SHAPE is located near where both the first and last shots fired in the Great War took place, with personnel driving past the memorial daily. Because of this, Remembrance Day is always a poignant date in the calendar for the SHAPE community and, typically, there would be a large service, supported by the Military and veteran communities, as well as representatives of host nation Belgium. This year restrictions prevented such a large Remembrance service so, in order to meet COVID-19 restrictions, the UK’s European Joint Support Unit organised a Service of Remembrance that was very different from the one usually held. British, Canadian and German National Military Representatives, as well as the Irish Military Representative to the EU, undertook four separate and sequential ceremonies; with the British ceremony timed to coincide with the two minutes’ silence at the Cenotaph in London.
It is an honour to lead a service of Remembrance at Saint-Symphorien military cemetery and to remember our fallen comrades who fought and died for our values and freedoms
British Rifleman Neshum Tamang plays the bugle during a Remembrance Sunday ceremony held at Saint-Symphorien Cemetery near Mons, Belgium on November 8, 2020. Representatives from Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) attended the ceremony honouring the fallen from World War I. Photo by SSGT Ross Fernie, SHAPE Public Affairs production.
The Service took place at Saint-Symphorien Cemetery, which is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Brigadier Jonathan Biggart, together with Reverend (Wing Commander) Paul Mellor undertook the Act of Remembrance supported by Warrant Officer (Class One) Yakchharaj Limbu RGR and Rifleman Neshum Tamang who played the First and Last Post on the Bugle.
“It was an honour, on behalf of the British community at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe to lead a service of Remembrance at Saint-Symphorien military cemetery and to remember our fallen comrades who fought and died for our values and freedoms,” said Brigadier Biggart, who serves as SHAPE’s UK National Military Representative. “Saint-Symphorien is a very special place for the UK and Commonwealth; within its beautifully kept grounds lie our first and last casualties and first posthumous Victoria Cross of the Great War and the last Canadian casualty of the war. Alongside are a near equal number of those whom they fought. Its location near where the War started and concluded for the Allies symbolises the totality of the sacrifices made. Today, as a focal point for SHAPE Remembrance, it symbolises our unity and resolve.”
Brigadier General Darlene Quinn, who serves as the Commander, Formation Europe and the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) Canadian National Military Representative, places a wreath during a Remembrance Sunday ceremony held at Saint-Symphorien Cemetery near Mons, Belgium on November 8, 2020. Representatives from SHAPE attended the ceremony honouring the fallen from World War I. Photo by SSGT Ross Fernie, SHAPE Public Affairs Production.
For much of the First World War St-Symphorien lay behind the German front line and is very special because it contains the graves of German, Canadian, Irish and British soldiers, all laid to rest together. Among the notable British burials are those of Private John Parr and Private George Ellison, believed to be the first and last British soldiers killed in action during the First World War, as well as Lieutenant Maurice Dease, the first posthumous recipient of the Victoria Cross of World War I. Other notable burials include Private George Price believed to be the last Canadian soldier to die in battle in World War 1 and Germany’s Musketier Oskar Niemeyer, the first Iron Cross recipient of World War I.
Our connections to the past are fading. This makes it increasingly important to pause and reflect on what our veterans gave us through their sacrifice
“As Commander of Formation Europe and Canada’s National Military Representative at NATO SHAPE, I feel honoured and privileged to participate in these commemoration ceremonies, particularly in places where those sacrifices were made,” said Brigadier General Darlene Quinn. “We live in a time when all the veterans from the Great War have left us and those with a living memory of the Second World War are fewer each year. Our connections to the past are fading. This makes it increasingly important to pause and reflect on what our veterans gave us through their sacrifice. The gift of freedom can never be taken for granted; we will remember them,” she added.
Saint-Symphorien has become the site at which NATO Allies Germany, Canada, and the United Kingdom commemorate together the sacrifices of their fallen, celebrating the strength and cohesion of the NATO Alliance. In more recent years, the Republic of Ireland has also been represented to remember the fallen from their lands.