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Mraane ayns Arrane tour in Belgium

Thu, 02 Nov 2017

Mraane ayns Arrane

There is a vast amount of information on the internet about the Last Post Association’s nightly act of homage at The Menin Gate in honour of the soldiers who died in the Ypres Salient during WWI.  However, nothing they had seen or read prepared the ladies of Mraane ayns Arrane, the IOM WI choir, for the intensely emotional experience of taking part in the ceremony themselves.

A huge crowd had gathered around the memorial arch on Sunday, 8th October to witness the official proceedings and to pay their own personal tributes, their chatter and noise echoing off the marble of the arched gateway.  As the official start time of 8 pm approached the Vice-Chairman of the Last Post Association directed Jim Cottier, husband of choir member Ann Cottier, to bring the Isle of Man Branch of the Royal British Legion’s new standard ‘on parade’. Immediately the chatter ceased and the gateway arch was filled with an almost reverent silence as everyone focused on the ceremony.  The Last Post, the traditional final salute to the fallen, was sounded by the Leper Fire Brigade Buglers and the proceedings got underway.

Following the Exhortation from ‘For the Fallen’ by L Binyon and the one minute’s silence, a lone piper played the lament Amazing Grace.  Then, after 12 month’s of planning, it was time for the ladies of the choir to bring their concert tour of Belgium to a very emotional end by singing an unaccompanied version of Ellan Vannin, arranged by Marilyn Cannell of Kirk Michael whilst the 15 wreaths were laid at the memorial.

The choir’s accompanist Don Roworth laid a wreath to honour the fallen from the Island for the WI choir and Nigel Harrison, Wing Commander Retired, husband of choir member Caron Harrison, laid a wreath on behalf of the RAFA, IOM Branch.  The Reveille brought the short ceremony to a close.  Choir member Genevieve Armstrong then laid a wreath on behalf of the RBL, IOM County Women’s Section and Jim Cottier, presented the buglers with a plaque, a gift from Castletown Commissioners, accompanied by Margaret Holmes from the choir.

Mraane ayns Arrane was honoured and proud to represent the Island at the 30,822th  Last Post Association ceremony and proud also of the men who travelled with us and played their part in what for all of us a ‘once in a life-time’ event.

Saturday evening’s concert at the beautiful Onze-Lieve-Vrouwerkerk in De Panne, an hour’s drive from Bruges, was the choir’s first concert for a multi-lingual audience and there had been a few ‘butterflies’.  However, they need not have worried, they were very warmly welcomed and the 100+ audience was very appreciative. The doors to the church were left wide open during the concert and even more people were attracted in to listen. The programme included four traditional Manx songs :- the Manx Lullaby, the Manx Spinning Song, Hush Little Darling and Gwendolen. After the concert the members of the church invited the choir to stay on for refreshments.

As splendid as the church in De Panne had been, it was tiny compared to the second concert venue, St Martin’s Cathedral in Ypres.  At 335 feet this magnificent Gothic style church is one of the tallest in Belgium and the sound soared and echoed as the choir performed. After visiting the Tyne Cot Cemetery and the Flanders Fields Museum earlier in the day and absorbed the harrowing stories of the young men, the choir sang the McCrae, Jacobson & Emerson ‘In Flanders Fields’ with great feeling.

The choir’s first international tour is over and we have lots of people to thank for making it possible.  The families, friends, WI members, local business and people of the Isle of Man, who supported all the fundraisers.  The Isle of Man Arts Council who gave us a travel bursary to fund the flight from the Island and the overnight accommodation at Gatwick.  The Manx Lottery Trust who funded the black fleece jackets with the WI Choir logo and the beautiful Manx tartan scarves hand made for us by Laxey Woollen Mill. The staff of Rayburn Tours and the local travel agent Regency Travel who pulled out all the stops when things went a bit ‘pear shaped’. We save our biggest ‘thank you’ for Karen Elliott, our musical director who conceived this concert tour plan and worked her socks off to  make it the outstanding success it has been.  Will she do it again?  Ask her in 2019!

If you would like any more information please do not hesitate to contact me or if you would like to hear the choir at the Menin Gate please click on the link below.

REPORT by Su Collins, Secretary, Mranne ayns Arrane

Hear Ellan Vannin: https://youtu.be/g5_NRJnNU4U

More photos: http://www.lastpost.be/en/photos/2017/daily-last-post201