November is a peculiar month. The wonderful colours of autumn are mostly gone, the days are getting shorter, and the weather is getting colder. It also isn’t quite close enough to Christmas to start getting the decorations out or embracing the Christmas music (however tempting!). Regardless of this, November is also a very special month, for it is the month of Remembrance.
Many of us will have attended at least Remembrance Sunday/Day service in our lifetime. Personally, this is the kind of Remembrance that I most enjoy. Being gathered with a group of people, all with a common aim. I remember being in primary school and representatives from each year group being selected and taken up to the town centre for the service… and being incredibly put out that I hadn’t been picked! But as I have got older, I have been lucky enough to do my own thing for Remembrance Sunday/Day.
In 2015, I was lucky enough to be in Ypres for the Armistice Day commemorations at the Menin Gate. We had to be there really early in order to ensure that we had a good spot to view the ceremony itself and the parade with the bands, troops and other representatives that were there to commemorate. There must have been thousands of people in Ypres waiting to be a part of something special. Seeing what can only be described as the spectacle of the day was truly something. There were important dignitaries from all over the world and crowds of people. It was certainly a powerful event to attend and I definitely enjoyed being there, but it’s not somewhere I need to go back in a hurry!
In 2018, I was again lucky enough to be in France with my parents and youngest sister for 11th November, which happened to fall on the Sunday. Seeing as this was the centenary of the signing of the Armistice, I knew that Ypres and the Somme etc would be really busy, so I undertook some research before deciding where to go and found a lot of men who died on 11th November buried around Cambrai. So, at 11am on 11th November, we were in Cambrai East Cemetery, to pay our respects. The four of us were there without large crowds, but were there with another family, visiting their relative, who was buried in the same cemetery. We had a lovely conversation with them and they left me with a small book they had produced about their relative. If we had been at an organised event, with far more people present, I don’t think this would have happened. This intimate act of Remembrance was extremely moving and powerful; and completely different from any act I’ve been a part of before. It would definitely be something I’d want to do again in the future.
2020 of course, has been a difficult year for us all. Everything has taken a hit, including being able to be out on tour in the places that we love so much. I didn’t realise – until not being there – just how much the battlefields mean to me as a person. I worked out earlier today that the last time I was on a First World War battlefield with a school group was last December, which really does make me very sad. Today was just another reminder of the fact that I have not been to the places I love the most for a long time and I must admit to getting a bit choked and shedding a few tears whilst attending the informal ceremony put together by the local branch of the Royal British Legion. Tears of happiness that I could be present, but also tears of nostalgia and sadness, missing the places that hold such a place in my heart. Whereas in the past, there would be hundreds of people tightly crammed in at the event, there were maybe 50/60 people today, all spread out in their own family groups. As the Last Post played, I looked around at the people gathered there, and knew in my heart, that even though we are struggling at the moment, and nothing is quite the same, one day, we will have something more resembling normal than we do now. And that gave me hope. Hope that remembrance will continue, hope that the sacrifices made by those who served will not be forgotten.
Remembrance has always been a contentious topic. Who should be doing the remembering, why we are remembering, if it’s being carried out in the right manner. Public figures are judged on whether or not they wear a poppy in the lead up to this period. For me, the most important thing is that we remember in the way that is right for us. Whether that is by going to a service on Remembrance Sunday, wearing a poppy in the run up or choosing to observe and pay our respects in our own private way; we all have the same goal, to remember those who served. Those who came home and lived with their war for the rest of their lives; and those who lie out in the fields and villages wherever they were killed around the world. Much like other things in our lives, if we all learned to be a bit more tolerant of those with different practices, we may just see the breakdown of some of the divisions that have split the world in recent times, which I’m sure is something everyone can agree should come to an end.
So, during this period of Remembrance, let us see the bigger picture of what we are all doing. Let us continue to remember in our own ways – by remembering those we knew and those we didn’t. Let us continue to tell the stories and tales we love to share, to pass on the really important message – ‘For your tomorrow, we gave our today.’