The Australian War Memorial’s iconic Menin Gate lions, past which thousands of Australian and other allied forces marched on their way to the Western Front battlefields, have been returned to Australia from Belgium and will go back on display on 14 December.
Meanwhile, a feature documentary produced by renowned broadcaster and filmmaker Max Uechtritz on the history of the lions and their loan to the City of Iepers (Ypres) will air on the Seven Network tonight at 9.30 pm.
From 1822 the stone sculptures bearing the Ypres coat-of-arms stood at the entrance to the Cloth Hall, the town’s civic and commercial centre, before being moved to either side of the road leading towards the nearby town of Menin in the mid-nineteenth century. They remained at what became known as the Menin Gate during the First World War, even as Ypres was reduced to ruins by German artillery fire.
The lions, broken and scarred, were later recovered from the rubble, and in 1936 the Burgomaster of Ypres presented them to the Australian government as a token of friendship and an acknowledgement of Australia’s sacrifice in the region during the war. Since 1991 the lions been displayed inside the front entrance of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
An initiative between the Belgian, Flemish, and Australian governments saw the lions temporarily returned to the Menin Gate between April and November 2017, coinciding with the centenary of one of the most notorious and costly campaigns of the First World War, the Third Battle of Ypres, known simply as “Passchendaele”.
Memorial Director Dr Brendan Nelson said the documentary, narrated by celebrated Australian actor Jack Thompson, is a masterpiece which everyone should see.
“Most Australians who fought and died on the Ypres Salient in Flanders marched to battle past the Menin Gate lions. For our 13,000 dead in and around Ypres, they often represented the last glimpse of a civilised normality.
“The documentary is a remarkable work which captures the essence of what these two statues mean to the people of Australia and Belgium. After surviving the catastrophic destruction of the war, they became a symbol of pride, resilience, and friendship. Then the joy of the Belgian people, seeing the lions home again after more than 80 years. The film illustrates it all, beautifully.”
Dr Nelson also expressed his satisfaction in reciprocating the gift of the lions to the Australian people, through the creation of a set of exact replicas to be presented to Belgium by the Australian government.
“I am proud on behalf of the Australian War Memorial to play a part in our government's gift to the people of Ieper of replica lions to permanently sit on plinths in front of the Menin Gate. In welcoming visitors to Ieper they will forever remind people of the bond within which our two countries now live, forged in bloody sacrifice in Flanders.”
The documentary The Menin Gate Lions airs on the Seven Network tonight at 9.30 pm. DVDs will soon be available for purchase in the Memorial Shop.
Greg Kimball 02 6263 6628 0402 800 649 firstname.lastname@example.org