This is not my usual type of posting, as it isn’t about public speaking, but I couldn’t let 11th November go by without a mention, hence the changes to my background until next week.
War is not good but sometimes it is the lesser of two evils. How different the world would have been if nothing had been done to stop the advance of Hitler and the Nazis? Many died to keep my country free in the 20th century. Many die now to help others gain and/or keep their freedom from oppression. The fight has always been with us and probably always will be. There will always be those who seek to dominate and suppress and there will always be those willing to fight for freedom from tyrants. For the latter, we should all be grateful. There is still time for you to choose to join in on Sunday, at least in remembering, if not at a ceremony.
Armistice was signed at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918 to end the First World War. On Sunday 11th Nov at 11am in Britain it is customary to have two minutes of silence in remembrance. At this hour, those who have respect stop what they are doing and stand in silence for two minutes. This year, not so many will be in the shops because it happens to be a Sunday but I do hope that those who are will observe the silence. Checkouts stop, customers wait until afterwards to be served and many cars pull over to wait. There are those who don’t care but they do not appreciate what was sacrificed or even what sacrifice is.
I used to live in Wootton Bassett, a town through which the bodies of many fallen from Iraq and Afghanistan passed. This became world famous for its acts of respect. The shops closed temporarily and shoppers went outside to stand in silence as the cars passed carrying the bodies. The town was granted Royal status in recognition of its respectful attitude. The press sometimes rather hijacked the events for their own purposed but nevertheless, the town had chosen to do what it did. I am pleased that the idea of respect has returned in some measure to the UK, as it seemed to have all but disappeared for a while.
After a period in the 70s, 80s and 90s when young people – and some older ones, too – wanted to forget and give up the practice, it has returned with conviction. The Gulf wars, 9/11, Afghanistan and Iraq reminded a generation unaccustomed to war on its doorstep, that there is still evil about and this must be resisted. Soldiers are still dying for freedom. Now we remember, not just those in the two world wars of the 20th century but also all those who have fought and are still fighting now for that freedom.
Where I live, many will be gathering around the local war memorial at 11am. Those who are not religious can join for the most moving part of the proceedings: the list of locals who fell in war, the silence and the last post. Those who wish to, can begin in church and conclude in church with prayers. For some, war turns them towards faith and for some it turns them away. We are all affected by tragedy in different ways, but however we face it, let us not forget those who have made, and those who are still facing, the ultimate sacrifice. Let us salute them in our remembrance and be thankful.
It might seem over-familiar and yet, as it is only used once a year, I do not apologise for including the poem by military doctor, John McCrae, written following the funeral of a young friend killed in Flanders in 1915. It was the inspiration for the use poppy petals to symbolise the fallen, a paper poppy being sold to raise funds for wounded servicemen and women. Sadly, more and more petals are released each year during the Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall, one petal per person fallen. They take several minutes to fall from the ceiling above the arena and onto the service men and women representing the armed forces and civilian emergency services. During this time there is silence, which is only broken as the last petal falls and reveille is sounded. It is a moving occasion and if you haven’t ever seen it, I can recommend it.
Here is the Poem ‘In Flanders fields’
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.