Peaceville in Belgium: Part 2: The Gonewest Lichtfront event in Nieuwpoort

Continuing from the previous instalment about my time in Bruges, our next destination was the coastal city of Nieuwpoort. We knew that we’d be attending the Gonewest Lichtfront (or ‘Lightfront’ in English), but otherwise knew very little about the location and therefore spent the afternoon exploring the side streets and beaches. Our hotel called “Cosmopolite” was just on the beach front, and although fairly accessible, it was by no means out of the ordinary. We had two rooms, and my accessible one was nicely equipped with a big wet room and a bed with leg room for my hoist.

Although we had our own vehicle, we eagerly checked out the land tram for its accessibility features and I’m happy to report that it was wheelchair friendly! The pavement was raised to meet the doorway, with ramps inside if needed. It wasn’t a problem to explore this city, but I didn’t notice any accessibility features on the seafront such as beach friendly wheelchairs.

The Lichtfront was a multinational event on the most western point of Flanders marking the 84km distance from the beach at Nieuwpoort to the ‘Memorial of the Missing’ in Ploegsteert, where 8,400 torchbearers lit the path to commemorate the loss of lives during the First World War. We had prime viewing at the central location of the Albert I Memorial in Nieuwpoort, situated on the De Ganzenpoot locks. This enormous monument celebrates the life of King Albert and as the sun shone through the clouds, it looked beautifully golden. Though access was limited by a huge step, it was nice to admire from afar.

The event unfolded smoothly as the sun began to set, we were positioned between the TV cameras had a clear view across the locks. We watched the torchbearers come closer and could see the path of light glow for miles in the distance, and as it reached the lock, the bigger torches were lit. We were treated to a firework display which ran along the lock edge, that illuminated the surrounding trees which I thought evoked the feeling of the trench warfare. As a finale, the main lock gate ran with a fiery waterfall symbolising the rush of water into the centre of the lock, a metaphor for the joining of allies, which was a beautiful spectacle against the night’s sky. It felt almost magical as the smoke drifted across the lock and engulfed the mass crowd, whether it was intentional or not it felt like we had been taken back in time to a smoke filled war zone. And as the ceremony drew to a close, a 100 year old guest turned the locks levers to project the names of the soldiers who lost their lives during the war onto the Albert I Memorial, I felt truly honoured to be a part of such a special occasion which was put together so compassionately.

The Lichtfront was neither solemn nor was it commercialised; it was respectful and its beauty laid in the coming together of the community, illuminating the darkened path together as a united assembly from different cultures, countries and creeds. The event left us feeling extremely humbled, and extremely honoured to be part of it. It certainly won’t be forgotten, nor will the hundreds of thousands of men who lost their lives between 1914 and 1918.

This continues in Peaceville in Belgium: Part 3: Ieper, and the Last Post Ceremony.


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