Sunday just gone we were in the UK and it was Remembrance Sunday, which is always the nearest Sunday to Armistice Day. Armistice Day is the 11th November as this was the date (for the UK) that the end of World War One came into effect – 11:00 on 11th November 1918. Nowadays, both days are day used to commemorate the sacrifices of members of the armed forces and of civilians in times of war, specifically since the First World War. Red poppies are the order of the day. These became appropriate symbols because of the poppies that grew in the fields on which the battles raged and thanks to the poem “In Flanders Fields” written on 3rd May 1915 by Canadian John McCrae, the day after he’d seen his friend killed in action.
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.
— Lt.-Col. John McCrae
The main event on Armistice Day itself is a two minute silence at 11:00. We were on our way back to Luton airport at that time but we had stopped at Toddington services to fill up the car. I entered the shop to pay and noticed that everyone was standing still and watching a TV screen. I observed the silence courtesy of BP and then we all went about our business.
Remembrance Sunday’s main event is a ceremony and march past the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London.
I always find this a very moving experience even though there’s no known history of war tragedy in my family. I don’t know what other generations got up to but here’s the war service of my nearest family;
Mother’s father – served with the Fleet Air Arm (the flying part of the Navy) in various places but most notably in Trincomalee, Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Was attacked by Japanese forces, many of Pearl Harbour fame, on 9th April, 1942. I don’t think they were attacking him personally although he was by all accounts a bit of a ‘lad’ in those days so there’s always a possibility it was him they were after. Survived the war and came home to open a butcher’s shop and keep pigs in the back yard. All that ended when the council compulsorily purchased his property to build a road, or a shopping centre or something equally useful.
Father’s father – when war broke out he was already employed in the mining industry, specifically in mine rescue. Here he is with his mates in the mid 1930’s. He’s seated on the right:
As mining was critical to the war effort, he remained in the UK doing what he was best at. Nobody dropped a bomb on him.
Father – too young for duty in WWII but he did serve with the RAF during the Suez Crisis and was stationed at Port Said, Egypt, for a few years. Aside from a few hairy moments with the restless natives the worst that happened to him was a bad case of sunburn! Still, he was there and he did his bit for (the very recently crowned) Queen and country.
That all looks a bit male chauvinist to me but I really have no idea what the womenfolk got up to other than keeping the home fires burning, which I’m certain they did very well!