Hallo from Belgium!

Saturday was our first full day in Belgium. The students were a trifle concerned when breakfast had not been served at the promised time. Nevertheless, the time was opportune for a Dutch lesson from Mr Van Stade, most of which was promptly forgotten by the students, except for the request “Waar is het toilet?”

However, some miscommunication regarding timing did not lessen the excitement felt by staff and students at the sight of the eventual breakfast. It was a beacon of continental matutinal culinary excellence. Fresh bread rolls brought from over the French border, served with ham and cheese, or an array of condiments (with Nutella, of course), for those more inclined towards sweet than savoury. The eggs and cereal became secondary considerations. 

After this protracted breakfast, we returned to Watou for a stroll through the quaint town. The students were delighted with the supermarket, offering a variety of flavours of chewing gum and pre-packaged waffles. 

We then headed to the French border. The students were dismayed to find a fence preventing them from crossing into France. Some of the older boys shook their heads, murmuring darkly about the Berlin Wall. 

It may seem like all we do is eat here… which might be true. We returned from the border to eat another incredible home-cooked meal, courtesy of the festival volunteers and a rather fabulous French patisserie. 

Our afternoon rehearsal took place in the local primary school, where the scholars looked like giants seated upon Kindergarten chairs.

At last, the Choir was ready for their first performance. We piled into buses and left for Ypres.

Menin Gate is a sombre and imposing memorial, dedicated to the soldiers of the Commonwealth who fought in Flanders in World War I. The walls are inscribed with the countless names of those who died, but whose graves were never found. A hush fell over the group as they began to comprehend the magnitude of this event, which, for so many them, had been but a historical reference in a textbook. They walked through the garden and looked out to the Flemish countryside, struggling to reconcile the peace of this beautiful place with the horrors of modern warfare. 

It was then time for the Last Post Ceremony. 

It is incredible to think that every single day, the city stops traffic to remember those who have fallen. This was 31,030th ceremony at Menin Gate. 

The ceremony began with a procession by the Flanders Red Cross, the reading of ‘The Ode’, the playing of The Last Post, and a minute’s silence. As wreaths were laid, the Choir brought tears to the eyes of onlookers as they sang For the Fallen by Douglas Guest and then Byrd’s Ave Verum Corpus. The Reveille was then played, and the ceremony concluded with the bagpipes from the Flanders Red Cross Pipe Band. 

It was in a more reflective mood that the students returned to the accommodation in Haringe.  

— Ms Carolyn Lewis

This morning we performed at the 10.30am Mass at St Bertinus, Poperinge. We sang the hymnus—Salva Festa Dies—and the Alleluia, O Filii et Filiae. There were three other choirs singing with us from Estonia, Latvia and Hungary. We processed into the church singing the Salve Festa Dies.

After Mass finished, we returned to Watou for lunch. All the meals are home cooked with most meals accompanied by fries, French pastries and French sticks (actually from France!). We then continued to our next performance in the coastal town of Koksijde at the Church of Our Lady of the Dunes at 3pm. The same three choirs were there and we sang some songs that we had been practising before we came here.

We were first and we processed in the church from the side entrance, going to the sanctuary. We sang Placare Servulis, a plain chant that has many verses. Then we sang the introit, Intret in Conspectutuo. Following this, the Choristers sang Benjamin Britten's Gloria from the Missa Brevis. After that the Scholars sang Ave Regina Caelorum by Dufay. Then to end the concert, we all sang Ave Verum Corpus by Byrd. After the audience clapped, we sat down and listened to the other three choirs, who were outstanding. Their pieces included Adoro Te Devote and Biebl’s Ave Maria. Some of the other groups also incorporated a number of baroque instruments in their performances, some we had never seen before. 

Next, we had Vespers. The Hungarian choir processed in and sang their psalms. We sang the hymnus: Virgo dei genitrix and then Blaize and Edward led the Litaniae Laurentanae, for which everyone responds "ora pro nobis". Once we had finished Vespers, we went outside in front of the church and took a photo with all the choirs and then went on the bus. Then, the bus driver showed us the North Sea where we could just see Great Britain. Finally, we went back to Watou for dinner. 

— Marciano Flammia (Year 9)