It is nearly 11am, on Remembrance Sunday, a time for reflection.
In my childhood I took part in the Remembrance parade at Gatehouse, the small town where I was brought up. Most of the town took part in some way – I consider standing watching this parade as participating. Some years we had bright shiny sun and a blue sky, other years were less kind, and there were years of grey clouds, of smirry rain and one or two of proper big rain. But still the town turned out to remember. Mum nearly always wore her Astrakhan coat. I never really knew what an Astrakhan coat was, except that it was an inherited, enormously heavy black fur, with a curly coat, like a big black lamb. We all wrapped up warm. We were all freezing cold by lunchtime.
We would march up the town, past the clock tower to the War Memorial, a simple granite cross. The traffic through the town was stopped, and this, perhaps more than anything was what first told me that this was important. Mum told me about her Uncle Bobby who had died in the war, but when I was young I don’t think I really understood. I felt I should think of real people during that 2 minute silence, but I didn’t feel emotionally connected to anyone who had died in a war. I didn’t actually know any of them. I am lucky in that I still have no direct connection to anyone who has died in any war. But I do feel a real connection with this act of remembrance. I feel it is an honour and a duty for me to recognise it in some way each year.
When I first lived in London in the early 1980s I attended the ceremony at the Cenotaph each year, probably for about 8 – 10 years. It felt like the right thing to do, to show my respect, my thanks for those who had given their lives so that we could live in freedom. I thank them. And thank them again. I suspect that attending the Cenotaph is a different experience these days; there will be more security, and just more people there. The crowds were much smaller in the 80s and early 90s, despite the recent war in the Falklands. Most years, I had a direct line of sight to the Queen, who was only 30 or 40 feet away from me.
Since then I have mostly listened to it on Radio 4, or watched the BBC coverage of the ceremony. I don’t remember in what year it was that a silent tear first fell down my cheek, but now it never fails. So, here I sit considering those familiar words:
They shall grow not 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.
In my mind I feel the weight of the flag, as I lowered it, that one year. The determination not to let it wobble as it lowered, or as I raised it again. It may only have been the Girl Guide flag, but it mattered. It still does.
Memories are important.
Remembrance shows we care.