A SKIPTON couple have spoken of their moving experience during a pilgrimage to respect those who died in the battlefield of the Somme and Ypres in the First World War.

A decade after the end of WW1, the British Legion (as it was then known) organised for veterans and war widows to visit the battlefields of the Somme and Ypres before marching to the Menin Gate in Ypres on August 8, 1928.

Exactly 90 years later, thousands of Legion representatives recreated the 1928 battlefields great pilgrimage (GP90) and paraded their branch standard and wreath along the same route to the Menin Gate for the One Hundred Days ceremony to commemorate the last 100 days of WW1.

Among those attending GP90 were Eddie and Pat Atkinson, both Skipton branch members of the Royal British Legion, who were given a ceremonial send-off from Skipton Town Hall steps.

Mr Atkinson, a veteran of The Green Howards infantry regiment 1968 - 1980, said it was an honour for himself and his wife to make the journey, himself as standard bearer and his wife as wreath layer.

His grandfather served in the Royal Horse Artillery and Mrs Atkinson’s grandfather served in the Tank Corps, a new innovation in 1916.

At the send-off a large contingent from Skipton branch attended at the Town Hall with prayers spoken by Veronica James, vicar of Holy Trinity Church.

He then recalled a moving trip in the footsteps of the veterans and war widows.

“The day has finally arrived after all the months of waiting,” he said as the party arrived at Ypres, Belgium, at around 9.30am on August 8.

“After sorting the standard, we made our way to the collecting area. It’s a mind-boggling sight to see so many standards and wreaths. We arrived at the compound and an awesome sight greets us. It’s like a garden centre of colour.

“Over 1,000 standards like a bed of flowers red, blue and white of the Union flags on the standards.

“I’m feeling a pride in my breast before we even get on parade.

“Eventually its time to head down to the start of the parade. I think the military bearing kicks in because I’m surprised how easily we slip into the four ranks. There’s plenty of banter more photos. We must save this day forever.

“We are away. Arms swinging, standards blowing in the breeze. I glance around such pride from everyone in the parade. We turn the corner but because of narrow streets the wind blows like a wind tunnel and we have to hold on tighter to the standard poles.

“Past the Belgium War memorial into Ypres market square past the Cloth Hall. The crowds thicken; applause spontaneously breaks out, and we all know why we are here. A strange thing happens in my head as we move closer to the street leading up to the Menin gate which is getting closer. I hear the marching feet but suddenly all I can hear is the crunch of ammo boots. I feel we are marching in the footsteps of the long-gone soldiers in the regiments who took this route to the front, some never to return. Through Menin gate I gulp the gate is beautiful but the 34,000 names of soldiers with no known grave bring it all home.

“The service over we march back to our starting point down the narrow streets of Ypres across the square. We halt and fall out, shake hands with our fellow marchers. Most drift back to their coaches but, not the Yorkshire lads we form up and decide to march back.

“As we march we are singing: “On Ilkla Moor Baht ‘at”. What a way for us to finish the parade. Just the way our regimental soldiers went to war singing their old ditties. I hope we did them proud. I like to think we did.”