Slew of activities to mark 100 years of World War I

April 08, 2014 09:33 am | Updated May 21, 2016 09:26 am IST - CHENNAI:

The Victory War Memorial in Chennai commemorates soldiers from the Madras Presidency who took part in both the world wars. Photo: R. Ragu

The Victory War Memorial in Chennai commemorates soldiers from the Madras Presidency who took part in both the world wars. Photo: R. Ragu

If a trip to Europe has always sounded appealing, this might be the year to do it.

2014 marks the 100 anniversary of the start of World War I, and several countries in Europe are gearing up to commemorate the occasion with a number of events.

The Belgium Consulate in Chennai too, has plans. Just over two weeks after it opened for business, the consulate is already preparing the ground for several cultural activities, some of which will be aimed at encouraging city residents to visit Belgium.

“In Ypres, which occupied a strategic position during the war, thousands of soldiers of the British Empire fought, and many of them lost their lives. Families of Indian soldiers who fought then may be interested in going and paying a visit this year,” said Bart Dé Groof, Consul General of the Kingdom of Belgium for South India.

About 72,000 Indian soldiers fought in the battlefields of Belgium, and around 7,000 are believed to have lost their lives there, said Vidheesh Tyagi, on behalf of Visit Flanders in India, the tourism office for the Flanders region in Belgium.

Historian Sriram V. said the Victory War Memorial in the city commemorates soldiers from the Madras Presidency who took part in both world wars as well as wars fought after independence.

A visit to the memorial reveals that over 20 combatant units recruited in the Madras Presidency took part in the Great War in various theatres. Ties between Belgium and Chennai, however, go back further: in the 1720s, the Ostend Company, an Austrian-Flemish private trading company, is believed to have possessed a factory in Kovalam on East Coast Road, said Mr. Dé Groof.

“We will be organising a number of events over the next four years that will deal with Belgian-Indian history. We are also encouraging travel agencies to include Ypres and other historical sites as part of their packages to Belgium,” said Mr. Tyagi.

Other activities that Belgian consulates across the country have planned include an exhibition in seven cities, concluding in Chennai, and, tentatively, an Indian delegation to Flanders, consulate officials said.

France and the United Kingdom, too, have a number of activities lined up this year.

Deepa Ravi, an advertising professional who is visiting Europe next month, said she would definitely have been interested in going to Belgium, had she known. “Maybe next time I’ll go on a trip there,” she said.

Memorial in Belgium

The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing in Ypres, Belgium, pays tribute to soldiers who died in the area and have no known grave.

“Every day, since a few years after the end of the war, the Last Post, a bugle call, is sounded beneath the gate by the local fire brigade,” said Mr. Groof.

According to The Hindu archives, a model in silver of the Menin Gate in Ypres was made by Chennai’s own P. Orr and Sons Ltd.

The model was made to the order of the 4 Battalion (Duke of Connaught’s Own) 10 Baluch Regiment.

The model was mounted on a polished rosewood plinth, the sides of which were adorned with silver plates.

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