They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
(Taken from ‘For The Fallen’ by Laurence Binyon, September 1914)
As has become my custom, I’m marking Remembrance Sunday. Those words by Laurence Binyon never lose their meaning or their simple power, their power to remind us of the sacrifice made by so many to protect the way of life we enjoy today – above all, our freedom. In previous years I have referred to attempts to pervert that democratic freedom by those who make efforts to destroy it and, sadly, people continue to confuse a belief that war is wrong with the misguided view that we should not commemorate those sacrifices.
I believe war to be abhorrent. However, that does not stop me from marking my respect for anyone who has ever taken part in a campaign to protect my freedom. I will observe the official silence in my own way, and will give them my silent thanks. Official commemorations began in the UK in 1919, after the end of the First World War, and have since developed to include the Second World War and service women and men from other campaigns. In recent years the official parade through the town of Epping, where I live, has been under threat of cancellation, due to a lack of policing resources. This is far too important an event to be forgotten and cast to the mists of history, just because of funding cutbacks for the police. With every passing year, fewer veterans of the Second World War remain, and I think it disrespectful to them and their fallen comrades that political and economic considerations interfere.
Another thing to which I take exception is the attempt by fascist groups like Britain First to hijack the poppy, the symbol of remembrance. They have somehow created an agenda which claims that those who don’t wear a poppy are being disrespectful, and should be castigated for it. In effect, they have set themselves up as vigilantes, stirring up antipathy towards those who choose not to wear a poppy. This seems to me to be the same kind of fake outrage that Trump has created over the #takeaknee protests in the US, and has as much validity: i.e. none. The freedom that our forebears fought to preserve included the freedom to choose for ourselves whether to observe an act of remembrance, and whether we should wear a poppy as a mark of respect. But choosing not to wear it isn’t of itself disrespectful, and I object to people who claim to be ‘patriots’ using this argument for their own bigoted, narrow-minded political ends.
Whilst I’m in rant mode, here’s another thought. The original Armistice, to end the First World War, was at 11am on the 11th November 1918 – the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month. Here in the UK this has become Remembrance Sunday over the years. This means that only once every five years or so do we actually have our main service of remembrance on the 11th November, although of course we still do observe the two minutes’ silence at 11am on the 11th – but this is increasingly becoming lost in the midst of our everyday lives. As is often pointed out, the UK has far fewer public holidays than most other countries and I wonder whether 11th November should become one, as it is in France and Belgium. In that way, we would always be concentrating our remembering on the one right day and that, to me, would be the ultimate act of remembrance. Next year sees the centenary of the end of WW1 and I can think of no better time to declare 11th November as a new public holiday for the UK, although as luck would have it 11.11.18 does actually fall on a Sunday! I doubt it will be a huge success but I’ve started a petition in support of this on 38Degrees. You can find it here
Do please feel free to sign it – I think I’m the only signatory so far!
Some – particularly amongst younger people – feel that there is some kind of compulsion to wear a poppy and, as is the way with youth, rebel against this: whilst this is perhaps understandable, it doesn’t do much to help their understanding of the real symbolism of the poppy and why we use it to remember the fallen. I fear that with the passing of time the importance of this event is decreasing, as this little poem illustrates:
Wherever you are, however you do it, I hope that you will be able to spare a moment today to give thanks for those who have died to protect your and my way of life. We owe them so much.