Almost 100 years to the day the small Belgian town of Ledegem was liberated, Senior Lecturer Dr Michael Holmes joined representatives from three other nations to light an eternal flame for peace.
Dr Holmes, who is a member of the University’s European Institute, was invited as a guest of honour at the unveiling of a peace memorial commemorating the historic event at the end of World War One.
Father John MacSheahan – Dr Holmes’ grand-uncle and a former chaplain in the British army - was awarded the Military Cross for rescuing injured soldiers under shellfire in the fighting at Ledegem on 14th October 1918.
Like Dr Holmes, the three other co-lighters – who were from Belgium, Germany and Ireland – are the descendants of soldiers who played an influential role in Ledegem in 1918.
Dr Holmes said: “Also attending was the granddaughter of Martin Moffatt, one of two soldiers awarded the Victoria Cross for their actions in Ledegem that day. But the event was not about celebrating warfare, it was about remembering the awful toll of the war and the acts of simple human sympathy in the face of appalling carnage that had taken place there - epitomised by two other guests at the event.
“One was the granddaughter of Willi Rutz, a German soldier who had died on that day, and the other was the grandson of Charles Foster, a British soldier who had comforted Willi Rutz in his dying moments. Foster had agreed to take family mementos – photos, letters – from the German, and many years later he managed to return them to the Rutz family in Bavaria, an admirable gesture of peace and reconciliation.
“It was a great privilege and pleasure to be invited to attend this event, which highlights the importance of friendship and cooperation among Europe's countries.”
The peace memorial features a poem by the German writer Bertolt Brecht, which calls for people the world over to find a path to peace among nations.