Monday, 14 November 2011

Lest We Forget...

It seems to me an extraordinary thing that we can, on the one hand, regard ourselves as the most sophisticated and advanced species on the planet and yet, on the other hand, still be fighting with each other all over the world. That said, at this time of year, I think a lot about the soldiers who have fought and died for this country since the Great War to the present day.

Usually on Remembrance Sunday, a group (I know, there will be a correct technical word relating to the number etc) of Army Cadets from the Apprentice College in Harrogate come to our village church. We look at them - their incredibly shiny boots, their immaculate uniform and most of all, their very young faces. I always wonder where they will be in twelve months' time - Afghanistan, Libya...? And my heart bleeds for these young men that they may not come home to their families, their mothers, their girlfriends. And when they read Laurence Binyon's words: "They shall not grow old..." I pray that my son will not hear the call to arms in his lifetime.

They read out the names of the fallen soldiers of our village. The numbers from the Great War are heart-breaking. Our village must have been quite small then, and every family will have lost someone close to them. How hard for that generation to pick themselves up and move on only to offer up their young men again just a generation or two later. Not young boys who wanted a career in the army but farm labourers, butchers and bakers who never thought that another war after the Great War could happen.

This year, there were no young cadets with their shiny boots as their commander had deemed it too expensive to transport small groups all around the area. We missed them and we thought of them nonetheless with their short hair and scrubbed young faces.

For the last four years, since child 3 was 11, he has played the Last Post on his cornet at the service. The first year he played, he was terrified. Afraid of messing up in front of soldiers and congregation, playing those extraordinary poignant notes that capture the emotions, playing the notes into the silence. Now he is still nervous on the morning but, I think, considers it an honour. And this year, without the young cadets, he no longer looked the small boy amongst young men but a young man himself.

When I sat down to write this, I looked up the whole of Laurence Binyon's poem. It still holds good for today and perhaps, those warmongers with young soldiers' blood on their hands should read this:

For The Fallen
With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children, 
England mourns for her dead across the sea. 
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit, 
Fallen in the cause of the free.
Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal 
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres, 
There is music in the midst of desolation 
And a glory that shines upon our tears.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young, 
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow. 
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted; 
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: 
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn. 
At the going down of the sun and in the morning 
We will remember them.
They mingle not with their laughing comrades again; 
They sit no more at familiar tables of home; 
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time; 
They sleep beyond England's foam.
But where our desires are and our hopes profound, 
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight, 
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known 
As the stars are known to the Night;
As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust, 
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain; 
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness, 
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Postscript: Last year, my beloved and I went to Washington and it was hugely moving visiting the Vietnam Memorial. To see name after name after name etched on the stone only reminds me of the futility of war. How little we have learnt.

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