England pay tribute to war dead

Stuart Broad lays a memorial at the war-time grave of the former England bowler, Colin Blythe Getty Images

The England cricket team have arrived back in the country after a two-day visit to Flanders Field in Belgium, as part of their preparations for the forthcoming Ashes campaign against Australia.

The 16-man Ashes party and management team visited war graves, laid wreathes at the famous Menin Gate in Ypres 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 Ypres where a special tribute was paid to those England cricketers who perished in the conflict. As part of the service, Stuart Broad laid a specially made stone cricket ball at the graveside of former Kent and England left-arm spinner Colin Blythe, who took 100 wickets in 19 Tests, but died at 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 the war.

England's 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 for making us so welcome."

England's coach, 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."

The trip followed on from similar bonding exercises undertaken by Australian squads in the run-up to previous Ashes series in England. In 2001 under Steve Waugh, the players visited Gallipoli, where thousands of Anzac soldiers lost their lives in 1915, and where a famous game of cricket was played out in the full view of Turkish troops to provide cover for a mass evacuation. Four years later in 2005, Ricky Ponting's men visited the Somme.

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."