Month: November 2009

The right of Remembrance

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


At this time of Remembrance there are a number of ways to look back at the life and loss of soldiers in conflict.


The contemporary account of the recent conflict in Northern Ireland is told in the words of British squaddies in Soldiers’ Stories on History Channel. This Remembrance Sunday the programme will be shown at 10pm on HD.  It was shown first on 26th October, presented by former soldier Ken Harnes.  Throughout operation banner some 300,000 British troops served in Northern Ireland, some 1300 were killed and 6000 wounded.  With the murder of soldiers still making the headlines in 2009 this programme is not entirely the historic record it ought to be.

This is a programme that presents first hand accounts, and although a little long for one programme, it still manages to offer a stark, honest and very personal account of the lives of soldiers serving in Northern Ireland over 40 years.  It provides another perspective that lacks political spin, and doesn’t seek sympathy or accolade.  A frank account, and well worth watching on the night, or keeping for later.

A record of conflict was not available following World War One.  This year the last of the veterans of this war passed on: 108 year-old William Stone, 113 year-old Henry Allingham, and 111 year-old Harry Patch.  It made the short programme of events through the Maiden City Festival all the more relevant.  The ‘Three Cheers for the Derrys!’ programme was based on the book by Gardiner Mitchell of the same name, which had the benefit of reminisces of two old soldiers, Jim Donaghy from Londonderry and Leslie Bell from Moneymore.

Elements of the programme are now available on a dedicated mini website to give voice and life to the story of the ‘The Derrys’, the 10th Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. The young men who acted in the short performance as part of the programme were no older than those who had gone to war 1914-1918.

Finally, there are those left behind.  Which makes the stories in a new book to be published on Wednesday, Remembrance Day itself, a worthy addition to this selection of means of recalling the sacrifice of the few for the many.  The outline is available in Eamonn Baker’s contribution to ‘The Derrys’ project.  Remembering has grown out of research conducted over the past few years by Trevor Temple, staff member of the North West War Memorial Project. The following is the description of the book provided by Yes Publications for the launch:

“Remembering is a tapestry of stories created from edited interviews with families who lost loved ones during the First World War. Without the generous commitment and openness of all twenty eight interviewees, this book would not have been possible. Each interviewee has shared precious family stories which previously had remained hidden from our collective view.

Many interviewees had researched in loving detail the life and times of their relative. We hear for example of Wesley Maultsaid’s football skills, of Holmes Haslett’s athletic prowess, racing down the Culmore Road ahead of the mail boat on the waters of the Foyle, of Denis Doherty’s working life at McCullagh’s in Waterloo Place and on the docks, of George Hasson “sweeping” around the city. We have been privileged to gain access to the family photographs, documents, keepsakes, memorabilia used to illustrate this publication.

Though all of the interviews were conducted in the spring of 2009, more than ninety years after Armistice Day 1918, it quickly became clear that many of the interviewees were grieving over the loss of their grandfather, grand-uncle, uncle (whom they, of course, had never known personally) in ways which suggested that the family loss had never been fully resolved.”

Remembering was launched in the Tower Museum on Wednesday 11th November 2009. Books are on sale in local bookshops from 12 November priced £10 or direct from YES! Publications, 10-12 Bishop Street, Londonderry BT48 6PW  This community-based project was developed by Holywell Trust and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Three very different records of soldiers’ lives and service, each making a contribution to this year’s time of Remembrance, underscoring that Remembrance is often very personal to those who served, their families and friends.  It is hard to really share those memories, those experiences.  But this is a time when we can all respectfully honour those who selflessly acted for us all, regardless though no less aware of the likely cost to themselves.