Memorial service could become an annual event

LONDONDERRY city centre hosted a memorial service to commemorate the battle of Messines at the weekend which could now become an annual event.

Hundreds turned out for the parade, which ended with the traditional wreath-laying service at the Cenotaph.

Local schoolchildren were among those who attended the event, at which the Union flag, the Irish tricolour and the German flag were paraded together.

At the battle of Messines, in 1917, both the 16th Irish division and the 36th Ulster division fought together in Belgium during one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War.

The spirit of solidarity from a British/Irish perspective, is perhaps best encapsulated by the story of John Meeke, a 36th Ulster division troop who crept across the battlefield to tend the wounds of John Redmond, an Irish nationalist leader from the 16th Irish division.

In a fitting tribute – the great grand neice of John Meeke – Tracey McFarland – attended Sunday's parade to lay a wreath. Among those laying tributes was the deputy mayor, Maurice Devenney.

Although it was the presence of the Irish flag that attracted attention, Glen Barr, project manager for the International School of Peace Studies in Belgium, who organised the parade, said that the flags of all those nations that fought at Messines were flown at the ceremony.

He said: "The whole ethos of the Messines story is to treat each other as human beings.

"The parade included the flags of all nations which fought in the battle, so we even had the Australian flag and the German flag too."

He added: "We were delighted with the turnout. The city centre was full of tourists, there were American tourists who went away in tears – they never expected to see it, so it never did the image of the city any harm."

Mr Barr also said that the service was attended by representatives from all over Ireland, and throughout the province.

He explained why Londonderry was chosen as the host of this year's parade: "We've been doing it for the past ten years in Belgium, but felt that it was an ideal time to bring it home. This is the first time its been formally done here.

He added: "The Mayor of Messines wasn't able to attend because of the European elections, but we aim to make it an annual event."

Mr Barr was also happy to announce that the International School for Peace Studies had been awarded a "major government contract" to take nearly 400 people from all over Nothern Ireland to Belgium to train in conflict studies.

As well as a peace school, the Maydown Ebrington Group – of which Mr Barr is chief executive – has also built a peace village in Messines.