15 November 2011

Reflections on Remembrance

Remembrance Sunday has come and gone again.  Over the years, the usual commemoration for me has been a brief introduction in the course of a normal church service, sometimes given by a veteran or, more usually, the widow of a veteran, then two minute's silence, sometimes followed by a recitation of, 'They shall not grow old...'  There was never anything disrespectful about the event but there was always the impression that it was something that was done because it was the thing to be done; and I certainly think it should be done; we should never forget the cost of the freedom we enjoy today.

A couple of years ago, my Beloved and I were in London at this time of year and so made a particular point of attending the Remembrance ceremony at the Cenotaph.  It was a notable event, and no doubt deeply meaningful for those who have either participated or lost loved ones in armed conflict.  We stood next to an ex-serviceman who attended every year.  I would like to say we were there to honour those who gave their lives as much as he was but clearly it was a much more personal thing for him.  For me, the pomp of the event lessened the experience.

This year was very different.  Having recently become involved in a local church, we attended the joint Remembrance commemoration in the village.  The whole service was given over to the act of remembrance, attended by servicemen and women from a nearby barracks, elderly veterans marked out by their medals, and uniformed youth organisations, and followed by a procession to the local war memorial. 

Seeing the boys' and girls' uniformed groups reminded me of Church Parades I attended when I was a Cub.  I was surprised to realise that I had no clue at that time what Church Parade was about, and amused to note that modern day members do not seem to be taught how to march.

At the War Memorial, we and a couple of hundred others observed our two minute's silence, witnessed the playing of last post and the laying of wreaths, offered prayers, and remembered the fallen.  It became a much more meaningful event.

The War Memorial bears the names of those from our village who gave their lives.  The realisation of that grounded the event, making more real the fact that real people, local people belonging to families that still live here and remember their fallen, had left their homes and loved ones and given their lives so that we could know and enjoy peace in our land.

I thought about the futility of war, its waste of life and the lost potential, all for the vanity of evil men bent on oppression and conquest.  If only we could find some other way to settle differences, or even just accept them...

I thought also about those who did not die in war or conflict, who survived maimed, or even unscathed but who nonetheless sacrificed their youth, and who have since born the mental scars of their experiences.  I remembered my grandfather who fought as an infantryman at the Somme and in other battles in the First World War, rose to the rank of acting Major in the Home Guard during the Second, but died 21 years ago at the age of 98.  Though he survived, I believe his children lost the father he could have been, and I the grandfather, as a result of his experiences in the trenches.

War is a dreadful thing.  We do not appreciate or value the peace we have in our land anywhere near as much as we ought.  We owe the fallen and those who fought and survived a debt of gratitude.  I would like to think that, could they see us, they would be satisfied with what we have made of their legacy but, somehow, looking at us and the way we are, I doubt it...

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

(From 'For the Fallen' by Laurence Binyon, 1869-1943.)

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