>> Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Yesterday it was Remembrance Day in the UK (and in various other nations around the world, I know).  I had hoped to take the Boys to see the amazing installation of ceramic poppies at the Tower of London when we were in the UK a week or so ago, but heavy traffic and a late-running doctors' appointment meant we didn't make it. Life, as ever, got in the way.

However, yesterday Boy #2 came home from school to tell me how his teacher (a South African) had shown them footage from Sunday's ceremony at the Cenotaph in Whitehall London, regaling me with his tale as if it related to events from ancient history rather than to commemorate something that happened within still-living memory.

"The ceremony happened at 11 o'clock, Mum."  Do you know why that was, I asked.  He didn't, so I explained about the significance of the 11th Hour of the 11th Day of the 11th Month.  He nodded sombrely.  "They had rows of soldiers, Mum, all saluting" he said in a low voice, as if to emphasise the importance of what he was telling me.  "The Queen laid a wreath, and then a man shouted something, and all the soldiers stamped.  Then, they played a tune on trumpets that didn't have any buttons on the top."

Cornets, I said.  They were called 'cornets'.

And I was momentarily transported back to when I was similar age and listening to the Last Post being played on various chilly November mornings throughout the years.  My sister and I used to march with our Brownie pack (and later, as Girl Guides) along with veterans, civilians, the mayor and town council, the cubs, the boy scouts, the local army, RAF and naval cadets, and so on in a parade through the very small town where I grew up, every year on whichever Sunday fell closest to 11th November.  We walked from the parish church to the town square, where a stone cross embellished with the names of the local men who had fallen in World Wars I and II stood by the doctor's surgery and bus shelter, and each of the organisations represented laid their flag and a wreath on the steps of the memorial.

It seemed to me, at 8 years old standing in my best coat and uniform listening to the 2 minute silence, that the streets were heaving with poppy-wearing people who had come to pay their respects.  I used to catch the bus to school from the memorial every week day and on the days that I wasn't wrapped in my own thoughts I remember marvelling at how short some of the lives commemorated on the stone had been; only 16 or 17 years long, in a couple of cases.  And I especially remember that even at 8, 9, 10 years old I was struck by the horror and the pathos of realising that some family names were repeated - 3, or 4 times in some cases - denoting the fact that multiple members of the same family were commemorated as having died during the same war.  Imagine being their sibling, I thought then.  Imagine being their mother, I think now.

It seems so impossible to us; the white-hot fervour that drove entire families of young men to enlist.  From our relatively safe 21st century existence, I don't think many of us can imagine it.  But then, because 100 years ago - and more recently - they did, I don't have to.

Back in 2014, Boy #2 was still talking to me in the same low, insistent, serious voice.  "And then we heard a poem, Mum.  I can't remember the words, but they were good..."

Did it go; 'They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old.'?  I asked.

"Yes!  That was it exactly!"

And I was struck yet again how many key milestones from my childhood are not present in my sons' lives.  There's little of that here, you see.  I'm not saying that the Russians don't venerate and respect their war dead, they absolutely do.  But the key difference is that the calendar date on which they do so is not called 'Remembrance Day' or 'Armistice Day'.  It's called 'Victory Day', and that is the aspect that is publicly celebrated.  It's more about military parades than about standing in silence, so that's what the Boys have known for the last 5 years.

For some reason I rarely went a Remembrance ceremony in the UK once I became an adult.  I can't think why; I suspect that I simply allowed Life to get in the way.  I hope, though, that if we return to the UK perhaps that might change, and my sons will get the chance to appreciate the value of standing in silence for 2 minutes to honour those who have died in their country's service.  In the meantime I'm going to reproduce the relevant stanza of the poem that the Ode to Remembrance is taken from.

Lest I forget.

They shall not grow 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.

Laurence Binyon; 'For the Fallen'.


Nappyvalleygirl,  13 November 2014 at 11:04  

Lovely post.
I felt the same in America - they have Veterans Day, but there are no poppies or playing of The Last Post.
This year we were at the school Remembrance Day service which had all of those things. Littleboy 1 sang a musical version of For the Fallen in the choir, and boys played the Last Post and teachers laid poppy wreaths at the local church. It was so poignant and really drummed into the boys I think what it was all about.
So, when/if you come back from Russia, I think you will experience those things again, through your boys and their school life.

Muddling Along 13 November 2014 at 14:35  

When you come back you'll take it back up but yes, one of the things that makes me very proud to be British is the dignified, non-jingoistic way that we honour our war dead - I've been pleased to see so many people wearing poppies this year
I remember hearing the list of the fallen from our village as a child - it was incredibly haunting to hear several sons from the same family read out one after the other - now I'm older I think more about the mothers, wives and sisters who lost those men and the hole it created in our community

Great post

pottymummy,  13 November 2014 at 18:44  

Thanks MA. And I sincerely hope we do.

pottymummy,  13 November 2014 at 18:44  

NVG, I hope that we do - and that the Boys get the chance to understand something of what 11th November is really all about.

Metropolitan Mum 14 November 2014 at 11:29  

I miss Remembrance day. Very lovely post xx

MsCaroline,  17 November 2014 at 11:52  

Really moving described it so well, I felt like I was there. I grew up hearing my mother recite, "In Flanders Fields' and we always got small paper poppies with green wires to wind around our buttons or in our buttonholes - I'm not sure if that's because my mother is Canadian (one of her uncles died in WWI) or if maybe the parts of the US that we lived in (when we were in the US) observed the poppy tradition. As the daughter, niece, sister-in-law, and stepdaughter of veterans, it has always been a very significant day for me. I will look forward to observing it next year in the UK.

Coombe Mill (Fiona),  25 November 2014 at 10:02  

Such a great post, so well articulated. I'm not very religious but I made sure my scouts were at Parade for their service and stayed to support them. I hope the tradition and memory continues for another generation.

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