For Remembrance Sunday 2019

As I get older I find that I am moved to tears more often than I used to be. I have no idea why that should be: do we become more sensitive with age, or are our tear ducts more active? Whatever the reason, I found it happening to me on Friday morning as I watched the BBC’s Breakfast programme. In the run up to Remembrance Sunday they ran a piece about a gentleman called Harry Billinge: Harry is 93 and is a veteran of the Normandy landings – i.e. D-Day – and is collecting money for a memorial to those who gave their lives there. They also featured Harry as part of their programme earlier this year, marking the 75th anniversary of D-Day. On both occasions he was interviewed at some length, and both times this wonderful man has moved me to tears. Within an hour or so of today’s broadcast someone had uploaded the full interview to YouTube, and I share it now for you, in case you haven’t seen it before. It is eleven minutes long, but is well worth your time to watch it:

Harry doesn’t like to be called a hero – he says he was one of the lucky ones, those who returned from the beaches. But his story is compelling. Just an ordinary man, he was, as he says, ‘taught by this lovely country to kill people,’ and describes it all as ‘what a waste of life.’ In those brief phrases he encapsulates the horror and futility of war. I was born in Dover in 1953, just eight years after the end of WW2. Due to its proximity to the French mainland, and being on the flight path to London, Dover suffered horribly: 2,226 shells and 464 bombs landed in or around the town, 216 civilians were killed, and I grew up with everyday reminders of the destruction that war brings. 10,056 premises were damaged, many of them so badly that they had to be demolished. This little clip gives you a brief idea of what the town went through: Pathe News jingoism at its finest!  There were many bomb sites where there had been buildings, and regeneration was progressing rapidly. But we had, on our doorstep, a living history lesson, and I have always carried that with me through my lifetime. This photo was taken in 1940 just down the road from where I lived for the first 20 months of my life, not that I knew it like this, of course:

Snargate Street, Dover ©️Kent Messenger

Even 20 years after that photo there were still sites boarded up. The rubble had been cleared, and a major rebuilding programme was in progress. This was happening across the UK and throughout Europe, and I hope we never see anything like it again. Such a waste of resources, but even that becomes insignificant when compared with the huge number of lives that were lost.

I mentioned that Harry had also been a part of Breakfast’s D-Day 75th anniversary programme. Again, in case you missed it, here it is:

If you can watch that without a tear or two in your eye, I can only say that your heart is harder than mine!

A year or two back I came across a little poem which addresses the point that, so many years on, there are far fewer who lived through those times and, therefore, there is a risk that we will begin to forget the sacrifices made by so many so that we can live a free life today. I hope this will never be the case, and that what the poet describes won’t happen:


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)

 

We should never forget.

Remembrance Sunday 2018

I know it’s probably a little greedy of me, but I support three football teams. The reasons for that are maybe the story for another time, but not today. One of those teams – Leyton Orient (the Os) – has a proud history which is relevant today. In its earliest incarnation the club was known as Clapton Orient, and players and officials from that club played a significant role in the history of recruitment for the First World War. I thought I would share their story as my mark of respect and remembrance today.

Two years ago, to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, the British Legion published the story of those brave footballers who gave their lives. You can find the full story here but I thought I’d present it as a series of screenshots for you. (If they are too small to read on your screen, clicking on them makes them much larger, then you can press the ‘back’ arrow to return here):

That story holds a very special place in the heart of every Os supporter, and has been the basis for some very moving ceremonies when the team has been playing at home on the Remembrance weekend. It is also at the heart of a play called The Greater Game, which is currently playing a limited run in London.

The words on this poppy are very familiar: they have featured in those ceremonies and reflect the losses suffered by so many at that time – like the Clapton Orient lads – and in subsequent conflicts:

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)

On Remembrance Sunday, those words by Laurence Binyon never lose their meaning or their simple power to remind us of the sacrifice made by so many to protect the way of life we enjoy today – above all, our freedom.

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.

This year marks the Centenary of the end of the First World War, and there is much publicity for it. But I fear that with the passing of time, and without this major anniversary to remind us, the significance of this act of remembrance 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 should never forget. We owe them so much.

 

On Remembrance Sunday

image

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)

I have posted these words each year on Remembrance Sunday, and will keep on doing so. They 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 a failed attempt to disrupt the Day of Remembrance in London by bombing, and the decision by the University of London Students Union to ban its members from attending any commemorations as they “glorify war.” Since then, nothing much seems to have changed, does it? People still use that democratic freedom to make efforts to destroy it, and people continue to confuse a belief that war is wrong with the misguided view that we should not commemorate those sacrifices.

I don’t want to get into a debate about pacifism, but am very clear that I find war 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. Last year, for the first time since 1919, there was due to have been no official parade through the town of Epping, where I live, as the police had decided that it would be too expensive for them to provide the required traffic and crowd control. In common with most towns in the UK we have a war memorial, and I was greatly heartened to see the people of this town turn out in large numbers despite the police’s decision, to mark the usual commemoration. Common sense prevailed, and the normal procession through the town took place, as it 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.  I hope that all towns in the UK will see their usual dignified, respectful commemoration, as unsullied as possible by politics, finances or by any hint that Binyon’s words about not ‘condemning’ those who died are being proved wrong.

Wherever you are, however you do it, I hope that you will be able to spare a moment to give thanks for those who have died to protect your way of life.