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England team in Flanders Field tribute to the fallen

Saturday 27th June 2009

THEEngland cricket team returned to the UK yesterday after a two-day visit to Flanders Field in Belgium as part of their preparations for the forthcoming npower Ashes Series against Australia.

The 16-strong Ashes squad and management team visited war graves, laid wreathes at the famous Menin Gate in Ieper and took part in a memorial service to commemorate those servicemen who lost their lives in World War One.

The team began their visit by attending a service at the Oxford Road cemetery close to Ieper where a special tribute was paid to those England cricketers who perished in the conflict. As part of the service, England fast bowler Stuart Broad laid a specially made stone cricket ball at the graveside of former Kent and England left arm spinner Colin Blythe who died at the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917.

The team also visited the Tyne Cot cemetery where more than 12,000 Allied soldiers are buried and attended the daily service held at the Menin Gate where wreathes were laid by Andrew Strauss, Ravi Bopara and Alastair Cook before ’The Last Post’ was played and singer Sean Ruane delivered a rendition of ’Jerusalem.’

The two-day visit concluded with an opportunity for the players to see trenches preserved from World War One and take part in a team meeting to discuss tactics and strategy ahead of the npower Ashes Series.

England Captain Andrew Strauss said: “It“s important to take a step back from cricket at times and this visit was a deeply moving and humbling experience for all of the players and management. We learned a great deal about the sacrifices made by a previous generation of England cricketers and I would like to thank the people of Ieper for making us so welcome."

England Team Director Andy Flower said: “This visit was part of ongoing efforts designed to broaden horizons and learn more about the role of leadership and team ethics. Everyone came away from the visit with a greater understanding of what it really means to stand shoulder to shoulder and fight for your country. We hope it will help strengthen our own bonds within the team as we prepare for what should be a very exciting Ashes series.”

Richard Kellaway, Director General of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, said: "The Commission is delighted that the England cricket team has taken the time to remember the sacrifice of Colin Blythe and countless other Commonwealth sportsmen who made the ultimate sacrifice. People can learn more by visiting the Commission’s cricket exhibitions at Ieper and at the Old Library in Cardiff."

Picture courtesy of Getty Images