoration under the gate’s imposing main arch.

Led by musical director Andrew Cleary, the choir – one of 80 such groups across the UK’s military community – performed three pieces at the ceremony watched by thousands of people before choristers Margaret Pugh, Suzanne Bull and Kim Martin laid a wreath.

The short ceremony at the Menin Gate was the musical and emotional high point of the visit to the Ypres, but it was not the choir’s sole performance.

It was both an honour and a humbling experience for the choir to take part in the Menin Gate ceremony to remember those that made the ultimate sacrifice during the Great War

Lieutenant Commander Marie Whitehouse

The singers also gave a free lunchtime concert at St Martin’s Cathedral – 13 songs in all including Wherever You Are, the Christmas number one in 2011 when performed by the original Military Wives’ Choir, with the acoustics in the cathedral powerfully adding to the music.

The final stop on the short visit was Tyne Cot cemetery, the largest Commonwealth War Graves burial ground in the world.

Nearly 12,000 souls, most victims of the terrible Passchendaele offensive in 1917, rest in peace here.

The choir stopped those visiting the graves in their tracks with an impromptu performance of For The Fallen.

‘It is not until you stand here, amongst so many graves, that you truly feel the emotion captured in the words of this famous poem,’ said Lieutenant Commander Marie Whitehouse, who works at the Royal Navy’s HQ on Whale Island.

‘The ladies decided to sing this piece here as their own way of paying respects to those that gave the ultimate sacrifice.’

She added: ‘It was both an honour and a humbling experience for the choir to take part in the Menin Gate ceremony to remember those that made the ultimate sacrifice during the Great War.’

To watch the choir’s performance at the Menin Gate, see: www.facebook.com/PortsmouthMilitaryWivesChoir/videos/