Armistice Day, 11th November: Lest We Forget; Remember the Fallen; Learn the Lessons; Education and Communication
Every year, in Britain, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, we lay wreaths of poppies, observe one minute’s silence and pray for those lost and mourned. The Queen and members of our Government lay wreaths at the Cenotaph Memorial in London. On many war memorials and plaques we see the words,
‘Lest we forget’
1939-1945 War Memorial, BridgwaterClick thumbnail to view full-size
Poem by John McCrae (May 1915)
'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.
Poppies were originally worn to commemorate those who died in the First World War. These days they are worn every November, around Armistice Day, to remember the fallen of every conflict since.
The Cenotaph, WhitehallClick thumbnail to view full-size
At school, we learn about the Crusades, the 100 Years War, the Wars of the Roses.
‘Lest we forget’
We learn about the First World War - the Great War that was supposed to be the war to end all wars. Would that were true!
We learn about what followed; the Second World War, the persecution of the Jews, more horror, more fear and evil.
‘Lest we forget’
History offers far too many examples of senseless wars for territory lost and gained. We’ve all seen footage of Hiroshima, Vietnam, Northern Ireland, Iraq, Afghanistan.
‘Lest we forget’
Now we have Syria, Iraq again, the IS. We have territorial arguments between Ukrainians and Russians. Those are just the tip of the iceberg.
‘Lest we forget’
I’ve visited Thiepval.
I’ve visited the beaches of the Normandy Landings.
You are amongst the fighting, you are there on the beaches, you realise the scale of these events, the scale of the cost to human lives, the enormity of the horror, the brutality, the waste.
Thiepval is a village in France. Built there is an imposing Anglo-French memorial to the more than 72,000 fallen of the Battle of the Somme, in Picardy in northern France, during the First World War, 1914-1918. It was designed by the British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens.
Picture this, feel this: The fields are open, the clouds cry onto the wind-swept sodden fields, mothers’ young sons fighting with other mothers’ young sons, far from home, wanting to be brave, shivering with cold, shivering with fear. They’re fighting for their country. No, they’re fighting for their lives. Noise, confusion, screams, fear, all around them, they cannot hide, they cannot get away.
The trenches are mud-pits, the soil drags their boots, they run in slow motion, over the top to throw grenades, to bayonette a few of the enemy, then back to safety if they’re lucky. The stench of mud, sweat, blood and shrapnel. Soldiers shoulder to shoulder with life and death, instant friends shoved together in a ditch, protect each other or die.
They think of home, of England’s green and pleasant land, here in the brown field in France. They think of a sweetheart, a soft kiss, a warm embrace, as the shrapnel kisses them goodbye.
They hope, they fight, they despair, they die, they are buried where they fall, never to be seen again. Missing believed dead. Forever missing from the ones they loved and who loved them. Their mangled bodies lie still, their eyes staring up at the sky in disbelief, their spirits at least free now, maybe at peace.
The Memorial Site
On that same terrain, in a green and fertile field, in a peaceful place where they can rest, now lie rows upon symmetrical rows of white headstones (the British) on which are written ‘A Soldier of the Great War/Known to God’; rows and rows of grey stone crosses (the French) each bearing ‘Inconnu’ (unknown). The memorial itself has names written on each side of its massive pillars, names of those who were denied a burial; they have never been found. As happens occasionally, if a body should be found and identified, the name is erased from the pillar and the body is given a full burial with honours.
On the top of the top-most arch is written,
‘Aux armées Francaise et Britannique, l’Empire Britannique reconnaissant’ (To the French and British Armies, from the grateful British Empire).
A ‘Cross of Sacrifice’ bears the following inscription:
‘That the world may remember the common sacrifice of two and a half million dead, here have been laid side by side Soldiers of France and of the British Empire in eternal comradeship.’
We do remember them. You will never forget if you visit this place.
They are Still Here
Solemn air hangs heavy about your shoulders. You wonder at the silence -then realise there is no bird song. The dark-bricked dominating edifice stands grim, full of sadness, past souls in present spirits, shouting of wastefulness. It stares down at us, defying us to ignore it. It is here for a reason; it has a message.
The visitors’ book has many entries, several of which, as mine, say simply, ‘Why?’
I felt the oppression, the courage, the fear, the anguish, from those long gone, those who never saw their loved ones or their homes again. The despair of those who never again hugged, kissed, smiled, laughed, talked, sang; never again cried, ached, bled, fell, looked at the sky; never again breathed.
Talk is futile when you walk about the pillars, along the grass between the headstones. You walk round and round the pillars and the names go on and on, a vicious circle.
The world is suspended. There are heavy hearts and fresh tears. Tears for them, tears for our own, for we all have some ancestor commemorated here. I have more than one second generation cousin reported as missing; my mother talked about Laurence often. He was 19.
‘Lest we forget’. We remember them all.
The Normandy Landings
Hundreds of boats, some commandeered, ferrying troops, vehicles and machines, delivered their cargo on a stretch of coastline near Caen, Northern France; the beaches of Gold & Sword (British), Utah & Omaha (American), Juno (Canadian), where slaughter on a horrendous scale took place.
These beaches were surveyed by German fortifications looking out across the English Channel (‘La Manche’ in French); beaches where sand was stained red, where many boats arrived and never left.
My grandfather was a young participant and I have his written account. He was in one of the naval boats transporting the troops to the beaches. He was one of the lucky survivors, thankfully, and his tale was told by way of a lecture.
'Lest we forget'
They Live in our Memories
No one wants to forget about the lives lost, no one wants to forget about the loved ones who weren’t able to have children or lead productive, happy lives, following their dreams. I don’t believe any individual does forget about all those things which influence our own present and future.
Will Governments Learn from Mistakes?
The trouble is governments seem to forget. They forget that
- war is futile,
- killing is wrong,
- talks are vital,
- mediation is the key,
- compassion & compromise are needed,
- education is necessary,
- understanding is paramount.
The one picture that says it all for me is when the British and German troops stopped fighting on Christmas Day, came out of the trenches, met and talked to each other, some even exchanging gifts, face to face as ordinary human beings, people with ordinary lives. The next day they went back to killing each other. I cannot understand that. I know it wasn’t their decision, it was their superiors directing them, but I cannot understand why. In the name of God, why?
Until those in power realise that we have to go through a mediation process, that there has to be give and take, not just for a while but all the time, then we are doomed.
Until we shout loudly enough, ‘War is not the answer!’, it will continue; the greed, the need for power, the religious fanaticism, will win. Understanding, talking, educating takes second place unless we keep shouting, ‘War is not the answer!’ The arrogance of ‘knowing best’, of interfering or dictating outcomes will continue, resentment will fester and grow to be a cancer on the world. A little more each time, life itself will be whittled away. Humanity will lose. We will all lose and then it will be too late to ask why, too late to say ‘Lest we forget’.
Some Returned, Some Didn'tClick thumbnail to view full-size
Lest We Forget - a Poem
The blade in the stomach,
the bullet in the eye,
the body-shredding bomb,
the nuclear burn
with seeping cancer,
an aftermath for generations.
children watching parents die,
home to rest,
or empty graves that gape.
Politicians quick to act,
bombing this and bombing that,
re-enacting past mistakes,
never putting on the brakes
instead to halt these senseless wars,
always fighting - for what cause?
Listen to the children asking
what is happening to their lives.
Listen to the soldiers wondering
why they fight, so too their wives
waiting for that feared arrival,
a letter cutting off survival.
Talk and talk until you win.
Find solutions from that thin
shred of hope within us all,
then our nations can stand tall.
Then we earn the right to say
we have paved the glorious way
to a world without destruction,
where we all say with conviction,
‘There will be no more.’
Poppies, like those in Flanders Fields
Look at the past, reach for the future, remember our mistakes.
We have all these reminders, all these memories. Why?
Lest We Forget.
What do You Think?
Do you agree with war?
Ceramic Poppies at the Tower of London
This year of 2014, as a commemmoration of 100 years since the start of WW1, an artist has created an installation of red ceramic poppies in the moat of the Tower of London. One poppy at a time has been added and they now fill the moat, the last having been added today by a young Army Cadet.
The idea is that each poppy represents a soldier who died for his country. Some of the poppies spill from the top of the outer wall into the moat, like blood spilling into the sea. The 'Weeping Willow' and 'Wave' segments will be the final sections to be removed; they stay until the end of November 2014.
The artist's idea was that it should last until 11th November 2014 and then be dismantled to go on tour. However, it has been granted an extra two weeks at The Tower before beginning its journey around the country. Dismantling begins on 12th November.
The installation is called 'Blood-Swept Lands and Seas of Red'.
You can find out more about this amazing piece of art at:
Update: The installation has now gone from The Tower, parts of it on tour around the country. It was spectacular and I finally got to see it when just half of it was left. See my hub:
© 2014 Ann Carr