Before the end of this Armistice Day here are some personal thoughts on Remembrance.
Remembrance is a way of recalling and respecting the sacrifice of those who had served in two World Wars, and in other conflicts. Remembrance is an act that shows an appreciation of the cost of war, the price of freedom: the value of life and liberty. In that appreciation, wearing a poppy and taking a minute or two of time once a year to pay silent respect is not much to ask, or to give.
Attending, respecting, an act of Remembrance may well be considered a ‘British’ thing to do. As a child, the focal point of Remembrance was watching the Whitehall parade past the Cenotaph, mainly because those weekends were often spent in the South of Ireland visiting my grandmother who was ill (for years). When in Northern Ireland, there was a simple silence respected in those churches that had a service which was progressing at 11am if the 11th November fell on a Sunday, but with no military connections the day was a ‘national’ event rather than family. In my early years I was unaware of any family member who had fought in either war – lots of stories about smuggling butter and cloth; though much later I learned of a Great Uncle who had fought and died in World War One.
As ‘The Troubles’ progressed there grew a wider sense of knowing someone, or knowing someone who knew someone who served in the RUC or UDR, full or part-time, or a neighbour who was in the wrong place at the wrong time: touched by the tragedy of the conflict, by death or injury. What difference between those caught in the frontline against terror to those on the frontline against Hitler? The difference between republican socialist and national socialist is a nuance: it all sounds the same; the Jew, the Protestant, offered the choice of the boat or a box. Remembrance became doubly poignant. Remembrance was no longer something of ‘national’ importance, and distant in time; it became close to home, personal.
The Poppy Appeal is unique in Europe, which makes it a uniquely British tradition in that respect. With so few visible national traditions the Poppy Appeal therefore takes on the persona of a point of national collective reflection, though in a very British way; it is run by a charity, not by Government; maintained by volunteers, not paid community workers or state officials, and Remembrance is a matter of individual choice.
Remembrance is for the Fallen, all those countless individuals, not the army that fought.
Remembrance has become a time of personal reflection: remembering friends, family and those who lost through war, through terror, or through conflict of any nature. This past weekend I attended a small Remembrance Service in a country church, where I feel at home. The names on the Roll of Honour were read as written, carved in stone: those who died in order of rank and those who served in alphabetical order; death and service in war, indiscriminate and classless.
Remembrance in the British way may be particularly unique. Yes, it may be considered very British to wear a poppy and to pay a moment silence in Remembrance of all those who fought and died for freedom, whatever their colour, religion or politics. It may be very British, though surely it is also a very human way to honour those who served and died for others’ freedom. It is very British, and very right.
Elsewhere, some further thought on Remembrance