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The Unknown Soldier

As early as 4 September 1944, people flocked to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Since 1922, this sepulchre had been the ultimate site of memory of the First World War. It is not surprising then that on 11 November 1940, Brussels patriots met there as a means to express their rejection of the occupation.

As soon as the occupier had left Brussels, large numbers of Belgians headed to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. On 4 September 1944, General Piron and his First Belgian Independent Brigade Group marched past the Brussels monument, before heading back to the Netherlands. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was one of the central sites of Belgian patriotism as had been the Place des Martyrs before it.

When they selected the location for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in 1922, the government was tapping into a long tradition that dated back to the country’s origins. The heroic behaviour of the army and the tribute to the countless soldiers who died without a grave were thus intimately associated with the creation of Belgium, the heroes of 1830 and the great principles of the Constitution. The values of independence at this site were particularly evident. All this explains why, in 1944, it was here that the country was symbolically reborn! Belgian colours were omnipresent. The visit of Piron and his brigade was only the first in a long series of such ceremonies.

On 8 September, it was the turn of the government – freshly returned from London – to visit the Unknown Soldier. Subsequently, the site, which until then had mainly served as a place of tribute to the military, saw itself opened up to the commemoration of the civilian heroes and victims of the Second World War. Resistance fighters and deportees from Belgium and abroad were consequently honoured. Today, even if this site does not resonate quite so strongly for many, it still retains some of its symbolic power. Every year, on 11 November, it hosts a commemorative tribute to the victims of all the conflicts in which Belgium has been involved.

With the help of Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles and in partnership with CEGE-SOMA.

 

The Unknown Soldier